When I was writing about Missouri's win over BYU two weeks ago, one thought kept going through my head.
If this was Gary Pinkel's last win, that's a pretty awesome ending. Obviously we hope for another win or two (or three). And with the improvement Missouri has shown in recent weeks, the Tigers will have a fighting chance at that. But that's the ceiling. The floor is now settling for last night as Pinkel's last wonderful moment, his "Faurot carried off after beating Kansas." I'll take it.
I hedged in there as I always do, and I didn't want to sound like I was telling people to be happy with 5-7 or something, but ... well ... Tennessee and Arkansas are both quite good, and Missouri was only going to be even more emotionally exhausted moving forward. It wasn't hard to see Missouri ducking out at 5-7, and while we don't know for sure that Gary Pinkel's career is over -- despite him saying that he doesn't want a bowl bid at 5-7, it might not be his call -- it ended in a relatively predictable way.
A coach's final chapter is almost never a happy one, something doubly true at Missouri. Don Faurot's final season on the sidelines in 1956 was a 4-5-1 slog, albeit one that a) was an improvement over 1955 (1-9) and b) ended with the famous 15-13 win over Kansas. Dan Devine won the Big 8 in 1969 but lost a number of contributors and limped home to 5-6 in 1970 before leaving for the Green Bay Packers. They got happy moments -- both seasons ended with wins over Kansas, just as Pinkel had his Arrowhead moment a couple of weeks early -- but the final act was, overall, underwhelming.
Everyone else (excluding Frank Broyles, who was at MU for just one year) was chased out the door. Frank Carideo went 0-8-1 in 1934 and was fired. Al Onofrio went 4-7 in 1977, finishing off the most exciting/maddening of tenures. Warren Powers was dumped after going 3-7-1 in 1984; Mizzou fans were tired of 'only' winning about 7-8 games per year and chased him out after one bad season. Woody Widenhofer got Mizzou back to 5-6 in 1987 but fell to 3-7-1 in 1988 and got canned. Bob Stull got dumped in 1993 after his third straight three-win year. Larry Smith got fired after winning fewer games in 1999-2000 combined than he had in 1998.
This wasn't supposed to be Gary Pinkel's final season, of course. He wasn't going to get canned after going 5-7 this year. Three weeks ago, our biggest concern was how he chose to address Missouri's offensive collapse -- would he fire an assistant (or two) for the first time? Would he buckle down with the staff he had and magically turn things around? Instead, we found out about lymphoma. The circumstances were unique. But a frustrated, limited (offensively, at least), emotionally exhausted bunch of 18- to 22-year olds just couldn't get the first downs, the points, the breaks it needed to keep competing at a high level.
Luckily, present tense becomes past tense. The 2015 season will at some point fade into mostly one line ("Unfortunately, the offense fell apart in Pinkel's last season...") and one moment, the GP dance at Arrowhead. We'll probably remember the threatened boycott as piece of an ongoing social evolution (hopefully) on campus. We'll try as hard as we can to forget about the weather, which seemed to stink in almost every game.
We'll remember it as the first chapter in Drew Lock's story, though we don't know yet whether that will be a happy or regretful story (maybe as a season that stunted his growth, hopefully as part of a "he grew tougher and stronger through adversity" story arc). And we'll remember him crying at Arrowhead.
And then we'll remember everything else: Brad Smith, finally beating Nebraska, Daniel to Maclin and Coffman, the No. 1 ranking, the back-to-back North titles, Danario and Spoon, the perfect Homecoming against Oklahoma, the move to the SEC, the untouchable personal (and on-field) stories of 2013, and the unlikely second-act East title in 2014.
The frustration of awful blocking and weird play-calling and offensive youth and punting records and a defense that held on as long as possible before finally cratering ... that will go away eventually. And Pinkel's successor will begin wooing a fan base that is both fond of the last guy and ready for change (at least, on one side of the ball). And maybe a statue will go up at some point. That will be fun. And we'll forget that this game in Fayetteville ever happened. That will be fun, too.