Keeler: Mizzou’s Pinkel may love the Washington Huskies, but it’s time to let them go

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The field is Faurot’s. But the
giant monolith rising up all around it, stretching toward the sky, is
Pinkel’s.

As is the state-of-the-art athletics
training complex, the one just across the bridge, the one with the giant
digital tiger in the lobby that snarls and swipes at you as you walk
past it, the one with a weight room the size of a strip mall tucked
inside. The one with the Xbox and the hi-def TVs and the “ionic breeze
filters,” which sounds like the kind of toy you normally find on the
starship Enterprise.

You backpedal from the snarling
digital tiger straight into a trophy case that would make Jack Nicklaus
blush. And you ask yourself:

Who, in his right mind,
could walk away from this?

Since
2003, the Missouri Tigers have bowled eight times (with a ninth berth on
the way); won four Big 12 or SEC divisional crowns; and finished
November ranked among the Top 20 nationally on four different occasions.
The Tigers have been to 15 bowl games since 1978. Coach Gary Pinkel is
responsible for eight of those trips, or more than
half.

When it comes to college football, Mizzou isn’t
really new money, it really isn’t old money.

It’s
just money. Period.

The University
of Washington, as of Tuesday morning, needs a football coach. The
Huskies have come after Pinkel at least once — that we know of — and
some of the movers and shakers in the Pacific Northwest are already
angling for another go at one of their favorite sons. He spent 13
seasons in Seattle over two stints, including seven as offensive
coordinator at UW from 1984-90 under the legendary Don James. He’s a
link to the glory days, the salad days, the days when it was the Dawgs
that set the bar for football on the west coast, not Oregon, Stanford or
USC.

You don’t go to that many Rose Bowls, have that
many cherished moments, and ever lose a place like that in your heart.
Pinkel has admitted as much — even revealing that he had, in fact,
talked to Washington the last time they had a head-coaching vacancy,
back in 2008, just before Steve Sarkisian was
hired.

“Washington was a place I always wanted to be a
head coach,” Pinkel told the New York Times five Decembers
ago.

“But I also have great respect for Washington.
We did have a discussion, but I did not want to take the next step if I
really in my heart didn’t want to do it, because of my respect to
them.”

Pinkel is not one to wear that heart on his
sleeve, but you could well understand the temptation: According to the
most recent Department of Education reports, Washington took in twice
the football revenue ($56.36 million) than Mizzou did ($28.79 million)
and spent more than twice what the Tigers did, per game, in operating
expenses per player (UW: $64,184; MU: $27,491).

And
yet all that glitter in Seattle is neither green, nor gold. Washington
is Don James’ team, Don James’ program, Don James’ legacy, Don James’
standard.

Huskies fans see themselves as the Michigan
of the Pac-12. Non-Huskies fans see them as an inch above Oregon State
and Washington State. And the Beavers and Cougars are on the
climb.

In Seattle, James is the benchmark. Always
will be.

In Columbia, Pinkel is in the process of
setting his own.

With a win over Texas A&M
last Saturday, Tigers’ coach not only clinched a berth in the SEC title
game — it tied him with the legendary Don Faurot for the most career
victories at Mizzou (101).

He’s 61, in a different
place — personally and professionally — than he was five years
ago.  A USA Today database says Pinkel made $2.7 million last
fall with Mizzou; in April 2011, he received a two-year extension that
runs through 2017. He’s about to turn the corner from the autumn of his
coaching career to the winter phase, with a reported $54 million and
least 6,000 new seats being poured in to his football stadium. Of the
recruiting classes between 2011-14, if you average out the Scout.com
rankings, Washington checks in at No. 30; the Tigers, No.
36.

Pinkel made this bed. Shouldn’t he get the chance
to lie in it?

Cynics will claim the Tigers have
peaked. A walk around the facilities will tell you they’re just getting
started. And who, in his right mind, could walk away from
that?

You can
follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at
seanmkeeler@gmail.com.