Kevin Modelski
Saturday November 14th, 2015

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The timing couldn't have been more confusing for some Missouri students.

Updates on social media were swirling about Friday afternoon, saying that football coach Gary Pinkel had announced his retirement. It was just a matter of days after University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe and Missouri chancellor R. Bowen Loftin both resigned in light of the football team's boycott last Saturday to support a student on a hunger strike.

"Given everything that's happened this week, it's quite odd," said senior Thomas Carter, who heard the announcement through a classmate. "It's unexpected."

Then everything started to clear up. Missouri's athletic department released a statement that Pinkel will retire at the end of the calendar year or until a new head coach is in place due to health reasons. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in May and received multiple treatments in May and June. He indicated that he would keep coaching as long as he felt good and had the energy.

But after visiting with his family after the Oct. 24 game against Vanderbilt and an Oct. 26 PET scan, Pinkel, whose 117 wins going into Saturday's game against BYU are the most all-time among Missouri coaches, decided 2015 would be his last season at the helm with the Tigers.

Students, at first confused, were now saddened by the situation.

Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

"My entire life, it's been Gary Pinkel behind the reins, controlling Mizzou football," said sophomore Charlie Tyson. "This is crazy for me."

Pinkel, 63, was named Missouri head coach at the end of 2000 after racking up a 73–37–3 record with Toledo. The former Kent State tight end made one bowl in his first four seasons with the Tigers and then spun together some of the strongest seasons in Missouri football history.

Two straight Big 12 Conference appearances in 2007 and 2008 and a third in 2010 had transformed Missouri—a school not renowned for its football success—into a title contender. After a sluggish, injury-ridden 2012 season, the team's debut in the Southeastern Conference, Pinkel quickly turned the Tigers around. He notched two straight SEC title game appearances and a 23–5 record in that span.

"The only thing he had left to accomplish is to win a national championship," Carter said. "The actuality of that happening to Mizzou where that's never happened before is incredibly slim."

Pinkel was also known for taking lower-ranked recruits and transforming them into successful college players (Michael Sam, Markus Golden) and professional stars (Aldon Smith, Jeremy Maclin). Some students saw him as a representative of the school and program.

"I'm a big Mizzou fan," said MU sophomore Aaron Ladd. "But I'm only a bigger Mizzou fan since I've been here."

Going into Saturday's game against BYU in Kansas City, Pinkel still has a shot to make the 4–5 Tigers bowl eligible with two wins in its three remaining games. But no matter the result, students and fans aren't happy to see him step down.

"I thought he was going to be here the entire time I was a student," Tyson said. "Just to see that there's going to be a new face of Mizzou football next year, it's really crazy."

Kevin Modelski is SI's campus correspondent at the University of Missouri. Follow him on Twitter.

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