Published July 3, 2012 - 8:00am
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With Mizzou about to stake its claim in the SEC, it’s time for SDS to take a gander at Gary Pinkel’s 11-year run with the University of Missouri. Pinkel has quietly built a consistent program in Columbia that was a perennial doormat for most of the 20 years before his staff arrived. A college teammate of Nick Saban at Kent State, Pinkel came to Mizzou from the University of Toledo, having coached the Rockets for 10 years before getting the job with the Tigers.
After taking their lumps in his first few seasons at the helm, Pinkel’s Mizzou squads have now been to seven straight bowl games, and eight in the past nine seasons; a feat even more impressive considering the Tigers had made just two bowl appearances in 18 years before Pinkel’s hiring. In each of the past six seasons, the Tigers have also put up at least eight wins, highlighted by the 2007 and 2008 squads, which both won the Big 12 North title, but lost to Oklahoma in the conference title game.
When compared to other SEC coaches, Pinkel’s longevity at Mizzou is only matched by Mark Richt at Georgia, who was also hired just before the 2001 season. While Pinkel hasn’t been able to keep up with Richt’s 106 wins and two conference titles, his overall mark of 85-54 has helped put the Tigers back on the map nationally. Pinkel has also done a remarkable job of keeping his coaching staff intact, as he has only had three assistant coaches leave during his entire 11-year tenure at Missouri.
2007 was Pinkel’s best squad at Mizzou. Led by a high-powered offense, they were ranked #1 in the country going into the final week of the season but fell to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, and were then snubbed by the BCS for a Kansas team it had defeated a week earlier. The Tigers took out their frustrations in the Cotton Bowl against now SEC-brethren Arkansas, beating down the Darren McFadden/Felix Jones-led Razorbacks by the score of 38-7.
Expectations for the Tigers were high going into the next season, and they climbed to as high as #3 in the polls in early October after starting 5-0. Their performance dipped as the season got into October and November, however, and although they earned a second straight berth in the Big 12 Championship Game, they were walloped by Oklahoma, and closed the season at 10-4 with an Alamo Bowl victory.
Although Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and company have now taken to their talents to the NFL, Mizzou has stayed near the top of the Big 12, including a 2010 season that saw them go 10-2 after starting the year 7-0. The highlight of that season was a victory over Oklahoma that came when College GameDay was in attendance. A loss to Nebraska the next week, however, proved costly, as the Tigers lost the Big 12 North Tiebreaker to the Huskers, and had to settle for the Insight Bowl despite their 10 wins and being ranked in the polls over the season’s final seven weeks.
Last season, the Tigers overcame a tough early season schedule to win their last four games and finish 8-5 against a schedule that was rated the ninth toughest in the country. Mizzou’s season ended nicely, as they pummeled North Carolina 41-24 in the Independence Bowl.
Although Pinkel and his staff have limited experience against the SEC, they have actually fared very well against them, going 4-1. Mizzou played a home-and-home series with Ole Miss in 2006 and 2007, and although both of those Rebel teams struggled under Ed Orgeron, the Tigers won each handily, including a 38-25 victory in The Grove.
Under Pinkel’s watch, the Tigers also have a pair of bowl victories against SEC competition. In 2005, Pinkel beat Steve Spurrier’s first South Carolina team in the Independence Bowl after coming back from a 28-7 first half deficit. Two years later, Mizzou drilled Arkansas in the previously mentioned Cotton Bowl. The Hogs, however, did hand Pinkel his first bowl loss at Mizzou when the Matt Jones-led Razorbacks won the 2003 Independence Bowl.
Overall, Mizzou fans have to be pleased with the job Pinkel has done making Mizzou a player on the national scene. If not for him and his staff resurrecting the program, there would be no way the SEC would have come calling. While most of his Mizzou teams have usually been a tier below the conference and nation’s top flight teams, they have steadily continued to improve their talent base, making them even more competitive. It will be interesting to see how Mizzou’s wide open, spread offense will translate into the SEC, and if Pinkel and his staff will be able to keep the Tigers competitive and a player in the conference standings.