Every time Alabama plays a football game, a key talking point on the other side is Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban. This week Bama is playing Missouri, coached by Gary Pinkel. Ordinarily, that would be of next –to-no interest. But this week, it’s worth mentioning.
That’s because Nick Saban and Gary Pinkel go back many, many years and at different levels. They will be on opposite sidelines Saturday when Saban’s Alabama, 5-0 and ranked number one in the nation, goes to Missouri, where Pinkel has the Tigers at 3-3, but 0-3 in the Southeastern Conference.
Missouri is new to the SEC this year. Alabama is 2-0 in the conference. Interestingly, Bama has been to Columbia before, and has been there as the number one ranked team. In 1978, en route to the national championship. the Tide went to Columbia and found itself behind by 20-17 before coming back in the second half for a 38-20 win. That’s Alabama’s only win over Missouri, which has a 2-1 advantage in the series.
Saban and Pinkel began their relationship under legendary Coach Don James when James was head coach at Kent State. Saban was a defensive back, Pinkel at tight end for the Golden Flashes.
Other than possibly in practices at college in Northeast Ohio, this will be the first time Saban and Pinkel have faced each other as opponents.
On Monday, Saban discussed the relationship. He said, “Gary was actually one year behind me in school. I was a senior when he was a junior.
“I just always had a tremendous amount of respect for the kind of person that Gary was. He was a hard worker, very smart football-wise. We spent one year kind of as GAs, part-time coaches, whatever you want. We were not assistants. I did have an opportunity to work with him.
“I do think think Don James had a tremendous impact _ I can't speak for Gary _ but on me, in terms of my whole philosophy of coaching, dealing with players, personal development program, academic support program. I'm talking about things relative to football as well as program-oriented things, how to recruit, how to evaluate players. Learned a lot. In fact, when I first started coaching, Don James was so well organized that I just assumed that any place that you went, that's how everybody did it. When I left Kent for other places, I was like, 'Coach James was way ahead of all this.'
“I know that Gary was exposed to the same things and actually was with Coach James for a lot longer, and I felt bad about leaving Toledo after one year, and I knew the best person out there for the program would be Gary. I was just happy that he got the job.
“He did a fabulous job there for a long time, and he's done a great job at Missouri.
Pinkel gives credit to Saban for recommending him for the Toledo job when Saban left after the 1990 season. Saban, who had coached the Rockets to a 9-2 record, left to take a job as defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns. Pinkel was offensive coordinator under James at Washington.
Pinkel spent 10 years as head coach at Toledo and led the Rockets to a record of 73-37-3, best ever by a Toledo coach. He was inducted into the Toledo Sports Hall of Fame.
He left Toledo to become head coach at Missouri in 2001. Now in his 12th season at Mizzou, he has a record (including this year) of 88-57.