COLUMBIA — As they exited the tunnel before the game against Texas Tech on Saturday, senior Missouri football players gave their coaches a long, emotional hug. Team captains and oft-used linemen were set to play their last game on Faurot Field, but the man who usually gives the send-off hugs was missing. Gary Pinkel wasn’t there.
Pinkel was arrested Wednesday night on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. He pleaded guilty on Friday and is currently serving a week-long suspension that required him to miss Missouri's senior day.
Hours before kickoff, in parking lots surrounding Memorial Stadium, the overwhelming opinion was that everyone makes mistakes.
“He’s human,” multiple Tiger fans said before Saturday’s game. They were quick to forgive Pinkel.
MU alumnus Rich Tiemayer called the series of events “an unfortunate situation.” He wasn’t the only one to use the phrase among the fans tailgating before the game. Most fans were in agreement that Pinkel was capable of making mistakes just like anyone else.
There was some difference of opinion, though, on whether Pinkel’s punishment was a fair one. Tiemayer, a member of the MU class of 1973 called the one-week suspension and monetary penalties “quite severe.”
MU junior Brad Bunten called the punishment “perfect,” and he said the university handled the situation well.
“You can’t discipline players and not take responsibility for your own actions,” MU alumnus Fred Kespohl said. He said Athletics Director Mike Alden’s decision was correct.
Former MU student Danny Pracht was not in agreement.
“He should get what the players get,” Pracht said. Two Missouri football players arrested for DWI last year were suspended for two games. Pracht said he believes Missouri wanted to allow Pinkel to coach the final meeting between Missouri and Kansas next weekend. He said the magnitude of the game shouldn’t matter in a suspension decision, even if it’s a bowl game.
Other fans made guesses at why Pinkel received the suspension he did. MU alumnus Matt Brand said he thought the school is worrying about money, and they want Pinkel back on the field and winning ball games as soon as possible.
“They don’t want to go to the SEC with a crappy losing record,” Brand said.
Only one fan used the word “disappointment” to describe the situation. Kaye Spalding was disappointed that Pinkel would engage in this type of behavior after being an advocate for safe driving through the Arrive Alive campaign.
“I don’t condemn him for going out and drinking,” Spalding said. “I wish he would have been smarter.”
Still, Spalding used the “he’s human” line, too. She also thought the rest of coaching staff would do a fine job on the sidelines without Pinkel during Saturday’s game.
Many members of “Tiger Nation” said their opinion of the coach hasn’t changed much, if at all.
Pracht said there has been no change in his opinion of Pinkel, adding that a lot of people have been in the same situation.
Brand and fellow alumnus John Hall also said they feel the same way about Pinkel as they did before the incident, with Hall saying that Pinkel “still seems like a good guy” and that “everyone loves him.”
Fans agreed that he will be able to move on from this situation.
“He’s got a perfect reputation,” Bunten said. “As long as he uses this to teach his players, everything will be fine.”
Daniel in the house
As one prominent Missouri football figure served a suspension, another one was in attendance on Saturday. Former Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel signed autographs for fans before the game and watched from the field as the senior Tigers were introduced to the crowd.
Daniel said it meant a lot for him to be at Memorial Stadium on Senior Day after what the current senior class has done for the program.
“It’s been an up-and-down season, but we’ve played one of the toughest schedules in the NCAA," Daniel said. "We’ve just got to stay the course and hopefully get to a bowl. I feel real good about our chances.”
Daniel said he has been talking to quarterback James Franklin often throughout the year. He said Franklin has grown with each game.
What has the former Heisman finalist been telling the Missouri sophomore?
“Stay focused on the task at hand,” Daniel said. “Don’t worry about outside influences on the program. When you’re a guy, you’re going to have a lot of it. So make sure you stay focused on the task at hand, and if you do that, then you’ll be good.”
Daniel currently plays for the New Orleans Saints, a team that plays its home games deep in the heart of SEC country. He called Missouri’s move to the SEC “interesting” and said he thinks it will work out for the best in the long run.
He wasn’t sure if Missouri would fit in to the SEC culture.
“We’ll see," he said. "Time will tell.”