I just read your article “Pinkel’s fate should not mirror Onofrio’s.” Although I understand the trepidation in regard to firing Pinkel, I also think John Miller missed the point.
First, let me point out the obvious. Al Onofrio assumed the head coaching position at Missouri in 1970 and was later dismissed in 1977, amassing a career 38-41 record at Missouri. Although I was not a Missouri fan during that time, as I was too busy learning to walk, the article clearly cites inconsistency as the reason Onofrio was fired. It is nice to have solid recruiting and to win games against ranked opponents. However, the head football coach of any large-conference program is expected to have solid recruiting, and of course, to win games, which also means winning against ranked opponents. In that regard, Onofrio competently, not exceptionally, performed his duties. At the time, Missouri was accustomed to winning, and when the program showed a significant decline, the administration reacted and fired a competent coach. Furthermore, Onofrio’s overall record was not exceptional. After all things considered, it wasn’t much more impressive than mediocre.
Since Onofrio’s termination, MU has not only accepted losing as a way of life but also has continued to accept mediocrity as a substitute. One might even argue that never, except in the case of the firing of Onofrio, has MU tried to dispel mediocrity in favor of the exceptional. And now the university finds itself standing at the same crossroads at which it stood when Onofrio was dismissed and when the choice was made to dismiss Larry Smith in 2000.
Unfortunately, the fans have been forced to tolerate the fallout from both of those dismissals as well as every one in between. As recently as 1999, the fans have been forced to watch the catastrophic results of a firing that came too late, necessitating yet another re-building of a program that fell apart. In the case of Smith, the choice was made to clean house with the assistant coaches and try to start anew with a new offensive system. The results were less than spectacular. However, during the profound stretch of horrible football in the ’80s and ’90s and the decision made with Smith, it was the university administration that perpetuated both collapses.
Although the current coaching staff has done a wonderful job of recruiting local talent, this season’s performance of the Tiger football team has done little to prove contrary that Gary Pinkel simply cannot coach in the Big 12. He does not know how to make halftime adjustments, neither on offense nor on defense, nor has his play-calling been acceptable. Even ESPN analyst Lee Corso noticed those deficiencies during a nationally televised game. What’s worse is that Pinkel has been hopelessly out-coached by Les Miles of Oklahoma State, Mack Brown of Texas, Bill Snyder of Kansas State, Bob Stoops of Oklahoma, Bill Callahan of Nebraska and — let’s not forget— Larry Blakeney of Troy. For the most part, that’s an impressive list. However, that list also represents the level at which a person must be able to coach in order to win in the Big 12.
As it stands, there are some outstanding coaches that could be at Missouri by next season. Furthermore, there are top programs that have assistants who are waiting for their opportunity to coach. Above all, out of those two pools of talent are coaches who know what it takes to succeed at the level of the Big 12 requires.
This season has been a tremendous step backward. Do you think recruits cannot see the things that have happened this year? Do you think there aren’t freshman on the football team right now who aren’t second-guessing the wisdom of their decision to attend MU? Furthermore, based on his reputation with alumni and boosters, Gary Pinkel seems like the kind of guy that cannot change directions in a short period of time, so asking him to make broad, sweeping changes in his coaching philosophy may cause more harm than good. He has consistently demonstrated that he is stubborn, ill-mannered and unwilling to change.
Down the road, Gary Pinkel may become a very good, major-program football coach, but it is unlikely that he will become that coach while at Missouri. As for the university, there is no shame in admitting to making the wrong choice — picking a head football coach is not easy. However, the failure to recognize failure is as crippling as it should be intolerable. Unfortunately, that failure of recognition is the only thing that MU has done exquisitely for 30 years.