The 100-Yard Journey

Coach Gary Pinkel takes a candid look at life and football in his new book, The 100-Yard Journey.

 

Gary Pinkel’s tenure as head coach of the Missouri Tigers had enough triumphs, losses, joy and heartbreak to fill a book. So that’s exactly what he (and cowriter Dave Matter) did. They wrote one.

The 100-Yard Journey: A Life in Coaching and Battling for the Win will be released by Triumph Books on September 15, just as the football season kicks into full gear. “After I decided to retire from coaching, several people suggested that I write a book — I said, ‘right, like I’m writing a book,’ ” Pinkel says. “It was something I had never thought about. But several authors and publishers started contacting me, and it began getting serious. I became excited about doing it.”

The book draws back the curtain for an honest look at a sometimes tumultuous, always fast-changing and ultimately successful period in Mizzou’s football archives. “He may not have won a national or conference championship at Missouri, however, he experienced so much more in those 15 years than most coaches do in an entire lifetime,” says Matter, the Mizzou beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “There was the tragic death of Aaron O’Neal, the coming-out of Michael Sam, conference realignment, issues in his personal life and the campus unrest and boycott threat in 2015.

“There is no manual on how to get through these types of things. There is no one to call and ask how to handle a player coming out as gay to his teammates,” Matter continues.

Matter may be the ideal writer to delve into Pinkel’s story. He took over as Mizzou beat writer for the Columbia Tribune in 2000, one year before Pinkel was hired, and covered him through his retirement. An interview over coffee at Lakota in September 2016 solidified the project.

“At the end of the interview, I asked if he still wanted to write a book,” Matter says. “He asked if I would be interested, and I said ‘Absolutely’ ”

Pinkel’s agent negotiated a contract with Triumph Books with a (very) short fuse to have the publication released by the following year’s football season. Matter credits a wealth of sources for their insights — Pinkel’s wife, Missy; his sister, Kathleen, and daughter, Erin; former athletic director Mike Alden; and Chad Moller, assistant athletic director for strategic communications. Most importantly, he praises Pinkel for his willingness to open up about personal challenges.

 

 

“The first half of the book is about growing up in Akron, Ohio, playing football in high school and tight end at Kent State University. He proceeded to coaching under Don James at the University of Washington then becoming the head coach at the University of Toledo,” Matter says. “Most of the second half is a chronological look at his Mizzou years, ending with a candid look at his DWI, divorce, non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis, campus protests and retirement.”

Nick Saban, head coach at the University of Alabama, Pinkel’s teammate at Kent State and his predecessor at Toledo, wrote the foreword. “When we got it back, we were blown away,” Matter says. “He wrote an incredibly touching foreword.”

The book contains numerous color photos of Pinkel from his childhood to the present day. As an added bonus, some of the best speeches Pinkel gave to the team on the Thursday nights before games are excerpted between chapters. Matter believes the book reveals a fuller picture of the man whose greatest character trait may be perseverance.

“Even if you’re a die-hard Mizzou fan who paid attention to every game during the Pinkel years, you still can learn things about his 15 years with the program,” Matter says. “There will be things you didn’t know about his background, his character and what made him the winningest coach in program history.”

Pinkel agrees.

 

 

“A lot has happened in my life and career,” he says. “I had a brother and sister with special needs, and that had a profound impact on me. I played at a high school that had never won a championship, and we won. I played at a college that had never won a championship, and we won. And then people said, ‘you can never win at Missouri,’ but we won.

“I hope fans of Kent State, Toledo and Missouri will be interested in the story — how it all happened. I know that everybody faces adversity, and it’s often worse than anything I have gone through. Through it all, I’m proud that we not only won games, but also graduated our kids and ran our program the right way, with character and integrity.” — Written by Alan Goforth

 

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The 100-Yard Journey: A Life in Coaching and Battling for the Win ($26.95) will be available on September 15 at most bookstores in Missouri, as well as online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books (www.triumphbooks.com/Pinkel).