Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Strauss: Pinkel Big Man on Campus at MU

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Strauss: Pinkel Big Man on Campus at MU

Article excerpt

A convergence of events impossible to envision several years ago occurred Thursday evening at the Edward Jones Building in Des Peres.

Accompanied by an athletics director two weeks into his term, Gary Pinkel arrived as the highest-paid football coach within the eastern division of the Southeastern Conference. Pinkel's newly- minted $4.02 million salary for 2015 represents his fifth raise in seven years. His enhanced take reflects consecutive division titles that even the most ardent Tiger fanatics would have thought impossible when Mizzou defected from the Big 12 for the nation's pre- eminent football conference three years ago.

Thursday's event was part meet-and-greet for new athletics director Mack Rhoades, part pep rally for a program that has surged under its well-compensated coach.

Pinkel, 63, arrived at arguably the apex of his 14-year tenure in Columbia. Deemed road kill after a 5-7 record that included a 2-6 league record in 2013, the Tigers are 23-5 overall and 14-4 in conference play the past two seasons. Of course, two league losses occurred in the SEC Championship against Auburn and Alabama, both of whom emerged to play for a national title. Rhoades is Pinkel's boss; but make no mistake, Coach P. is big man on campus.

Pinkel negotiated his most recent raise with former boss Mike Alden. Part of the negotiations included an enhanced financial pool for his assistants. The structure is independent of Pinkel's deal and has yet to be announced but, according to Pinkel, raises staff salaries to the conference's top half.

"I just wanted what was fair," Pinkel said of his own deal.

Reminded that his salary exceeds Georgia's Mark Richt by only $20,000, Pinkel stopped short of calling the distinction important to him. He did, however, recall a conversation with university movers and shakers when Mizzou contemplated making the leap to the SEC's predatory waters.

"If you're not going to make the commitment ... if you're not going all the way, they're going to crush you," Pinkel said.

Some may argue Pinkel's new contract is further testimony to excess within a football-mad conference's out-of-control arms race. And those folks may well be correct. But the sport defines the SEC and, let's be honest here, it now defines Mizzou. Pinkel inherited a program that had no entree into the St. Louis recruiting theatre. This month linebacker and Affton product Markus Golden landed with the Arizona Cardinals via the second round of the NFL draft. Jeremy Maclin and Sheldon Richardson preceded Golden. Continuing the churn, Mizzou recently landed prized East St. Louis recruit Terry Beckner, who projects as a four-year starter at defensive tackle if he can overcome eligibility issues.

"When we got here there were schools that wouldn't let us in the building," Pinkel recalled of the icy reception he and his staff received in St. …

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