Gary Pinkel: Edgy Mizzou Football Coach Will Be a Winner in the SEC
As Mizzou head football coach Gary Pinkel celebrated his team's victory against Indiana this past Saturday, he quietly moved into a tie with former coach Dan Devine for all-time wins as coach of the Tigers.
But don't try to get Pinkel to get caught up in the moment.
“I don’t ever, ever think about that stuff,” Pinkel said, per the Kansas City Star. “I just don’t ever do that. I’m the coach here and I want to stay the coach here and keep winning and fulfill the responsibility I had when I took this job.”
True that Devine was able to accomplish the feat in fewer games, but what Pinkel has done with Missouri is one of the great unsung feats of college football in the 2000s.
Two winning seasons in the past 18 years was what Pinkel took over when he succeeded Larry Smith. But now with players from Mizzou flooding into the NFL, recruits are seeing Missouri as a hot destination to up their chances of going pro.
How has it all happened? How exactly did Pinkel steer the ship back on course?
The most major change that Mizzou has seen is the recruiting process from top to bottom. Before Pinkel, St. Louis area recruits went to play for Illinois. Kansas City area guys normally went to Nebraska or maybe down to Oklahoma.
That culture has now changed. St. Louis area kids want to play for Mizzou, and especially against the competition of the SEC. Kansas City area guys have been coming in plenty. This drastic change didn't just happen overnight, though.
The most major success Pinkel has had in being able to secure Missouri's borders, is the NFL pipeline he's built. The number of players Mizzou has turned to the NFL draft, especially players that have been drafted in the first round, is among the top in the country.
In this video, Pinkel does some scouting by visiting several St. Louis area high schools via helicopter.
It's one of the biggest things that has changed over the past few seasons. And no doubt that the idea of having a family atmosphere has always been apart of the recipe at Mizzou, but it hasn't taken root like it has the past few seasons.
Senior linebacker Andrew Wilson described the team during the offseason, saying they were all singing songs together like they were at camp.
"We knew we had to step up this season and get close," said senior cornerback standout E.J. Gaines, per Pinkel's website. "We had a sour taste in our mouth from last season, so that's where all this focus and family is coming from."
Senior wide receiver L'Damian Washington said of the family atmosphere this year (also via Pinkel's website), "It’s one of those things that you really can’t put into words, especially a guy like myself coming all the way from Louisiana. Everyone just embraces you like you’re their brother and the coaches like you’re their grandson. That really helps out to make your time here a lot more easy."
This family atmosphere has been an undeniably successful factor in the Tigers' corner this season. For the players to not have to worry about walking around on eggshells, and know that they're within a family environment that won't judge or criticize them, has enabled the players to be able to focus on their game.
Whether you're a fan of technology or not, it's here and it's integrated itself as a part of our culture. Nowhere do you see this the most but in America's young people. Pinkel has realized that reaching some of these potential recruits with social media is a huge way to connect.
Coach Pinkel runs a very active Twitter account as well an Instagram account to connect with players. Recently he even did a Hangout session on Google Plus where he was made extremely accessible to fans and recruits alike.
Another one of the things he's done that has really set him apart from other coaches is the release of his new website, GaryPinkel.com. The website is an amazing way to reach people of all varieties, and is one of only four coaches websites in the SEC. The others belong to Nick Saban, Les Miles and Will Muschamp.
With his footprint all over the digital world, coach Pinkel shows that he is willing to do whatever is necessary to reach new players and to connect with fans.
Willing to Change
Usually if you're looking at an FBS-level coach who's been around the game for a long time, you're looking at a hard-nosed, stubborn coach who is set in his ways.
As the game has evolved, so too does Pinkel's stance on many of the issues that affect today's players. Whether it's responding to the idea players are being worked too hard in practice or hearing out player needs as they come up, Pinkel is stellar at catering to the athletes; and not in a way that makes them feel entitled, but rather, valued.
In this video, Pinkel talks about one of the hottest issues facing college athletes today, and that's paying players. Once opposed to this idea, Pinkel has seen the game change.
"Back in the day, players would get summer jobs, wouldn’t work out year round," Pinkel said. "Our guys work out year round, and they’re going to school to get their degree. But certainly I think we should give them more money."
Having a willingness to identify with your players is one of the main things that sets coach Pinkel apart from other FBS and SEC coaches.
When Pinkel arrived in Columbia from Toledo, the Tiger fanbase didn't know what to think of him. It didn't have a lot of expectations and figured he was the next simple guy who would go through the motions of filling the role as head football coach.
But Pinkel never made any amazing declarations. He never tried to brand himself as some sort of savior for the program. He brought two words with him that are so much more than just words..."No Excuses."
It's plastered all over everything that's football-related in Columbia. From the locker rooms to the strength training complex to the dorms, the "No Excuses" mantra has become the way of life. It's noted under some of the signs that an excuse is the first thing out of someone's mouth that justifies failure. No excuses, no justification for failure.
Recently Pinkel tied former Hall of Fame coach Dan Devine in total wins at Missouri. Pinkel will look to be alone in second place with a win against Arkansas State this weekend in Columbia. But Pinkel's focus hasn't been on himself or on this accolade.
Gary would rather talk about the team, and why not? It could be his best one yet. Without the recognizable star-power names to grab national attention, Mizzou has simply fallen under the radar early this season. But everything will be proven come SEC play time.
One of the more controversial things that the NCAA has done over the past few years is implement its new Academic Progress Rate reports. Scoring low enough on these can keep your team from playing for championships. Just ask the UConn men's basketball team.
But this area is one that Mizzou shines at, and I mean big. The most recent APR report gave Missouri its best score ever of 982. That score is also tops in the SEC.
In fact, Mizzou's academics among student-athletes was so impressive across the board that it was given the NCAA Public Recognition Award for being a school that finished in the top-10 percentile in academics among all its sports.
The Tiger coaches are great at turning players toward the NFL. But for the majority of players who will be among the nation's workforce, they're receiving NFL-caliber training in life.
Pinkel consistently shows what kind of coach and humanitarian he is by his incredible work in the community.
One of the biggest causes he spearheads in the Columbia area is the Score Against Hunger program that partners with the Central Missouri Food Bank. The amount of attention he’s brought to that organization has been amazing as he’s been instrumental in keeping food supplies at acceptable levels during tough times.
In addition, he spends time talking with youth football players and at-risk students in Columbia schools. Pinkel isn’t just the coach of the team, but a leader in the community.
If you’re wondering if this impacts his team, I’ll tell you that it most certainly does. Leading by example the way Pinkel does sends a huge message to his team about being leaders and men in the community. It helps shape who they are.
Gary Pinkel has proven during his time in the Big 12 that he is a winner. He's proven that he can take good football players and make them exceptional NFL players. So why would Tiger fans doubt his ability to win in the SEC?
Because much of the Mizzou fanbase is used to viewing the glass half-empty. It's no fault of their own, but getting used to losing was something that Tiger fans had to accept in the '80s and '90s. Although the 2000s was a much different story, many pessimists are stuck on this "it's only a matter of time" ideology that simply has no backing.
The truth is this: The only thing Pinkel has done in his proven track record is find ways to win. If he's not winning, he figures out what he has to do to make that happen, and he's done it over and over again. Whether it's strategy, recruiting or bringing his team together like family, Pinkel figures it out.
For anyone who doubts his ability to win in the SEC, I say look at the team. The numbers speak for themselves, as Mizzou unquestionably has one of its biggest and fastest teams ever.
So whether he's connecting with new recruits on Google Plus, singing songs during the offseason like they're at camp or simply finding ways to win, Pinkel is the best guy who could possibly be at Missouri. If anyone will find a way to win in the SEC, it will be him.