Schuckman: Pinkel turns jeers to cheers by leading Mizzou on magical run

Posted: Dec. 2, 2013 4:06 pm Updated: Jan. 13, 2014 10:45 pm

There was a common refrain shared by a vast number of University of Missouri football fans when the Tigers began to be taken seriously by Southeastern Conference foes.

Oh, no.

See, seven weeks ago as the Tigers headed to Georgia brimming with confidence after winning at Vanderbilt the week prior, there was a legitimate possibility Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel could save his job. No one within the university framework ever said Pinkel was in trouble, but a groundswell of support for a coaching change from the Mizzou fanbase had begun.

The Tigers finished 5-7 in 2012, and their debut season in the SEC was a colossal disappointment. Mizzou went 2-6 while the other first-year SEC school -- Texas A&M -- beat No. 1 Alabama and made national headlines behind Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel.

The fall guy, in many eyes, had to be Pinkel.

So although the Tigers were 4-0 heading to Georgia and Mizzou fandom wanted to see an upset of the seventh-ranked Bulldogs, there was that pocket of fans who wouldn't have been disappointed with a loss.

It would have added fuel to their fire.

Instead, the flames been extinguished.

Pinkel and his staff have done a remarkable job making Mizzou relevant in the SEC and nationally. Now, the Tigers sit a victory away from making a strong case they should play for a national championship. There's this little matter of playing Auburn for the SEC title before any national title talk can truly take hold, but at least Mizzou is in the discussion.

That's a credit to this team's resolve.

The Tigers survived when senior quarterback James Franklin was injured. They responded to a double-overtime loss to South Carolina that could have cost them the SEC East championship. They didn't allow last year's influence how they played this season.

Only the Tigers and the coaching staff truly know how motivating a losing season was, but the impression is they look losing to heart.

They ignored everything else.

It would have been easy for the players to see the jabs Pinkel was taking on social media and internet message boards and want to react. They didn't. They simply played and won and change everyone's tone.

Even Pinkel went about doing his job on a day-to-day basis without addressing or acknowledging fans' desires.

He's been around the game too long to get caught up in that. Pinkel understands the coaching business is volatile, and he's always going to have his critics and detractors. Even now, sitting at 11-1 with a team that has exceeded all expectations, there are some fans who still want him gone.

That will always be the case.

They happen to be in the minority now, and their voices are much more faint.

Since replacing Larry Smith in 2001, Pinkel has led the Tigers to nine winning seasons and eight bowl games. Only one other coach in Mizzou history has been equally as successful, and that's legendary coach Dan Devine, who enjoyed 12 winning seasons in his 13 years in charge.

Don Faurot, the godfather of Missouri football, only had 10 winning seasons in all the years he coached.

Pinkel belongs in the same conversation as Devine and Faurot. His success and his dedication to the program match those glory years. Should he guide the Tigers into a BCS game in final year of the current bowl system, he will have cemented his legacy.

In a way, he's already done that.

He's orchestrated cheers to drown out the jeers.




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