View Full Version : Pinkel, Mangino: Change happens

11-23-2007, 04:04 AM
Pinkel, Mangino: Change happens
By Derrick Goold

COLUMBIA, Mo. Back when coach Gary Pinkel first worked the living room circuit for players to help rebuild the University of Missouri football program, he came offering only a promise. There wasn't much reason to talk about what Mizzou was or had been, so he illustrated what it could be.

Nearly five years ago, he made his pitch to the Ruckers of St. Joseph, Mo., that Mizzou was the place for their son, tight end Martin. Pinkel literally laid out the plans for the program, down to some artist's renderings.

This will be the $16 million Mizzou Athletic Training Complex, he said, the glistening centerpiece of a renovated program. This is where their son would work, play, study excel.

"If you can look at my mom in the face and tell her you're building something like that, you better be able to back that up," Rucker said Monday. As he spoke, he was standing in the glassed-in entryway to the finished complex. Promise kept.

And more than just a building has been built.

"We came here on their dreams," Rucker said. "Their dreams became our dreams, and now we're turning them into reality."

The Tigers aren't alone. They have turned around their program in the same time frame as their biggest rival, Kansas. Now when No. 3 Mizzou plays undefeated, No. 2 Kansas on Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium, more than a visit to the Big 12 title game will be at stake.

The winner of Saturday's showdown has a chance at the national title.

Pinkel and Kansas coach Mark Mangino have followed different strategic paths. Pinkel emulated Don James' schematic, which had worked for the legendary James at Kent State and Washington and for Pinkel at Toledo. Mangino modified the approach he'd seen in Oklahoma and relied on his experience as recruiting coordinator at Kansas State.

But the bedrock for both was the players who believed in the coaches, in what Pinkel called "a vision" and Mangino called "faith."

"I'm used to winning, and it's faith," Mangino said this week. "A little faith in something you can't see. Some kids buy it, some didn't."


At first, few bought what Pinkel was selling. At a team meeting in August 2001, Pinkel displayed his "Pyramid of Objectives," a visual aid for the program's goals. Near the top: a bowl game and a Big 12 championship. That sent a few eyes rolling. At the top: a national championship.

Pinkel could see what the players thought. Sure. Whatever.

"The body language was not really what I wanted, but we weren't good enough to do it at that time anyway," Pinkel said. He added later: "Players knew we weren't good enough. I had to put the vision in front of them."

He also had to start weeding out the bad body language.

When Pinkel visited the Ruckers, Mizzou had won 16 of its past 45 games and endured 17 losing seasons in the past 19. Current seniors describe a group eager for a bowl, but not expecting one. It was "a lot more about 'me, me, me' than 'team, team, team,' "

Rucker said. That's why some "bad apples," as the players said, had to be picked.

Mangino had a similar problem he "brought some kids in here who, honestly, didn't belong here," he told the Kansas City Star. Mangino arrived for the 2002 season, when Kansas had never posted a winning season in the Big 12. Twelve of the past 16 seasons had been losing ones.

Senior defensive lineman James McClinton recalled Kansas calling and thought, "Kansas, man. How many games have they won? Man, they've won two games. I'm not going to Kansas. I'm going to wait for other offers."

Faith and vision changed his mind.

He said he prayed on the matter and saw himself in a Kansas City Chiefs uniform. That's close to Kansas, he thought, and went. Others took a little more convincing. Mangino sold players by telling them to visit the campus.

"We played to the strengths of the University of Kansas," Mangino said. "Obviously, there's some struggles in football traditionally, and we understood that coming in.

"Although our facilities didn't match a lot of our Big 12 competitors, what we tried to sell was that bricks and mortar don't make good players. Take a look at our people."


Both programs fueled their turnarounds with recruiting.

Former KU athletic director Al Bohl has ties to both sides; he hired Mangino at Kansas and, years before, hired Pinkel to coach Toledo. Bohl recently told the Lawrence, Kan., newspaper that he liked Pinkel and Mangino for those jobs because they knew what it meant to be an "underdog in recruiting battles."

Mangino described the importance of identifying talent other schools overlook, such as 5-foot-10

quarterback Todd Reesing. He was the only coach to visit Aqib Talib, who has become one of the conference's best cover corners.

Pinkel followed a similar plan. First, find speed and recruit it. Hoard it. Second, own the state, close the boarders, build a bridge back to St. Louis. Then start drilling deeper.

Pinkel's assistants liken his evaluation process to the NFL's. Is the recruit a good citizen? Is he "dying to be a great player?" Does he have a "headhunter toughness?" Does he come early to improve? Does he stay late? Is he a team player?

Pinkel has added questions, including whether the recruit has children and if the recruit has been arrested.

"What we do is we dig to find out everything that makes up this person so that we know what's inside this guy," Pinkel said. "We made some mistakes early in here. ... We weren't digging enough."

Neither school is known for its recruiting prowess. According to the rivals.com rankings, KU usually sits around 50 and topped out at 38th. MU sits around 30 and peaked at 28.

Their conference rivals, according to the experts, recruit better. Texas' and Oklahoma's classes habitually rank in the top 10. Nebraska's 2005 class was ranked No. 5 by rivals.com and No. 1 elsewhere.

Both Mizzou and Kansas have lost players from their 2005 class 10 of 23 from MU, 14 of 28 from KU. But the Jayhawks' 2005 class, which ranked 48th, has produced the nucleus of their defense, backup quarterback/part-time receiver Kerry Meier and Justin Thornton, a backup who leads the team with four interceptions. Mizzou's 2005 class, which ranked 39th, has produced six starters, including standouts Chase Coffman and Chase Daniel, a Heisman candidate.

From the beginning, offensive coordinator Dave Christensen said, the philosophy of the offseason program has not changed. "We stuck to it," he said, "and now we're seeing the results."


There have been a few changes.

Mizzou's renovated training complex has provided what Pinkel calls the "wow factor" the school needed to clinch its pitch to recruits. Kansas has a $31 million facility coming.

Mizzou players point to another meaningful new feature: the player-coach relationship.

Pinkel's softening has been well-chronicled as he has allowed injured players to travel and quarterbacks to wear hats. But players say it goes deeper. Coaches eat with the players instead of dining and dashing. A few players said they have even become comfortable calling coaches for personal advice.

"The player-coach relationship is what started the whole change of Missouri football," defensive lineman and captain Lorenzo Williams said. "All the things we do together, all the work pretty much spawned the rest of this. It's the things beyond the football stuff that is helping us on the field. It wouldn't be the same without that relationship."

Pinkel's program didn't exactly change; it evolved. Players didn't just join the program. As wide receiver coach Andy Hill said, they "invested" in it.

"I think the big thing is you create ownership," Pinkel said. "I do think now with the kids, they're involved in the decision making. ... I'd never had done that 10, 15 years ago. I changed. I changed in how I communicate with players. You've got that ownership."

Williams recalls his original "investors" meeting.

The Mizzou coaches came to his home in Oklahoma with a video of what the training center would look like and a template for where the program was headed. He recalls hearing about Pinkel's pyramid scheme and the top goal. He saw that same saggy body language. But he knew he'd have a hand in changing it.

The coaches had told him.

"They said I could come in, make a difference, get this program to where it wanted to be," Williams recalled. "A lot of things that were said were you've-got-to-believe-in-me, you've-got-to-believe-in-me, you've-got-to-believe-in-me kind of things. I guess I just believed."

The players, as Vashon grad Will Franklin said, "were into what Coach Pinkel is feeding us." This group of seniors moved Pinkel to tears in their final home game because "these guys jumped on board when there was nothing but a vision."

In those living rooms, they bought into the blueprints.

They believed in more than a new building.

And now they believe it will survive beyond them.

"Hopefully this, this season, can increase momentum to another level," Pinkel said. "Consistency is hugely important. You can get it to a certain point, but if you don't watch you can go back real fast. You go backward if you make recruiting mistakes. Or, if I'm being incompetent, letting things slide and let things go backward. That's not going to happen.

"We've stuck to our plan even through ups and downs. We're going in the right direction. We stuck with our plan."

11-23-2007, 08:25 AM
Good article. Even though it's mostly based on Pinkel's MU program, it reminds me of the one posted recently about Mangino's rebuild of the KU program. It looks like these 2 guys were definitely the right guys for the jobs.