162: Coach Gary Pinkel: Former Head Coach Gary Pinkel of Missouri talks about getting cancer & how it ended his football career but overcame to live and find a higher purpose. Not only is this an inspirational episode but Coach Pinkel has been successful in every way along with being a phenomenal mentor to so many athletes that have played for him (like me).

July 31, 2020

Coach Gary Pinkel

What was it like for Gary Pinkel to go from being an extremely successful and respected college football to facing cancer? “I’ve been healthy my whole life. I feel for all those folks out there with cancer now. We’re all in the same team. So I had to make a decision. I just signed a 6-year contract and I didn’t know if my cancer was going to last 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years. I didn’t know. But thing for me, Mark, was that I had to make a decision 5 years ago that I didn’t want to work 35 weeks out of the year, 80 hours of those 35 weeks and miss all the time with family, friends, and everybody. I had 8 grandkids, and I just said I’m not going to risk doing that, because it would just break my heart if I did that.”  

On this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, we talk with Gary Pinkel, Head Football Coach at University of Missouri-Columbia, 3-time Coach of the Year in three different conferences, and the third most winnest coaches of all time who was once Mark Pattison’s coach in college at the University of Washington. Gary Pinkel shares the moment when he had to walk away from coaching to fight cancer. “I loved coaching. I absolutely love it. I was so fortunate, so blessed. But I decided to do it and I retired. I went immediately and started doing chemo in Mayo, which is about a 6-hour drive from Central Missouri here, Columbia. I was pretty clean for about 3 years and then a year and a half ago, it came back in a particular area.” 

What You Will Learn:

What is Gary Pinkel’s advice to anyone with cancer?  “I’m managing it. There are people with a lot worse cancers than me. The window we have, I don’t know. I’m just very fortunate everyday. I feel blessed everyday. I’ve always been like that. But for me, it was something that, the mental side of it, and to all the folks out there with cancer, number 1, God bless you, ok, and number 2 is keep battling. You’ve got to battle. Whatever the battle is. Whatever it is, you’ve got to battle. I know that. The attitude you have is going to be really important.” 

Kristen “I didn’t get in it for money, and I wasn;t going to stay in it for money. I had a coach that wasn’t making very much. I just loved coaching. I’ve been blessed to have it. I had just signed a new contract. They were going to pay me $4.4 million a year. Some people might say I’m crazy. But again, this isn’t about that. This was all about time. If I live another 20 years, it’s awesome. If I live another 5, that’s great. But I will never, ever regret working those longs hours, which I loved, and coaching.”

Having positive people in your life is highly important to Gary Pinkel. “I wrote a book called The 100-Yard Journey. It came out a couple years ago and I’ve had a couple printings on it. I talked in the book about how I’d been very fortunate my whole life to have a lot of very good people around me. I really have. I had a high school coach named Dick Fortner and we never won a championship in the history of my school and I happened to be there when we won one.”

What is the thing that Gary Pinkel does the most similar to Coach James? “What did I learn from him? Everything. Organizational skills, learning how to handle adversity. We had a big thing with our players now. We were i nAugust and we are doing a lot more meetings at that time after practices. I have a meeting like, ok, this is how we are going to handle adversity. We are going to have a great attitude. We are going to come up with a plan. We are going to have a great work ethic and we are going to have this thing called perseverance and that is the fuel.” 

What was the shift for Gary Pinkel as a coach to take more control of his position on the team? “When it was really a big change was when I went to Missouri. That was a program that had two winning seasons in 17 years. It was remarkably difficult to change the culture. Texas Tech didn’t have any players better than us and they were throwing the ball like Washington State did almost 95% of the time almost. That is no exaggeration, and they are going to Bowls every year. We got better players and we are more conservative on offense. That was when we really flipped, and we became an attack, throw, vertice, everything, option throw football team.”  

Respect and Unity

What was it like when Coach Pinkel had a player that came out as gay? “I always talked to our players about being respectful to people. All people. You don’t have to believe in everything that they are doing. You don’t have to agree with everything. Everybody deserves some respect initially.”

The Power of a Positive Attitude

During this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, Gary Pinkel also discusses the power of a positive attitude. “Attitude is everything. We were taught that by Coach James, Everything, your attitude, and  I used to tell our players…Our players used to make fun of me, we’ve be running out to practice and we’d talk about attitude the night before or something, and they’d be running saying, coach, attitude is free, everybody can have it. They were dogging me man. But you know, that meant they got it, you know? Learning how to control your attitude.” 

Links to Additional Resources: