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 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