Missouri football coaching great, Gary Pinkel, spoke with me about his new book, The 100-Yard Journey, which is packed with memories and inspiration.
In this line of work, it isn’t often that I get to speak with someone of Coach Pinkel’s stature, or anyone, really. My work is mostly born of my own perception and imagination.
To say the least, this interview was both an exciting and humbling moment to have the opportunity to speak with Pinkel, with whom many, myself included, would consider a coaching legend at Mizzou.
During his tenure with the Tigers, Coach Pinkel accumulated a record total of 191-110-3, while leading the team to 10 bowl appearances, and a 6-4 record. While head coach, Pinkel’s Tigers were ranked in the AP Preseason top-25 four times, and were ranked No. 1 during the regular season in 2007.
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The 100-Yard Journey, released on September 15, without a doubt, is a must read for any Missouri fan. Coach Pinkel’s stories and life experiences are inspirational, and the book gives the reader a first-hand look into the former Missouri coach’s life, as well as his friendship with Alabama head coach Nick Saban, and how Pinkel developed his coaching style from another coaching great, Don James.
Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post co-authored the book with Pinkel, documenting the coach’s time as an adolescent, and then his years playing football at Kent State, brief stint in the NFL, and his years coaching, starting as a grad assistant at Kent State.
Eric Quackenbush: Coach Pinkel, I’ve been writing for Truman’s Tales since March. When your publisher gave me the opportunity to read your book and ask you some questions about it, I was absolutely excited for the opportunity! What inspired you to write your book?
Gary Pinkel: Well, it’s interesting, because a lot of people were asking me, ‘when are you going to write a book?’ I didn’t just sit down one day, and call to my wife, ‘Missy, I’m going to write a book.’ We started in November; it probably took about eight months. We met once a week for two hours, and looked at subject matter for accuracy. Dave Matter would come in and write it first-person, He was very uncomfortable with it, at first. In all, we worked on it from December through about April, and then it went through editing.”
EQ: Coach, I noticed that in between each chapter, you have what appear to be quotes; were these used in your pre-game speeches? Did you keep record of your notes?
GP: The quotes starts with Don James (Gary Pinkel’s coach in college, whom he would later work under). When I played for him, we did ‘Thursday Talks,’ to get our players on edge. I saved all mine, and wanted to start every chapter with one. It’s a little insert where the game was played, the subject matter, and the final score.
EQ: In your book, you referred to the bitter rivalry between Mizzou and Kansas. As someone who inherited that rivalry, and considering your even demeanor and respect toward others, what was it like to live and coach in that rivalry?
GP: It’s interesting, because it’s the first or second-longest (rivalry) in the nation, with roots back to the Civil War; neither (program) have been consistently good over the years. The fans of Kansas and Missouri are all ‘blood and guts.’ When the players got here, each year, I had this speech I’d give them, and I’d say, ‘you’re gonna stamp your name on it every year that you play here; your name will be there.’ It’s a shame they won’t play again – for now. But they will again, some day. There’s a lot of revenue in it for both programs.
EQ: What was it like to coach two games against Nick Saban?
GP: It was odd; we played in the (SEC) Championship game, and one other, but it’s a game (where) you compete and fight. The fans take it all in and see it one way, but we have great respect for each other. I think he will go down as one of the greatest coaches.
EQ: After your short stint in Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent, what drew you to coaching?
GP: I knew, as a free agent with the Steelers – I knew that’s what I was going to do. I called Coach James, because I had told him before that I wanted to get into coaching. My association with Don James over the years was hugely important, and I was excited about the opportunity to coach.
EQ: How has the transition from coaching to being a spectator been? What was the adjustment like?
GP: The adjustment was – I had no plan. The Lymphoma was unexpected; it’s in remission now, and I go every six months for treatment. While I was getting treatments, I would ask myself, am I going to regret not spending time with family and friends? And I needed to de-stress. People have no idea the hours coaches put into this work. The biggest thing, which is a little funny, was I didn’t have a desk, and didn’t realize how much I missed it, until I didn’t have it. My desk had everything, and was organized. If I needed anything, it was in my desk.
EQ: What’s your relationship, if any, with the current coaching staff at Missouri?
GP: I know Barry Odom as a high school player and (later as a) coach. He went his direction with the program, but they’ll turn it around.
EQ: What advice would you give someone who has a desire to get into coaching?
GP: A lot of players ask me about that. Nick Saban and I both played for Don James. In my book, Saban wrote the Foreward, and it was very emotional for me. It was well written. I loved football; as an Education major, I was going to be an administrator and I had great coaches in high school and college. I decided to go to grad school, then went to Washington and Akron State. I miss the players.
I would again like to think Coach Pinkel for his time with me. In closing, Pinkel made mention of Missouri’s match-up at Georgia, and we both agreed, that an upset would be an amazing sight to see.