Although Saturday stands as the first meeting between Toledo and Missouri, the matchup will carry a familiar feeling on the Tiger sideline. Coach Gary Pinkel led the Rockets for 10 seasons, and five of the nine Missouri position coaches were on his staff at Toledo.
Pinkel made his head-coaching debut with the Rockets in 1991 after spending seven seasons as the University of Washington’s offensive coordinator. He said Alabama coach Nick Saban, who was Pinkel’s predecessor at Toledo and former teammate at Kent State, helped get him the job when Saban decided to leave for the NFL.
“I’m sure that had a huge influence,” Pinkel said.
Pinkel said he has never been a job looker but that, when the Missouri job opened up after Larry Smith’s 3-8 season, the timing was right.
Pinkel said one of his goals was to have all three of his kids graduate from the same high school. He said he even turned down interviews at bigger jobs until his youngest son graduated. The same spring, he took the Missouri job.
When he made the jump to power college football, Pinkel brought a majority of his coaching staff to Columbia, with many of them sticking around throughout his 12 years at MU.
“I think that speaks to Gary Pinkel,” running backs coach Brian Jones said. “We’re a family. We’ve been together for a long time. We all came over, our families came over. It was a big adjustment for everybody. And we all — as a group, as a family, you might say — this coaching staff all went through things together.”
Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Dave Steckel took a slightly different route. Steckel coached under Pinkel at Toledo from 1992-1996 before moving to Rutgers for five seasons. Steckel rejoined the staff in its first year at Missouri.
“It was awesome to be back,” Steckel said. “They’re great people. They’re friends, a lot of fun. So when I came back and Coach Pinkel hired me in January, it was a godsend for me because I was at Rutgers and actually just got fired, so I was on the street peddling papers.”
Pinkel and his current position coaches spent a combined 43 years at Toledo, but Pinkel, Jones and Steckel all downplayed the fact that this game meant something extra to them.
“It’s our next football game,” Jones said.