Gary Pinkel, who has won more games than any other Missouri football coach, will resign following the 2015 season. He told his players and staff of the decision in a team meeting Friday.
Pinkel, 63, is stepping down because of his health, according to a Missouri athletic department release Friday. Pinkel was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in May, a type of blood cancer. He received multiple treatments in May and June and doctors indicated he could continue to coach this season.
“I made the decision in May, after visiting with my family, that I wanted to keep coaching, as long as I felt good and had the energy I needed,” Pinkel said in the release. “I felt great going into the season, but also knew that I would need to re-assess things at some point, and I set our bye week as the time when I would take stock of the future.
“After we played Vanderbilt (Oct. 24), I had a scheduled PET scan on Oct. 26 for reassessment, and then visited with my family and came to the decision on Oct. 27 that this would be my last year coaching. I still feel good physically, but I decided that I want to focus on enjoying my remaining years with my family and friends, and also have proper time to battle the disease and give full attention to that.”
He will remain coach through Dec. 31 or until a new football coach is hired, athletic director Mack Rhoades said in the release. Pinkel will address questions after Saturday’s game against BYU at 6:30 p.m. at Arrowhead Stadium.
Former Missouri wide receiver Marcus Lucas told The Star on Friday that the news of Pinkel’s health was sadder than hearing of his resignation.
“It’s pretty shocking that he’s been dealing with this and kind of kept it under wraps,” Lucas said. “I feel for him, and send prayers up to him and his family that he bounces back.
“He’s always taught us that the only disability in life is a bad attitude, so he keeps a pretty positive attitude toward everything that’s thrown his way.”
Mike Alden, the former Missouri athletic director who hired Pinkel, told The Star he had known about Pinkel’s health issues since he was diagnosed in May.
“He’s hit this head on just like he does everything,” Alden said.
“He’s a guy that likes to stay focused on certain things … His key is always focusing on his team, and making sure he’s doing everything he can to support those guys. I’m sure he had his reasons why he wanted to keep that (information about his health) to a smaller circle.”
Rhoades said in the release that he learned of Pinkel’s decision Oct. 28. Neither Rhoades nor Pinkel said in the release what precipitated the public announcement on Friday.
“It’s tough emotionally knowing that his fight with cancer is bringing his run to an end sooner than any of us thought,” Rhoades said.
Donald Cupps, the chair of the University of Missouri Board of Curators, said he became aware of Pinkel’s health and decision to resign on Tuesday night but did not divulge the information until Pinkel could inform his team and staff.
Missouri joined the Southeastern Conference in 2012 and won back-to-back Eastern Division titles in 2013 and 2014. This season, the Tigers are 4-5, including a four-game losing streak entering the BYU game.
Pinkel also dealt with a players’ boycott this week, when a group of predominantly black players said they would not practice or play as long as MU graduate student Jonathan Butler remained on a hunger strike.
The Tigers met as a team Sunday — almost two weeks after Pinkel said he had decided to resign at the end of the season — and decided to go forward with the strike in solidarity as a team.
Practice was canceled Sunday afternoon, but Butler ended his hunger strike Monday when University of Missouri System president Tim Wolfe and MU chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned.
Some fans decried Pinkel’s decision to support his players, while protesters became increasingly angry with Pinkel after audio of an interview he gave with WHB’s Kevin Kietzman circulated.
Pinkel said his initial Twitter post on Sunday — which included a photo of black and white players, coaches and staff in unity behind the solidarity strike and a caption that read, in part, #ConcernedStudent1950 — should not have included the hashtag.
“It really had nothing to with that (the turmoil on campus this week),” Alden said. “I know that. But he’s always been a coach who supported his guys, supported students and was willing to stand up for certain things. I wasn’t surprised by the way he supported his guys.”
Pinkel, in the release, said his resignation was strictly health-related.
“I want to make very clear that I’m not doing poorly, and that this is a manageable disease, but it’s one that will never go away,” Pinkel said. “So many people have bigger struggles with other forms of cancer and other serious diseases, and I feel blessed that I’ve got something I can fight and still enjoy a good quality of life. I don’t know how many years I have left, but I want to turn my focus to life outside of the daily grind of football.”
Pinkel is 117-71 in 15 seasons at Missouri. He has won the most games as a coach at Missouri and also at Toledo, where he went 73-37-3 in 10 seasons before joining the Tigers in 2001.
“It’s a huge loss for the program,” former Missouri defensive tackle Lucas Vincent told The Star. “Coach Pinkel is honestly one of the greatest men I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, not only as a player but as a man. He teaches you so much about how to conduct yourself. He teaches you about what’s right. Everything about him shows he has outstanding character.”
Pinkel, who received a raise to $4 million annually last winter, ranks 19th in Football Bowl Subdivision history with 190 career wins.
The Tigers won or shared division titles under Pinkel in 2007, 2008 and 2010 in the Big 12 and 2013 and 2014 in the SEC.
Missouri is 6-4 in 10 bowl games under Pinkel, including Cotton Bowl victories in 2008 and 2014 and a Citrus Bowl win in 2015.
“Words can’t express how grateful I am to the University of Missouri and all of the amazing people who make it up, from the administration to the students and our fans,” Pinkel said. “Obviously, I’m so appreciative to all of my coaches and athletes. Leaving them makes this decision so tough, but I do so feeling good that the Mizzou Football program is in a better place than it was when we came in 15 years ago. I feel that Mizzou is a great job at a great school and has so much going for it that they’ll find an outstanding coach to move the program forward.”
He won the FieldTurf national coach of the year award in 2007 and won conference coach of the year honors in 2007 and 2014.
Pinkel, who played under legendary coach Don James at Kent State, previously spent time on coaching staffs at his alma mater, Bowling Green and Washington.
His affinity for James — whom Pinkel considers a mentor and frequently references — grew during 13 seasons on the Huskies staff, including a seven-year stint from 1984-90 as offensive coordinator.