Former Mizzou trainer Gary Pinkel recognized at Missouri Capitol

JEFFERSON CITY — A voice sounded from the back of the Missouri House chamber as members headed forward to vote.

“MIZ,” came the familiar challenge.

As the votes were cast, the hall rang with the chorus.

“ZOU,” thundered in the room.

House Representatives voted Wednesday on a resolution to honor former Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel’s induction into the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame and recognize the expectations he has established for the Tigers during his tenure.

Pinkel was also celebrating his 70th birthday.

When all the votes were counted, the effort had succeeded, with 142 votes in favor, as well as one member who voted present.

Pinkel, who coached the Tigers from 2001 to 2015 and is the program’s all-time leader in wins, was on Capitol Hill. He was emotional when the resolution was passed, he said.

“I was sitting and wiping the tears from my eyes,” Pinkel said. “I’m not as tough as when I was a coach anymore.”

Although news of the resolution was passed to Pinkel in advance, the crowd of his former players who occupied the Capitol building caught him off guard.

After the House move, Pinkel and Co. walked through the building to the Senate Chamber, where he waved to the gallery and took photos with well-wishers before that body got to honor him. .

The fact that the resolutions happened in the first place was due to one of Pinkel’s former players, current Rep. Kurtis Gregory, R-Marshall, who introduced him to the Legislative Assembly.

Gregory made an amendment to the resolution, correcting the score for Missouri’s victory over Arkansas in the 2008 Cotton Bowl, before passing. Gregory had considered bringing the resolution to the House last year but decided to wait, he said.

“It didn’t feel right to me,” Gregory said. “And then that catalyst was this year when I knew this coach was going to be inducted into the National College Football Hall of Fame.”

Former Missouri head football coach Gary Pinkel, far left, and House Speaker Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, listen as Rep. Kurtis Gregory, R-Marshall, introduce a House resolution to honor Pinkel Wednesday at the State Capitol.

On the Senate side, Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, took on the role of introducing the resolution. Rowden noted a recent exchange he had on Twitter, where he expressed his joy over the 2007 Missouri vs. Kansas game, which saw the Tigers win a battle for the No. 1 ranking in the nation.

Rowden said the match was one of the highlights of his life. He mentioned the impact Pinkel had on Columbia.

“We see it all the time,” Rowden said. “He cares deeply about my community and I appreciate that very much.”

The Senate resolution passed easily.

Pinkel sometimes had to hold back tears during the day. He noted the strong relationships he has had with his players over the years, saying he was overwhelmed by the support he received on Wednesday.

The coach pointed to a reason why those bonds were so strong.

“You know what a component is? Winning,” Pinkel said. “If you were in a losing program, you would still have your teammates, you would love them and all that, but winning is a bond.”

Since Pinkel retired after the 2015 season, the landscape of college football has changed. Players have become more empowered than at any time in the modern era, with changing transfer rules and the ability for athletes to earn money through their name, image and likeness.

Pinkel acknowledged the benefits of the changes for players, but noted that it could make building team relationships more difficult for modern coaches.

“One of the great things about sports is you get knocked down, you have to get back up,” Pinkel said. “What I hear from a lot of people is that student-athletes don’t like what’s going on and all of a sudden, ‘I’m out of here.’ That’s not how you learn. You deal with it. It makes you a better person.

Since retiring amid her battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Pinkel has led the GP MADE Foundation to help children in Missouri facing difficult situations.

He will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December in Las Vegas.

Pinkel, who was serenaded in the Senate lounge on Wednesday by a chorus of family, friends and former players singing “Happy Birthday,” tried to deflect credit for his accomplishments.

“These (players), my coaches are the ones who deserve recognition for winning,” Pinkel said. “I was just one piece of that, but I’m deeply, deeply honored and it’s going to be very difficult for me to get through (the Hall of Fame induction).

Matt Stahl is the Missouri sports reporter for the Columbia Daily Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @mattstahl97.

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