COLUMBIA — Anyone who has been to a Missouri women's basketball game this season has seen the intensity of first-year coach Robin Pingeton.
When her players are on the court, she constantly alternates between pacing the sideline and leaning forward in her seat. During each timeout, her pointed finger moves from player to player in the huddle. Her eyes light up in disbelief whenever a call goes against her team. It's easy to see she is a passionate person.
Missouri Tigers (13-17, 5-11 Big 12)
at Texas Longhorns (18-12, 7-9)
WHEN: 5 p.m., Tuesday
WHERE: Municipal Center, Kansas City
TV: Metro Sports, KMIZ/Channel 17
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM
But there’s another side of Pingeton fans don’t get to see.
“For all the drive and intensity and confidence that she exudes, she’s really just a softy at heart, big time,” said Michael Porter, Pingeton's brother-in-law and director of basketball operations for Missouri women's basketball.
“What I mean by softy is: she likes kicking off her shoes and cuddling with her husband on the couch. She loves back rubs and massages and stuff like that. The image here isn’t all she is.”
Even on days when the team doesn’t have a game, Pingeton is hard at work.
“There’s always one more e-mail to send, letter to write or phone call to make,” she said.
The responsibilities that come with her job seem endless. Recruiting is a 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year job, she said. Additional responsibilities include developing the booster club, reaching out to the community, developing relationships with high school AAU coaches, managing the budget and preparing for camps. And that’s just what she could think of off the top of her head.
After a long day at Mizzou Arena, the head coach goes home to her husband, Rich Pingeton, and her 4-year-old son, Blake.
“Hopefully, Blake and I provide a little more relaxing atmosphere at home so she doesn’t have to be so intense,” Rich Pingeton said.
Robin Pingeton said her husband has always been her “rock,” supporting her no matter what. The two met at Drake University in 1990. She was Robin Becker, an assistant basketball coach. Rich Pingeton was a graduate student who had a job working in the same office complex as his future wife. The two shared common interests, but there were important differences as well.
“He’s much more laid back than me,” Robin Pingeton said. “And that is so good for me.”
Like his wife, Rich Pingeton is a basketball junkie. But he usually doesn’t try to tell his wife how to do her job.
“Robin is extremely knowledgeable about the game and the strategies needed to be successful,” he said. “My experience is in PR, marketing and management, so I try to help out with those elements of a program. I would say I am more of a sounding board for her to run ideas by.”
Rich Pingeton has had a few different jobs. He was once the president of a trucking company in South Carolina. He worked at a visitor’s bureau in Iowa and in the sports management department at State Farm Insurance in Illinois. But his wife’s career has always come first.
“When we got married (in 2000), we had to decide whose career path we were going to follow,” Robin Pingeton said. “He was very good and very successful, but I was more passionate about doing what I do every day. He had already had a lot of success and was willing to step aside in his career for me.”
When his wife took the head-coaching job at MU in April, Rich Pingeton stayed in Illinois with Blake until August to finish his work with State Farm. Currently, his job is to raise his son and encourage his wife.
“Knowing what was going to be on my plate, especially in my first couple of years here, we felt like it was really important to have that balance and that constant within our family,” Robin Pingeton said.
But Rich Pingeton isn’t going to put his experience to waste. He is already helping the women’s basketball program with some marketing strategies.
Robin Pingeton said her husband is her best friend. Her other closest friends are the people she works with every day. Although she has a demanding job, she knows it’s important to spend time with friends and family.
“My staff, we’re very close,” she said. “If there is an opportunity to catch our breath and spend an afternoon on the boat, we’ll take advantage of that, but those days are few and far between.”
In addition to boating, Robin Pingeton enjoys golfing, fishing and other outdoor activities. But usually when she’s not working, she’s with her family.
“The last four years it seems like most of my spare time is consumed playing super heroes with my son, Blake,” she said.
Blake and his dad go to as many of the home basketball games as they can. After a few early nonconference games this season, Blake sat with his mother during the postgame press conference. When all the questions were asked and answered, Blake would always get in the last words, yelling “Go Tigers” into the microphone.
After growing up with two big sports fans as parents, living in a home where the TV is always on ESPN and spending time at the gym with his mother, it’s not surprising that Blake has already shown a strong interest in athletics. He is taking taekwondo and playing soccer. Soon he will start baseball.
“He’s a very active kid and has an awesome sense of humor, just like his dad,” Robin Pingeton said.
In about four months, the Pingeton family will be bigger. Robin Pingeton is pregnant with her second child. The baby is due in July, which may be the busiest time of the year for recruiting.
“I’ll work the first day after I deliver probably,” she said with a laugh.
But she is not entirely joking. She was in a similar situation when Blake was born in July 2006.
“I was having contractions in the middle of our camp, and I had to settle a dispute with two coaches,” she said. “I told them to both hold on a second, went through my contractions and went on with it.”
Path to Missouri
Although Robin Pingeton enjoys relaxing and spending time with her family and friends, she’s inherently a competitive, hard-working person.
“As far back as I can remember, I have always been very driven,” she said. “Although I didn’t necessarily understand it at the time, I do feel very fortunate that at a young age my parents instilled in me an incredible work ethic.”
Robin Pingeton grew up on a farm with two older sisters and an older brother in the small town of Atkins, Iowa. Her work ethic came from the list of chores she had to complete on a regular basis. But her competitive nature came from growing up in the shadows of her siblings.
“The biggest shadow to grow up in was my sister, Lisa,” Robin Pingeton said. “She was a 6-4, tremendous basketball player. We had a lot of coaches that came to our house for home visits. Seeing all the recognition and attention she received all those years, I was fighting for the spotlight as a younger sister and an athlete.”
Colleges all over the country were recruiting Lisa Becker after she put up 58 points per game her senior year of high school. She eventually went to Iowa, where she was the Big 10 Freshman of the Year in 1984.
Robin Pingeton was three years younger and 6 inches shorter and wasn’t recruited like her sister. She decided to go to St. Ambrose, an NAIA school in Davenport, Iowa, where she majored in business management while playing basketball and softball.
While at St. Ambrose, Robin Pingeton became the school’s all-time scoring leader in basketball and was an All-American softball player, but she wasn’t sure what her future held.
“I was always in a leadership position as far back as I can remember, in junior high and high school,” she said. “I knew the business degree had some flexibility in it, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do.”
After the final basketball game of her senior season, she realized coaching was the path for her.
“My coach was always encouraging me to consider getting into the profession, but I didn’t really consider it seriously until my career was over,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine basketball not being part of my life.”
Once she decided she wanted to coach, nothing was going to stop her. Even in her early coaching years, there was never a moment when she questioned whether she could cut it as a coach.
“Full steam ahead, both feet in,” she said. “I’ve never one day in my career ever looked back.”
Her college coach, Lisa Bluder, took the head-coaching job at Drake after Pingeton's senior season and brought Pingeton with her as an assistant. Two years later, Pingeton was back at her alma mater as the head coach.
“I doubt I even took the time to realize I was 23, coaching some of my former teammates,” she said. “I just wanted to win.”
And she did win. In her 15 years of head coaching and five years as an assistant before coming to MU, Pingeton had all kinds of success. She was 338-157 as a head coach. It’s hard for her to choose her favorite coaching moment.
First she thinks of her seven seasons at Illinois State (2003-2010), where her team made two NCAA Tournament appearances. Then she thinks of eight seasons at St. Ambrose (1992-2000), where the Queen Bees made five NAIA national tournaments. Finally, she thinks of her three years as an assistant coach at Iowa State (2000-2003) and the two NCAA tournament appearances. She can’t think of anything that stands above the rest.
“Honestly, whether you get to the NCAA or you see the growth of one of your student athletes and the light finally clicks and they get the bigger picture, it’s all very rewarding in its own unique way,” she said.
Pingeton is in her 21st season as a coach. Jenny Putnam, who spent three years as a player under Pingeton in the late 1990s and has been her assistant for the past eight seasons, said her coaching style hasn’t changed much.
“There might be a little less running than there was when we were young, but the intensity and passion is all the same,” Putnam said.
Starting to rebuild
It’s been about 11 months since Pingeton left an Illinois State team she had built into a Missouri Valley Conference powerhouse to rebuild a struggling Missouri program. Despite finishing her first regular season with a 13-17 record, she isn’t disappointed.
Missouri’s five conference wins this year are the most since 2007. But Pingeton is more pleased with the team’s growth off the court.
“In the big picture of life, it’s absolutely been a successful season for us,” she said.
She hasn’t thought about how long she might coach or what she might do when she is done.
“That’s a long way down the road,” she said.
Bringing the Missouri program to an elite level will take time, but Pingeton has no doubts it’ll happen. Neither do other coaches in the conference. Many who have come to Mizzou Arena this year have made a point to mention they think Pingeton will turn the program around.
Porter thinks it’ll happen, too. He and his wife – Robin Pingeton’s sister, Lisa – had been living in Indiana with their eight children. When the opportunity to join Pingeton’s staff at Missouri presented itself, Porter jumped on it.
“I think she’s a great mix of being driven and sensitive to people,” he said. “That’s why I think she’ll turn this thing around. Recruits will sense she really does care.”