Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

BenFred: Pinkel's Timing Draws Questions after Whirlwind Week

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

BenFred: Pinkel's Timing Draws Questions after Whirlwind Week

Article excerpt

KANSAS CITY * The tailgating taking place across Arrowhead Stadium's sprawling parking lot looked normal enough. Charcoal smoke wafted. Cold beers were plucked from coolers and jammed into Koozies.

Saturday's conversation, though, was unlike any other.

Tiger Nation was still trying to sort through a lot of stuff before Mizzou kicked off against BYU. On Friday, fans found out longtime coach Gary Pinkel would retire at the end of the season because he has non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which was diagnosed in May.

"Right out of the blue," Mike Johnson said of the news he received from his wife, Ruth, in a text message.

"It's more of a shock," said their son, Brett, a Mizzou senior.

Fans didn't have much more of a heads up than players and their families. Jim and Valerie Leftwich, parents of senior receiver Wesley Leftwich, found out along with the rest of us. Same for the players.

"Surprised," Valerie Leftwich said. "We didn't know. As far as I know, my son didn't know. Because he didn't say anything to us."

The gut punch arrived on the heels of one of the most turbulent weeks in the school's history. There is racial unrest on the Columbia, Mo., campus. UM System President Timothy M. Wolfe has resigned, and chancellor R. Bowen Loftin will be moving to another role with the university. A graduate student activist's eight-day hunger strike to force Wolfe out was aided by a 48-hour boycott by Pinkel's players.

"This week has been a (bad one) for Mizzou," said lifelong Mizzou fan Justin Rhodes about Pinkel's retirement. "I figured, initially, (the retirement) was due to the protests, which no one knows exactly what that's about. But I still think the university could have done a better job of how (it announced the news) because they knew (of Pinkel's illness) since May.

"If they've known since May, why would you announce that now? It's not exactly the best time to announce your head football coach that's been there for a over decade, your winningest coach, is going to step down the same week you have a lot of consternation on the campus."

Rhodes, who is black, offered a unique perspective. The Ferguson native played baseball at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. His father is a St. Louis County police officer.

"Do I think they (the protest and the announcement of Pinkel's retirement) were tied together?" he said. "I can't know. I'm saying, no matter what, if it wasn't, then it was stupid. If they've known as long as they've known, that he had lymphoma, why they would announce that now, why wouldn't you wait until the end of the season? Everyone who has a good idea of news cycles knows you let a story like that die. You let it go."

If you haven't noticed, opinions vary greatly when it comes to the Concerned Student 1950 protest group that the football team joined in calling for Wolfe's job. …

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