Pinkel's Staff Loaded With Loyal Long-Timers

Missouri is enjoying an historic season, matching the school record of 11 victories

Dec. 29, 2007

DALLAS (AP) - Since Gary Pinkel arrived at Missouri in 2001, he hasn't made one change in his coaching staff. His top assistant thinks he knows why there's been such exceptional stability.

"Well, we're probably not very good coaches, so nobody wants us," Dave Christensen, the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator, said jokingly.

There's a kernel of truth in that flippant analysis - or at least there used to be. Missouri is enjoying an historic season, matching the school record of 11 victories heading into the Jan. 1 Cotton Bowl against Arkansas. But before this year, the school had been one of those indistinguishable middle-of-the-pack programs.

Pinkel was 37-35 in his first six seasons, and the biggest game the Tigers played during that stretch was last year's Sun Bowl. The Cotton Bowl is the fourth bowl in five years, but the other two were the lower-rung Independence Bowl in 2003 and '05.

That's not the type of success that will get you or your assistants noticed. Pinkel's name came up for the Michigan opening before he announced he was staying put earlier this month. Christensen interviewed for the Central Michigan opening after last season but did not get the job, which is pretty much the extent of the nibbles.

Christensen has been with Pinkel since 1992, when he joined the Toledo staff as offensive line coach. Defensive coach Matt Eberflus goes back even further, serving as captain when he played linebacker on Pinkel's first team at Toledo in 1991.

"I've kind of seen his program since the beginning and it's been fun to watch it grow and adjust, and everybody in it grow and adjust," Eberflus said.

Wide receivers coach Andy Hill is a Columbia, Mo., long-timer, a Missouri graduate finishing his 12th season at the school after Pinkel added him from Larry Smith's staff.

Craig Kuligowski (defensive line) is in his 16th season with Pinkel after his playing career as an offensive tackle ended at Toledo. Craig Steckel (linebackers) rejoined Pinkel in 2001 after five years at Rutgers, also coaching the defensive line at Toledo in 1993 and '94. Dave Yost (quarterbacks, recruiting coordinator) has been aboard since 1997.



All of them know the system in and out.

"These guys are like soldiers, they know what we're about," Pinkel said.

Christensen, for one, said he's not at all antsy to spread his wings.

"I feel blessed," he said. "I got in this business 25 years ago volunteering and getting paid nothing, and I'm on one of the top 10 teams in the country with an opportunity to play in one of the most prestigious bowls around.

"There's no way I can have disappointment."

Eberflus has much the same sentiments.

"Coach Pinkel and I talk about that all the time," he said. "When the feeling is good in your gut, it'll be the right time."

Plusses are the relationships they're able to build with high school programs who see the same familiar faces year after year. Recruits get a chance to work with the people who signed them.

"I think it's huge from a recruiting standpoint, and we sell it a lot with our players," Pinkel said. "I think that's a tremendous asset."

Of course, the type of success Missouri is enjoying now is inevitably followed by disruptions. That's life near the top.

"I think you want your coaches to move on, you want them to become head coaches and have opportunities, and some of them have had interviews," Pinkel said. "But I also want coaches to be here because they want to be here, and hopefully we can keep the continuity."

Christensen noted that after Pinkel went 10-1 at Toledo in 2000, everybody wanted to come with him to Missouri. There's a sense of loyalty, a tone set by Pinkel when he went 73-37-3 in 10 seasons at Toledo before finally moving on. He still recalls a painful farewell with the players he was leaving behind.

"That meeting I had with players that morning was one of the worst feelings I've ever had in my life," Pinkel said. "It was awful, I was crying, sobbing. We were 10-1 and had the whole team coming back.

"I get attached to people, I think maybe that's why I am that way."