Missouri football's coaching staff built on loyalty, Toledo ties

Wednesday, September 4, 2013 | 6:37 p.m. CDT; updated 12:11 a.m. CDT, Thursday, September 5, 2013

COLUMBIA — Ask Craig Kuligowski about Toledo, and he doesn’t bite at first.

The school where he played and coached for more than a dozen years is nothing but Missouri’s next opponent, and the Tigers defensive line coach insists he is not interested in nostalgia.

But then he mentions that seeing Toledo’s stadium, the Glass Bowl, in film preparation brought “a little smile to his heart." And soon, he’s singing his alma mater’s praises.

“It’s a blue-collar attitude,” Kuligowski said. “Those kids they have there now, I certainly see the same thing. They’re hard workers, they’re tough, they’re gonna compete to the end and they’re going to give you everything they’ve got.”

Kuligowski is one of five coaches on Gary Pinkel’s Missouri staff who also coached with him at Toledo at various points from 1991 to 2000. The continuity helped Pinkel turn Missouri from a Big 12 doormat to a No. 1 program for a short spell in 2007.

But how has he been able to keep all these former Rockets — Kuligowski, defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, running backs coach Brian Jones, cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford and co-offensive line coach Bruce Walker — by his side for so long?

“Coach Pinkel is not a finger-pointer,” Kuligowski said. “Unfortunately in our coaching business, some guys are. It’s a dog-eat-dog business, it really is. So a lot of guys take pressure off themselves and put it all on somebody else. He’s never done that.”

Jones, who started coaching at Toledo in 1992, is impressed with Pinkel’s system.

“Our players appreciate it because they’re not having three different position coaches in three years,” Jones said. “We can recruit guys to our system because we’ve got the same system and not totally overhauling everything. There’s continuity.”

The family atmosphere for players and coaches at Missouri is no different than the culture was at Toledo in the ‘90s.

“We recruit not only kids, but families here,” Jones said. “That’s a big deal when you go out into the homes. We talk about the family atmosphere. We talk about trusting us as a coaching staff with your sons over the next five years.

“We want to be an extension of mom and dad. That speaks to who coach Pinkel is.”

On Saturday, Pinkel’s old and new worlds will collide. This will be the first time Toledo and Missouri have ever played football against each other, and there is no better staff to bring the programs together than Pinkel’s group of former Rockets.

“Leaving (Toledo) was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” Ford said, who joined Pinkel at Toledo as a graduate assistant during the 1991-1992 season, and later rejoined the staff from 1996-2000.

The decision to leave for Missouri with Pinkel in 2000 was tough, but the head coach’s pull could not be denied.

“You just look at Pinkel's history,” Ford said. “Any coach would just look at the background and say this is the kind of guy you can learn from.”

Look at other programs around the country, and you won’t find many with Missouri’s consistency on the coaching staff. Saturday, we’ll see two schools that Pinkel and his staff helped to winning records in 16 of the past 22 seasons.

Listen to Steckel talk for a couple minutes, and the reason for success is obvious.

“I was raised on loyalty,” Steckel said. “I went and served our country out of loyalty. That sounds crazy, but you have to be loyal in coaching. You have to be loyal as a player. I know our staff is loyal to each other and the players, and the players are loyal to us." 

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