"They say life is wild mustang, but wild is mean word.
Just try to bridle it and you'll see.
I do my best, do my best to just hang on,
And hope in return the best comes back on me."
- Matt Powell, "Beauty of the Ride"
By the time I'm done truly collecting my thoughts on Friday's news, the last thing Gary Pinkel OR the internet is going to need is another career retrospective.
Bill Connelly will write one, because at this point a seminal Mizzou Football moment without Bill will feel a little bit like Missouri Football is about to feel without Pinkel. Dave Matter and Gabe DeArmond will write ones, because no one covered his program quite like they did. Tom Rinaldi might write one, because why not go ahead and reduce us all to salty puddles of tears. It all seems according to script.
To say Gary Pinkel's career in Columbia was without tumult would be to misspeak. For a man whose simplest joy in life may be the wind in his face on his beloved motorcycles, the road was not always smooth. As we bask in the sweet glow of hindsight, we can appreciate the sheer magnitude and totality of not only Pinkel's reinvention of the Missouri football program, but his reinvention of himself.
His early struggles, generations ago as they may seem, were well-documented. As he exits today a beloved figure, on-field the frustrations of
"Justin Gage: Week 9 Redshirt Burner," "Brad Smith: Pocket Passer" and "Can't Win in November" barely seem like the same tenure. They barely seem like the same man, maybe in part because it really isn't the same man we're talking about.
Maybe the mark of a man lies in his capacity for change. What do they say, "Necessity is the mother of invention?" Tragedy might be reinvention's unwanted foster family. The pall of a tragic death in the program in 2005 will never quite clear, but to Pinkel's credit, his personal growth in the unthinkable wake of that tragedy shaped a coach, a team, a program, and damn near a university and a state in the following 10 years.
The legacy of Gary Pinkel is complex. It's complicated. But for a man whose steadfast and oft-bland public nature became a running joke locally and nationally (one meant mostly without malice), his humanity has become harder to dispute. He could have watered Francis Quad with the cumulative tears from his Senior Days. He fostered a culture which gave a young man from Hitchcock, Texas the confidence to share his truth in August 2013 and later with the world. This week as the world watched and almost no one would have begrudged him shadowy indifference, he symbolically linked arm-in-arm with young men of drastically different backgrounds in support of their humanity.
He built a program that Kenji Jackson termed Mizzou Made. For the next three weeks, #MizzouMade takes a backseat to the man that #MadeMizzou in its modern iteration.
In 2012, I passed on an opportunity that might have afforded me the chance to work as part of Pinkel's program. While I look back on the decision with no regrets, part of me wonders what wisdom I passed on welcoming into my life. In the midst of the years since, Pinkel's comments have often struck me profoundly at appropriate times. To this day, two Gary Pinkel quotes (the latter of which came by way of Don James) line my office walls. To wit:
- "Those who overcome adversity in our business are the ones who survive. When you're winning, anybody can do it."
- "When things get tough -- and they're going to get tough -- you focus on waking up that morning and focus on doing your job, hour by hour. There are so many outside distractions, if you let those in, you'll never have a chance to be successful."
Gary Pinkel is partially responsible for so many of my favorite sports memories, so many moments with family and friends I hold dear. I specifically wrote prior to the 2013 season to convince others -- and frankly, probably myself more than anyone -- to embrace any moments that would reveal themselves to us that season. I'm not sure any of us knew either the sheer volume or the breathtaking depth of the moments we'd have that season.
I will let the others compile the list of great players, unforgettable moments and football manifestos. I'll read every single one of them. There's so much to be said as Pinkel turns the throttle and rides on two wheels into his professional sunset, but chief among them is 'Thank You' -- for the impact everyone knows he made, and maybe even more so for the ones no one knows he did.
Beat Lymphoma, Coach. Do what you do.
"Sometimes I'm bulletproof, sometimes I'm scared to die,
It's the in-between that gets so hard to find.
Sometimes it'll all gets too much, sometimes I can't get enough,
That's just the beauty of the ride."