Gary Pinkel, Tigers look to avoid scene of typical upsets at Toledo

Tuesday, September 2, 2014 | 8:01 p.m. CDT; updated 1:57 p.m. CDT, Friday, September 5, 2014
Then-Toledo football coach Gary Pinkel, left, hugs offensive lineman Michael Schaefer after Toledo defeated Penn State 24-6 in State College, Pa., in this photo taken on Sept. 2, 2000.

COLUMBIA — The images taken from what Gary Pinkel would call in the postgame press conference "the biggest win of my career" remain. Maybe you'll see some of them in the days leading up to Saturday, when Missouri's winningest football coach returns to the place where he built his initial legacy.

Otherwise, you can find them at the forefront of results yielded by typing in "Gary Pinkel Toledo" on Google.

In his home state of Ohio, Pinkel will be back on the sidelines at the venerable Glass Bowl. It will be homecoming of sorts for him; he became the University of Toledo Rockets' all-time winningest at the end of 10 seasons.

But make no mistake: He will be on the road Saturday, just as he was in those aforementioned images. They are from the afternoon of Sept. 2, 2000, in Happy Valley, Pa.

 There is one that is classic, pre-visor-wearing Pinkel: mouth shut, firm glare behind sunglasses, hands at the hips beneath the belt of his khakis. All business.

And then there is one from later in the day. The mid-major Rockets were the 24-6 season-opening victors over Joe Paterno and Penn State, and Pinkel is seen smiling with his arms draped over a wider-smiling offensive lineman, Michael Schaefer.

Schaefer, now a high school football coach living with his family in the suburbs of Columbus, looks at that photo every day. He keeps it in an 8-by-10 frame on his desk. The memories are sweet.

It was his senior year, and he remembers the motto Pinkel preached to his team. "Whatever it takes."

"Whatever it took," Schaefer said, "we were gonna go into Penn State and we were gonna win. We believed we were gonna win."

At the end of that season, Pinkel moved on to Columbia.

And now, 14 years later, on an ESPN broadcast scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, he and the No. 24 Tigers will vie to not end up at the opposite side of a triumphant scene. 

As Pinkel knows since that win in 2000, Toledo has spun a history of upsets.

"You've got to understand," he said at his press conference Monday. "This is very normal for them. They've won a lot of big games over the years."

In 2008, the Rockets beat Michigan. The year after that, they beat Colorado. The year after that, they beat Purdue.

At the Glass Bowl, it is more common than not for ranked opponents to lose.

Toledo is 5-2 when it hosts teams ranked in The Associated Press Top 25. Most recently, during coach Matt Campbell's first season with the program in 2012, Toledo topped then-No. 18 Cincinnati 29-23.

The stadium, famously built without machinery by the Works Progress Administration in 1936, is what Campbell calls "one of our biggest selling points" to recruits.

"We really feel like it's one of the most special venues in the country," he said in a teleconference Monday.

Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, one of Pinkel's four former Toledo assistants who tagged along to Columbia, recalled the rambunctious atmosphere that descended upon the Glass Bowl every game day.

"All the drunks and rowdies came out," he deadpanned.

This season, Rockets fans have plenty to come out for. Picked to finish second behind Northern Illinois in the Mid-American Conference West Division by coaches, the team returns 19 starters from last year's 7-5 campaign, which included a 38-23 loss to Missouri at Memorial Stadium.

Behind four of the five starting members of 2013's offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks in the country, quarterback Phillip Ely has taken the reins of the offense. Last week, the Alabama transfer scorched New Hampshire for 337 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions en route to his squad's 54-20 win.

Missouri coaches lauded the signal-caller's performance. Campbell, meanwhile, heaped praise on the Tigers' Maty Mauk, who Toledo recruited during his record-breaking high school career in Kenton, Ohio, roughly 76 miles from campus.

"He's almost like a coach out on the football field; you can tell that he knows where the ball's going, and rarely does he make mistakes," Campbell said. "Really, in my opinion, one of the most talented quarterbacks in the country."

But Mauk said he will aim for improvement from last weekend's 38-18 win over South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits cut their deficit to 21-18 in the third quarter, a frame in which the Tigers managed just seven plays on offense. Mauk didn't complete a pass in the period. On the game, Missouri was 3-of-11 on third-down conversions.

The competition, the Tigers know, is about to get steeper.

"It's not anybody we can take light. Toledo is a great football team," Mauk said. "So we know what we've got to do. We're gonna come ready to go."

Pinkel will hope for as much from his team.

And that's especially because he knows his opponent will be ready, too.

"Trust me," he said. "They can't wait."

 Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.


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