COLUMBIA — Robin Pingeton had it made. She built the basketball program at Illinois State into a consistent winner and was named the 2010 Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year. She had the full support of the ISU administration and was nicely settled in Bloomington, Ill., with her husband Rich Pingeton and 3-year-old son Blake.
But Pingeton decided to make a move. Last week, Pingeton signed a five-year contract to be the next Missouri women’s basketball coach. The deal pays her a base salary of $300,000, but incentives could push the salary up to $600,000 per season.
So why would she leave a comfortable position at ISU for a program at Missouri that was seemingly in turmoil? What kind of person is Pingeton? We sat down with Pingeton on Wednesday to find out the answers to these questions and more.
Q: You had a nice season at Illinois State, ending this past season in the semifinals of the WNIT. How tough of a decision was it to leave Illinois State to come to Missouri?
Pingeton: “Very, very hard. Our administration at Illinois State is second to none. They are big time. They get it. They gave us all of the resources to build a program. … It’s bittersweet. I tried to create a family atmosphere, and it gets really personal. I don’t think there’s ever a good time to leave a program. There’s a lot of emotion. I’m still really excited about this opportunity. Goodbyes are hard. But this is a great opportunity.”
Q: You are bringing your entire ISU staff with you (Randy Norton, Willie Cox, Jenny Putnam). How much easier was it for you knowing your assistants were coming with you?
Pingeton: “I definitely think it helps. We’re a very tight staff, very good friends. We’ve done it once before at Illinois State. It’s amazing to me how much this mirrors where Illinois State was seven years ago. Just to a T. It’s a little eerie to be honest with you.
“(Iowa State head coach) Bill Fennelly gave me great advice when I left (Iowa State as an assistant coach). He said hire the most loyal people you can find and job descriptions will take care of themselves. That’s exactly what I did. Knowing you’re in a foxhole with people that you trust and that have been loyal to you and understanding what it takes and having the same philosophy. I think that’s instrumental.”
Q: The family hasn’t moved to Columbia yet, so how is the family feeling about the move?
Pingeton: “My husband is extremely supportive and is really excited about this opportunity. We put our house on the market, and a lot of that depends on when it sells. It’s kind of day-by-day, week-by-week. I’ll be commuting for a while as will he. It will be tough for all of us. But that’s part of it.”
Q: It took a few years for you to turn around the Illinois State program. How do you plan on turning Missouri into a winning program?
Pingeton: “It’s not going to happen overnight. I think everybody has a good understanding of that. It’s a process, and it’s a journey. You’ve got to change the culture within the program. I think mentality is a big part of that. ... We want to start changing the culture of the program within our program already with our current players. I’ve been really pleased with the way they’ve embraced our staff. I think they’re hungry.”
Q: Last season, there were a lot of problems with the program. There were player arrests, constant speculation about the coaching situation and a lot of losing. Now there are a lot of negative opinions about the program. How are you going to go about changing the perception of the program throughout the community?
Pingeton: “I don’t look in old files. I don’t watch old game tape. It’s about today and moving forward. We’re going to do things the right way and put a product on the court that I think this community will enjoy watching. They will appreciate their work ethic and how hard they play. … (For the players) This is a fresh start for them, too.”
Q: What are some realistic goals for this upcoming season?
Pingeton: “I don’t know that I can say that yet. I just got their stats from last year. I’ve had the chance to be on the court twice with them. … But there’s no doubt in my mind some great things can happen here and that they can happen in a hurry. I don’t think next year we’re going to be playing for a national championship. I think I’m pretty grounded when it comes to things like that. I understand this league and how hard it is.”
Q: With the signing period just getting started (Wednesday), how hard is it for you to get started so late in the recruiting process?
Pingeton: “It’s definitely a challenge. I feel optimistic we’ve got some nice connections out there, too, and I think we’ll have a shot at maybe getting one or two in the late signing period. I don’t want to rush into anything. We want to get the players that are going to fit into our system and fit Missouri. We’re not looking for a quick fix. We’re not about just having a season. We want to build a program that people can be proud of.”
Q: You talked a lot about values and character at your press conference last week. How important is character, in addition to talent, in recruiting?
Pingeton: “It’s a combination. It has to be. Just like this had to be the right fit for me, this has to be the right fit for the recruits. We want to go get the best basketball players we can get that have a passion for the game, that can start their own motors and be competitive. Those are the people we want to coach. Goal-oriented. If you’ve got those kinds of qualities, we’re going to get this thing turned around in a hurry. We want players that are unselfish, that are disciplined, that are dedicated and have a passion for the game.”
Q: Have you been in contact with the recruits that were looking to attend Illinois State?
Pingeton: “I really just try to leave that alone. That’s a hard one. It’s hard for the players because even though it’s not supposed to be about the coaches, I think that becomes part of the decision-making process. I’ve got some really important relationships at Illinois State with the administration and the players. The last thing I want to do is stir the pot.”
Q: Most people know you as a basketball coach. But what do you enjoy doing outside of basketball?
Pingeton: “There’s not a lot of outside time to be honest with you. Family time is important to me. We enjoy boating. And golf. Probably if I get a free weekend, you’ll find me out on a boat somewhere. … I’ve heard Table Rock is nice.”
Q: You said that you have an aunt and uncle that have lived in Columbia for 49 years. How often have you visited before being hired?
Pingeton: “I think the last time I visited Columbia, I was five or six years old.”
Q: What are your impressions of the city and school so far?
Pingeton: “Really cool community. I’ve been very impressed with it. The downtown area is really nice, just has a lot of character to it. Beautiful quad. I love all the big buildings.”