In a week of tumult that included the school’s president and chancellor stepping down, Missouri’s football team has now seen its leader step down as well.
In a stunning turn of events, Mizzou confirmed in a press release Friday evening that Gary Pinkel has decided to step down from his post as the Tigers head football coach. According to the school, and unbeknownst to the public, Pinkel was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma cancer of the blood in May of 2015.
Pinkel received multiple treatments in May and June, with doctors indicating that the treatments wouldn’t interfere with his coaching duties. At that point, Pinkel decided to coach the Tigers in 2015; however, Pinkel reassessed his situation during Mizzou’s bye week and opted to step down following the 2015 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,” said Pinkel, who informed his staff and players this evening, in a statement. “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. 26th for reassessment, and then visited with my family and came to the decision on October 27th 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.”
The 63-year-old Pinkel will remain on as the Tigers’ head coach through December of 2015 or until a new head coach is in place. The two sides will look for a role that will keep him connected to Mizzou athletics.
“It’s been an honor working with Gary since I joined the Mizzou family,” said athletic director Mack Rhoades. “Gary is truly a coaching legend as the winningest coach at two Division I institutions while leaving a profound impact on a countless number of young men. We are extremely appreciative of all that he has done for Mizzou. It’s tough emotionally knowing that his fight with cancer is bringing his run to an end sooner than any of us thought. I want to commend Gary with how open he’s been with me the whole time, from the first day he came to my office in May and told me about his diagnosis, all the way to now and when he met with me personally on October 28th to tell me he’d made up his mind. He’s been nothing but first class in how he’s handled the situation the whole way.”
Pinkel is in his 15th season as Mizzou’s head coach, posting a 117-71 mark at the school. The Tigers are 4-5 this season.
Where Pinkel really made his mark, though, was in Mizzou’s move to the SEC. After a rough 5-7 mark in the Tigers’ inaugural SEC campaign, Pinkel led Mizzou to back-to-back East division titles.
All told, Pinkel’s squads won five division titles across the SEC and Big 12. In the 17 years prior to Pinkel’s arrival, Mizzou posting just two winning seasons; in the his first 14 seasons, the Tigers were above .500 10 times.
Including his time at Toledo, Pinkel has a career record of 190-108-3. He’s also one of a handful of coaches who are the all-time winningest head coaches at two FBS programs.
“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 in continuing his statement. “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,” he said.
“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. 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.”
When it comes to a replacement for Pinkel, one name to keep in mind is Tom Herman. Herman is in his first year as Houston’s head coach, and was hired by… you guessed it, current Mizzou AD Mack Rhoads.
Herman will be in high demand, though, as, with Pinkel’s resignation, there are 10 FBS head-coaching openings. Including Mizzou, seven of those are Power Five jobs: Illinois, Maryland, Miami, South Carolina, USC, Virginia Tech. The other three openings are Hawaii, North Texas and UCF of Group of Five conferences.