Eye of the Tiger

My Instagram bio reads “Book blogger | Sports enthusiast and cat lover | Travel addict | #MizzouMade.” Basically, I was destined to read Gary Pinkel’s autobiography. After all, this is the man who led the Mizzou football program that created that very hashtag in my bio.

Some of my best college memories stem from football games at the ZOU — and I don’t just mean from the pregame. I really got into games, sometimes so much so that my moods directly correlated to the team’s success. And even though I no longer live in Missouri, I still try to follow the team as much as possible.

While reading his book, I was excited to relive some of those memories through Coach Pinkel’s perspective. I also loved reading about his personal journey long before he moved to Columbia, Mo. and became the winningest coach in university history. However, I couldn’t help wondering if I enjoyed his book simply because of the nostalgia it gave me. On deeper reflection, The 100-Yard Journey didn’t contain the best writing; it certainly won’t win any awards. Maybe this is a book only Mizzou and/or football fans can truly enjoy. Well so be it.

I’ve always said good books can transport you to another place and time. When they take you back to a fun and important time in your personal life, they get bonus points — even if the book itself doesn’t blow you away.

Gary Pinkel

Gary Pinkel has humble roots, and that’s probably one reason why he was so well-liked at the University of Missouri. And those roots are where he begins his memoir, The 100-Yard Journey. Pinkel grew up in Akron, Ohio, a state with great love and respect for football. His parents were practical and hard-working, teaching him to never feel sorry for himself and to always be kind to other people. His older sister and younger brother both developed a rare neurological disorder that left them unable to walk in early adulthood. Their stubborn and fierce attitudes about how the disease would affect their daily lives, as well as his parents’ demeanors, laid the foundation for Pinkel and his career.

After graduating from Kent State, where he played tight end, he delved into coaching under Don James, Pinkel’s college coach and mentor. James left for a head coaching position at the University of Washington, and Pinkel would soon follow, spending 12 seasons there. Eventually, Pinkel was ready to lead his own team. He took over for friend and former teammate and colleague, Nick Saban, at the University of Toledo in 1991. He successfully coached the Rockets until 2001 when my alma mater convinced him to leave his home state for mine and to hopefully turn around a football program that “just couldn’t win.”

And that’s exactly what he did. Pinkel turned Mizzou into a top-notch Division I football program capable of winning conference championships and bowl games, producing first-round draft picks, and becoming a destination for football talent nationally. As Pinkel details this journey, he also highlights issues that plagued him and the university, such as the death of Aaron O’Neil, the suspension and legal problems of various players, and the cancer that led to his retirement. (Pinkel announced on June 23 that his cancer has returned.) But there are bright moments too, especially when Michael Sam made national headlines by coming out to his team in 2013 when I was a senior at Mizzou. Pinkel finishes his book by discussing his retirement — the struggles and the positives — and the impact that six decades of football have had on his life.

I really thought I’d only care about the parts of Pinkel’s book that I personally experienced: his Mizzou years. I found, though, that I was just as interested in his upbringing and everything that led him to Columbia as I was for those moments when we lived in the same town. His past has clearly influenced his actions and mindset throughout his life, and I was keen to learn of these inspirations.

GP and LG

Can we also talk about this Lady Gaga shoutout?

Pinkel is also a very passionate guy — about life and especially about football. That enthusiasm shows in his writing as he regales readers with compelling stories and behind-the-scenes thoughts. Feeling someone else’s intense emotions through his or her writing is infectious and fun. Mixing that with the immense nostalgia this book gave me allowed me to fly through this book (seriously, I read it on a plane) and mostly enjoy every page of it.

The key word here is mostly. I couldn’t help but notice the writing was, OK I’ll say it: It was pretty poor. The repetition in phrasing and subject matter irked me. (I can only hear about Pinkel receiving his coaching doctorate from legendary Don James so many times.) It was also too straight-forward and lacked diverse structure, on both the macro and the sentence level.

I can get over that though. He’s a celebrated college football coach not a Pulitzer author. It was almost to be expected (though I did anticipate better editing). No, I took bigger issue with how he seemed to gloss over some low points of the Mizzou football program, mainly when lead running back Derrick Washington was sentenced to prison for sexual harassment. Washington’s actions and the university’s, including the football team’s handling of them, were chronicled in an episode of ESPN’s Outside the Lines in 2014 so the world is very much aware. However, Pinkel only discussed them for a few pages and tended to shift the blame away from him and Mizzou.

I was a student at the time, so this didn’t sit well with me. I had always wished Pinkel had done more — though I’m not sure what. I wanted him to elaborate on it more in his book too or to convey more guilt than he did. If he could rightly take full responsibility for his 2011 DWI in the book, why couldn’t he show a little more resolve for the Washington scandal?

Even though this book brought me happiness and interested me (two qualities I look for most when reviewing), the poor writing and tendency to shift blame were contributing factors in this review; therefore, its flame was fairly contained. This book did get me excited for college football season, though, which is only two months away, and I can’t deny happy feelings like that. Pinkel was a great coach who did a lot for Mizzou football, as well as the university. His success brought me joy and a lot of fun memories the past 10 years. I’ll always be a fan of GP — definitely of his stories and not so much of his storytelling.

MIZ!

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