COLUMBIA – Steve Lambert sensed something was different. During the past year, he could tell Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel had become relaxed around players’ parents. Pinkel had developed a calm demeanor after games, Lambert said. Success had changed him.
“It’s probably just confidence,” said Steve Lambert, father of sophomore linebacker Luke Lambert.
On Saturday, players’ parents reacted positively to news that Pinkel and Missouri athletic department officials are in discussion to extend Pinkel’s contract beyond the five-year deal he signed last December that pays him $1.85 million annually.
The contract’s length and amount have yet to be determined, but reports suggest the guaranteed compensation figure will be approximately $2.5 million. If the amount proves accurate, it will make Pinkel the third-highest paid coach in the Big 12 Conference, behind Texas’ Mack Brown ($2.8 million) and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops ($2.65 million). Before the season, Pinkel stood fourth in the conference, behind Brown, Stoops and Kansas’ Mark Mangino ($2.3 million). Team spokesman Chad Moller said an announcement could be made early this week.
“I think it’s great,” Steve Lambert said. “All the coaching staff has stayed around and has done a fine job.
“I think he has done a great job building the program. I think it will continue. I think he’s just great with the kids. … He makes them work, but I think he does a super job managing them.”
On Saturday, Pinkel and his staff enjoyed their second bye week of the season. On Nov. 15, the Tigers clinched their second consecutive Big 12 North title by beating Iowa State in Ames, Iowa. Next Saturday, Missouri closes its regular-season schedule in Kansas City and will attempt to beat Kansas for the third consecutive year. On Dec. 6, Missouri plays in the Big 12 championship game in Kansas City with an opportunity to win its first outright conference title since 1960. Last December, Missouri lost an opportunity to play for a surprise national title by falling to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game in San Antonio.
Earlier this fall, there was speculation that Washington might attempt to lure Pinkel back to Seattle. Pinkel served as an assistant under former Washington coach Don James in 1976 and from 1979 to 1990. In October, Washington fired coach Tyrone Willingham, who will end his tenure after the Huskies close their season Dec. 6 at California. Following Washington’s 16-13 loss to Washington State in double overtime Saturday, Willingham’s record in Seattle stands at 11-36. Missouri players’ parents said they hoped Pinkel would remain in Columbia.
“We talked about it a few times, but we didn’t really think that he would leave right now,” said Becky Barnes, mother of sophomore center Tim Barnes. “We were hoping he wouldn’t leave right now.”
Said Diane Lambert, mother of Luke Lambert: “I think it’s a great thing. I think the players like him, and I think he has (the program) headed in the right direction. He’s very positive, and the kids play together as a team. They’re like a family, so that’s the kind of atmosphere we want our son in.”
Some Missouri assistant coaches might be considered for open positions. Reports suggest defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is a possibility for the Toledo job. Eberflus played linebacker at Toledo from 1988 to 1991 and served as an assistant coach at the school from 1992 to 2000 under Pinkel. Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen has been rumored to be drawing interest from New Mexico and Wyoming. Last year, Christensen led the Tigers to a school-record 558 points and was named a finalist for the Frank Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach. Like all of Pinkel’s assistants, Christensen has remained at Missouri since Pinkel arrived before the 2001 season.
“The parents don’t really talk about it a lot,” Diane Lambert said of assistants possibly leaving. “We know with the team doing well that there’s the potential that any of the coaches could potentially move on. You look at it when it comes, and you hope the next person is going to be good, too. We would definitely miss any one of the coaches if they would move. We’ve just developed a really good rapport with all of them.”
It appears as if Pinkel won’t be leaving any time soon, though. For parents close to the program, that’s a good thing.
“Yes, it is,” Becky Barnes said. “I think he brings integrity and sportsmanship. He’s just a man of his word.”