The last three years in Columbia have been a challenge, to say the least.
Our beloved institution has been the spotlight of national news, both on campus and on the field. A “snowball,” as it’s been described to me at times, “an inability to get out of our own way.” It’s been a tough pill to swallow.
As we turn the page to a new chapter, 2017-18 has all the makings of being a special year we all could remember. A new dawn awaits for Tiger fans.
November 9, 2015
“Use my resignation to heal and start talking again.” This comment, which has stuck with me over these past three years, came from President Tim Wolfe as he stepped down as president of the University of Missouri amidst racial tensions and protests on campus.
Over the course of time, I have asked myself if we are healing, if we are moving forward together, if we are learning and growing to become a better Mizzou. Time heals, but we’ve all felt that sense of grief knowing what our institution, students, administrators, and alumni have gone through.
November 13, 2015
Just four days after Wolfe’s resignation, Gary Pinkel retired as head football coach with unfortunate circumstances transpiring on campus and a diagnosis of lymphoma. It’s not how I envisioned the winningest coach in Mizzou football history going out.
Coach Pinkel was more than a football coach. He was a leader and staple of what it meant to be “Mizzou Made,” a phrase coined under his direction. Being a Tiger meant representing the institution with grace, class, toughness, responsibility and service to a community.
I can’t thank Coach Pinkel enough for everything he did during his tenure as head coach. Looking forward to the GP statue that will be outside Faurot one day.
December 3, 2015
Barry Odom was announced as the 32nd head football coach at the University of Missouri. “High integrity, clear vision, strong track record of success, a great coach but an even better person.” Sign me up.
Players from the current roster, to former players, to former coaches, were elated at the news of his hiring. I was at the press conference that day, looking on and realizing that Coach Odom was more than just a coach, he was one of our own. After what was taking place with the state of the basketball program, with a former player that is loved by part of the fan base, and with the press conference taking place on the basketball court, there were plenty of questions.
In year one, Odom’s Tigers went 4-8 (0-5 away from Faurot Field). Mizzou ended the year with a “Battle Line Rivalry” win against the Razorbacks at home in exciting fashion, something that will hopefully serve as a momentum boost heading into 2017.
Missouri State comes to town in a month to kickoff the season, with South Carolina and Purdue to follow. All questions center around the defense and receiving core, both areas that hindered Mizzou in 2016.
July 13, 2016
This was the day Mack Rhoades gave us a gift. He left his post, 15 months after he arrived, and in hindsight it was right for both parties. “You know Missouri’s is in bad shape when the AD leaves the SEC for Baylor” was the headline from CBS Sports, maintaining Missouri’s perception as a national punching bag.
I beg to differ, however. I’ll be honest: I didn’t really feel his departure was anything that I should hang my head over or waste time dwelling over. It was a shock, but it opened the door for interim chancellor Hank Foley to make a decision that would change the direction and culture of Mizzou Athletics and this institution.
August 9, 2016
Hank Foley hired a man named Jim Sterk as Missouri’s 20th athletic director.
The question I’ve asked myself since is, “how the hell did we get this guy?” This is a former AD of the year by the National Association of College Directors of Athletics. During his tenure, San Diego State had the nation’s third-highest combined winning percentage in football and men’s basketball, trailing only Ohio State and Louisville.
As I sat in on his introductory press conference, Sterk used the words “divine intervention.” It was fate.
This man is the perfect fit. He talked about all the reasons to leave sunny San Diego for frigid, humid, and all-of-the-above weather in Missouri. Missouri is a great job, one that is underrated and at times under-appreciated. Foley said it best: “Jim’s leadership in intercollegiate athletics is unparalleled, and we are thrilled he is going to bring his talents, energy and passion for working with student-athletes to Columbia. He is just what Mizzou needs at this time.” God bless Hank Foley.
March 15, 2017
Sterk hired East St. Louis native Cuonzo Martin to rescue the basketball program.
As a Kansas City native, and current resident, the amount of times I was stopped in the weeks that followed by Mizzou fans to talk basketball was refreshing. It became routine to discuss a state of basketball that was quite frankly unacceptable. It was difficult to see fans, some of the biggest basketball supporters you’ll find, struggle to find hope or an identity to get behind.
The script was flipped on this spring day.
The past four months have brought back excitement. It’s been a rejuvenation project. There is interest again, instead of apathy. Mizzou signed the No. 3 recruiting class, the highest we’ve seen.
The relationships and respect Coach Martin is already developing in the state are what I am most excited about.
As I sat at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas a few weeks back, NBA scouts, executives, and coaches would chime in on the turnaround of my alma mater. Most were excited to scout in Columbia again, knowing how special Mizzou Arena is when it’s at 15,061 strong. This team will be better in every way, with talent, depth and versatility that the program has not had in a long time.
“I’m coming home.”
I get goosebumps just thinking about when Michael Porter Jr. made his announcement, 12 days after Martin’s hire. I had a nostalgic feeling having watched all the Porter kids run around Mizzou Arena as kids when I was a player. You couldn’t keep them out of the gym then, and you still can’t today.
Michael is a unique talent. I don’t think Mizzou fans really understand how good he is, but he understands the opportunity that’s in front of him to restore a program that has been desperate for something to cheer about.
Hiring Jim Sterk was when optimism, hope, and a new direction started to emerge from darkness for the University of Missouri.
I remember speaking with former athletic director Mike Alden over coffee, in the days that followed the Jim Sterk hiring. Alden thought Sterk was “the perfect fit.” Coming from an AD who himself took Mizzou to new heights, this registered with me.
In year one, Sterk and the Tiger Scholarship Fund team raised over $50 million, a department record. Fundraising is built on trust, on partnership, on ethical process and strong leadership. Jim has a saying he says he lives by: “win it right.” He brings stability, integrity, humility, and leadership, four words that to me is extremely important in representing the flagship institution.
I’ll publicly share a piece of a letter I wrote to Jim over this past summer, following a Tiger Caravan event in Kansas City:
“As a former basketball player, student, and employee of the University of Missouri, I wanted to take time this afternoon to write you and thank you for everything you have done thus far during your tenure. It’s not just a coaching hire, or raising funds for a stadium expansion, but more your genuine and authentic presence as our Athletic Director. I speak for many that we are so fortunate and happy to have you in this role, someone that we can trust and believe in. I feel like our community is fortunate to have a person of your character, and with your morals and integrity, running our operation. I have been more than impressed with how you have carried yourself and how you have embraced our state in a short amount of time. Something that is so important in rural Missouri to touch as many of our fans, donors, and supporters as possible. Over the past 3 years, there has been a dark cloud that has rested over Columbia, Missouri that has spread throughout the state. It’s impacted so many areas of my beloved alma mater. Some of it is out of our control, some of it is bad fortune, and some of it is our shortcomings as an institution. I know one thing is for sure, when we hired you that was step 1 in our resolve. This has been the best decision for not just our athletic programs, but our institution as a whole.”
The road over the past few years has been rocky, painful, and publicly humiliating at times, but the needle is pointing in a positive direction. This year we could look back on as the year we moved forward, putting Mizzou back to where we all know it should be restoring a University rich in tradition.
See you all November 10-11 in Columbia for a weekend reminiscent of what used to be the norm back in the glory days. In the meantime, now more than ever, it’s time to get excited for the direction of Mizzou Athletics. It’s time to take pride in what Sterk, Odom, and Martin have already begun and will continue to do. They represent their programs the right way, they set the bar high, they lead by example, and they know the tradition of winning and excellence is shaped by culture, leadership and belief in one another.
Speaking from experience, there is nothing better than being a student athlete and seeing a sea of black and gold fighting with you. Together is powerful. A new chapter is being written. Enjoy it, and embrace what’s in front of us as we embark on a new day at Mizzou.