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September 4, 2013

The Toledo Years

Gary Pinkel's 13th season as head coach of Missouri began four days ago with a 58-14 win over Murray State. In three days, the Tigers play host to Toledo, the program which gave Pinkel his first job as head coach. PowerMizzou.com spoke with individuals in and around the Toledo program during Pinkel's ten-year tenure with the Rockets, and their voices tell the story of how the seeds of the rebuilding project in Columbia germinated in the Ohio soil 22 years ago.

The Background

In July 1987, Al Bohl became Toledo's athletic director. On Nov. 22, 1989, Bohl fired Rockets' football coach Dan Simrell after finishing second in the Mid-Atlantic Conference and posting six winning years in eight seasons. Simrell was Toledo's all-time leader in wins. A month later, Bohl finalized his coaching search and hired the secondary coach for the Houston Oilers, Nick Saban. Saban led the Rockets to a 9-2 record and a share of the MAC championship. On Feb. 13, 1991, Saban resigned as head coach to take a job as the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns.

AL BOHL: I had not planned on -- Nick was only with us for one year at the university. I thought we were going to go three or four years before I'd have to worry about hiring a new coach. It happened, but it wasn't a case where I was sitting there already with a list of ten guys to hire from.

The first identification of Gary was (from) Nick Saban. One of the last things he said to me as he was leaving my office at the University of Toledo was, 'You better look at Gary Pinkel out of Washington.'

Nick really knew football and I respected Nick a lot. If he mentioned Gary Pinkel's name, that's someone we ought to be looking at. I'm not going to throw out any other names of the people we were looking at, but every job I've had, we always had great people that were part of the process, trying to get hired. In fact, the No. 2 guy ended up being a coach in the Big Ten.

NICK SABAN (from the 2012 SEC Media Days): I did recommend him for the job when I left there because I thought he would do a fantastic job, and he did a wonderful job there.

GARY PINKEL: Nick called me. I'd just started getting into skiing. I'd just got done skiing, snow skiing, because I think it was the first part of March. I went in my office to get something, and I got a call from him. He called and told me -- it was kind of undercover at the time that he was going to go to the NFL -- and he asked me if I would be interested in the job. I said, 'Yeah,' and he said, 'I'd have nothing to do with you getting it, but I can get you an interview if you're interested.' For me, that's how it started.

Dave Hackenberg was the Toledo football beat writer at the time for The Toledo Blade, where he currently works as a sports columnist.

DAVE HACKENBERG: If my memory serves me, he was a finalist at Kent (State), which was his alma mater, and at Bowling Green, where he had been a GA (graduate assistant), I think. He didn't get either of those jobs, but then got the Toledo job.

Saban had just left when he got the Browns' defensive coordinator job, and it was sort of a late hiring. He'd missed out on a couple of opportunities with the MAC and then this one opened up.

He probably wasn't on the first list of names, because being out in Washington, you're sort of out of sight, out of mind. But he wasn't an unknown factor because he'd been involved in some other MAC searches.

PINKEL: I interviewed for the Bowling Green job that same year, that December, and didn't get it. I interviewed for the Kent State job, didn't get that job. Nick interviewed for, one time, the Kent State job, and didn't get that, either. You know how things go. So I don't know how high on the list I was. Anyway, I'm sure that had a huge influence, Nick's recommendation.

BOHL: It turns out that both Nick Saban and Gary Pinkel went to Kent State, as you're probably well aware, so they knew each other. But that was the first indication that Gary was somebody we ought to be taking a look at.

Gary was the offensive coordinator for the University of Washington under Don James, one of the legendary, long-time coaches in the sport of football. And Don had gotten there because a guy named Mike Lude, the athletic director at Washington, they'd been at Kent State together so that's the connection.

HACKENBERG: At that time in the MAC, maybe still but certainly at that time, the process of head coaching the MAC was pretty much a young coordinator at a major program. I don't think Gary's hiring was perceived any differently than any other of that time. He was certainly, he had the background. He had the Don James' seal of approval and Don James was really highly regarded in Ohio for a long time. The fact that he had coached, played in then coached in the MAC a little bit at Bowling Green, his credentials were as good as anyone's. I don't think there was any trepidation about his hiring.

Cornell Ford's senior year at Toledo came in 1988, but he tried to get on with Saban's staff as a graduate assistant before Saban left for the NFL. In the end, he was hired as GA once Pinkel took over. He's now Missouri's cornerbacks coach.

CORNELL FORD: As a young coach, as a young graduate assistant trying to get into this profession, the thing that I did, and I'm sure everybody does, is just look at his history, and where he's from. Every place he's been he's won. He comes from a winning tradition, kind of the coaching tree of Don James, and Don James is a hall of fame coach. So, any young coach, just look at the background and say this is the kind of guy that you can learn a lot from.

I remember my first interview with Coach Pinkel, he told me he had a Ph.D in football from Don James, and I said, 'Wow, that's pretty good.' I want to study under a guy like that.

BOHL: One of the things I knew about hiring someone at the University of Toledo is that I wanted someone who knew the area, knew how to recruit Ohio and the surrounding States. That really helped in Gary's regard to start with, because he was from Akron, played at Kent State, had been a grad assistant at Bowling Green, so he had a lot of things. He knew the area and had done an excellent job at the University of Washington. He was someone who had a lot of credentials that we would want to look at.

Nick Saban was a defensive genius. But when I looked to replace Nick, I felt that we should look for someone who could also do a whole lot with the offense, and Gary was no question one of the top offensive coordinators in the nation.

The Build-Up

Inheriting most of Saban's staff and Simrell's players, Pinkel went 23-19-2 over his first four seasons, never finishing above third place in the MAC. In 1993, Toledo finished in a tie for seventh in the conference with a 4-7 record.

PINKEL: One of the things about getting the job was I had to inherit almost the entire staff. After a couple years, it kind of weeded itself out. I made some changes and kind of talked to some people, moved some people around. They were good coaches, but just for me, and then Nick obviously went as a coordinator with Bill Belichick with the Browns, so when he did that, it wasn't like he had another job where he took six or seven coaches with him. They were all good guys. I did some things different than Nick, some things I believe in.

Would I do it again? Yeah, I probably would. I wanted the job. But, yet, it made it obviously a lot more difficult just because you're sitting there, trying to explain to people, trying to talk them into believing what you're doing. It was all for the right reasons, and it all worked out.

HACKENBERG: From the first press conference until the day he left, he was professional. I don't think he gave anybody any reason to question whether he was a good hire or not.

Now, it was maybe unfortunate for him that he was hired -- when he did not get the job at Bowling Green, a guy named Gary Blackney did. For reasons that still, I don't want to say they astound people ... but Blackney's record at Bowling Green, the first five years or four years, was something like 36 wins, six losses, a couple ties.

Blackney was 36-8-5 in his first four seasons as coach at Bowing Green, winning the MAC twice along with its two bowl games as part of the MAC's lone bowl tie-in. Bowling Green, then called Bowling Green State, beat Pinkel's Toledo team each year, winning the Peace Pipe Trophy (now called the Battle of I-75 Trophy).

HACKENBERG: That's 24 miles south of Toledo. He didn't produce right away the way Blackney did at Bowling Green, and he probably suffered from the comparison. But once he got some recruiting classes in here after a few years, I think they had one losing season early and a couple right around .500. From that point on, nobody ever questioned whether Gary Pinkel should be a head coach or not.

Pinkel's signed his first full recruiting class in 1992. Among the athletes he signed was Ryan Huzjak, a quarterback. Huzjak is still involved with Toledo and is currently the director of corporate sponsorships and sales for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

RYAN HUZJAK: I remember (the recruiting process) vividly. Dean Pees was my recruiting coordinator and he was the defensive coordinator at the time. Coach Pees is now the defensive coordinator for the (Baltimore) Ravens, so he was a really impressive and great coach.

But Coach Pinkel was very involved. Because of his track record at Washington and the great players he had coached, he and I hit it off very well. Coaching Mark Brunell, Chris Chandler, Warren Moon and all those guys, he had a great pedigree at Washington, so I was real excited to play for him and his very quarterback-friendly offense.

On my recruiting visit, I actually spent a lot of time with Coach Pinkel, watching film, all those good things. I lived only an hour north of Toledo, so he actually drove me home after the visit. It was great. It was great spending time with him, and he was a big reason why I chose to go to Toledo.

HACKENBERG; When he came in after Nick Saban, Saban had won a co-championship but he had primarily done it with -- he was only here one year. He primarily did it with the previous guy's players. The team that Gary inherited was not nearly a co-championship team, as the team that Saban inherited was. Gary had some building to do. I think people here were respectful of the job he did. Respectful of the professionalism.

Craig Kuligowski played offensive tackle for Toledo from 1986 to 1990. In 1991, he joined Pinkel's staff as a graduate assistant. He became the tight end coach in 1992, and eventually became defensive line coach in 1996, the same position he holds at Missouri today.

CRAIG KULIGOWSKI: The thing about it, the situation at Toledo is we had three different head coaches in three years. Dan Simrell was the guy who recruited me and coached me for the first four years. Then we had Nick Saban, who was very different than Dan Simrell, and then we had Coach Pinkel who was different than Nick Saban.

With a lot of the players, you're just trying to find a trust factor and when you have three different coaches in three years, that's tough. I think the players, as time wore on, they knew, A, he cares about the players, he's loyal and he's fair.

Brian Jones joined Pinkel's staff in 1992 as the receivers coach. He eventually moved to running backs coach prior to the 1995 season, a position he holds with Missouri currently.

BRIAN JONES: At times, you have to go through tough times to get to experience good times. '94, we had a rough season in '94. We lost some games, had a young team, had some issues here or there and so on.

HUZJAK: My first fall there, we actually had a pretty good team, only lost a couple of games. Kevin Meger was the quarterback then. I think he was a fifth-year senior, a three-year starter. He was a veteran player. The next year (1993), my redshirt freshman year, is when I actually got some playing time. I wasn't the starter at the beginning of the year, but I got into the game against Indiana and played pretty well, ended up earning the starting job three or four games into the season and I started from that point forward.

We had a great offense, probably had the best offense in the league in '94. We had a couple receivers that played in the NFL for a little bit, we had a really good running back, we had a really, really good offense. But our defense really struggled. We had a hard time in '93 and '94, it was just a track meet every game.

HACKENBERG: He had several really good recruiting classes. My memory is a little herky-jerky, but Wasean Tait was the big name on that team, a running back. He was the best running back in the MAC and they were sort of on the early edge of a spread offense, a little bit.

I don't mean to get carried away in saying that it was anything near the spread offense of today, but Pinkel's offensive philosophy was always not running to open up the passing game, it was passing to open up the running game.

He was one of the early coaches, at least in the Midwest which was still very much made in the image of Woody (Hayes) and Bo (Schembechler). Gary came in and sort of turned the philosophy around. They would pass a lot early to open up the running lanes and Tait just beat people up.

BOHL: He's someone who is a great student of the game. He's a great motivator, a great teacher. As that grew as he went through his Toledo years, you could see that everyone got better and better.

That '95 season was a tremendous one.

The Breakthrough

Led by Huzjak, and Wasean Tait's 1,907 rushing yards with 20 touchdowns, Pinkel's 1995 team rolled to an undefeated 11-0-1 season and a win over Nevada in the Las Vegas Bowl. Along the way, Pinkel finally defeated Bowling Green State, the first victory over Toledo's biggest rival for the Rockets' fifth-year coach.

HUZJAK: Going into the '95 season, Coach Pinkel got with Coach (Tom) Amstutz (the defensive coordinator) and changed the structure of the defense, changed the front. Went from kind of a stunt 4-3 to the 4-4 or the even front, the 20-defense we ran.

Our personnel seemed to fit it a lot better, but '95 was our first year in that defense. I recall stressing getting takeaways. Coach Pinkel, the previous season, I don't remember the exact number, but we were not on the plus side. Probably on the plus side, but barely, with turnovers. So he really stressed taking care of the football on offense, and then taking it away on defense. The defense we installed in '95 was one that was predicated on pressure. A lot more aggressive.

We didn't know. We felt like we had some good offensive players, Wasean Tait came into his own at the end of the (previous) year, I started to play a lot better and we put up some good numbers. We felt like we had a really good thing going on offense, but we weren't sure on defense.

HACKENBERG: I don't know if you'd say there were expectations of an undefeated season, but, yeah, they had built for that.

They were really good and they got better as the season went along.

JONES: We really tried to develop that (family atmosphere) after the '94 season even more so. And then, '95 we flourished and it paid dividends on the football field. We had great players. We had great leaders, but it was just the family atmosphere that took over.

KULIGOWSKI: You just hope for the best, to be honest with you.

PINKEL: I thought we had a real good team, but that team was just one of those teams that it just clicked, man. The chemistry -- we found ways to win. We were one of two teams, I think Nebraska was undefeated, too. We had one tie, but we were the only people that went undefeated.

KULIGOWSKI: I remember the newspaper in Toledo, and this is how coaches remember stuff. I don't know if it's the truth, you have to look up my facts, but they said, 'It's time for Coach Pinkel to leave the Toledo program after the 1994 season.' All that kind of stuff. Of course I take that personal.

The next season, we go on and we didn't lose a game.

HUZJAK: In '95, we had a pretty tough first four games of the season, and the defense just played really well, got a ton of takeaways. I'd say by the third or fourth week when went down and beat Western Michigan and then beat Cincinnati on the road, we felt like we had something special going.

Particularly when we went out and beat Nevada in Reno, we knew we had something special at that point.

Five of Toledo's first seven games were on the road, culminating with its rivalry game against Bowling Green on Oct. 21, 1995.

HUZJAK: I don't remember him talking about it a lot. I think our opener was against (Eastern) Tennessee State or something like that, and we rolled in that game. Going into Western Michigan, they had a really good team. They were favored ahead of us in preseason rankings, so going on the road there was critical. To go play at Cincinnati, we knew they were going to be good, and then at Reno. I remember thinking about those first four games, in particular games two, three, four, being really, really tough games.

I remember thinking, 'Boy, that's going to be a tough stretch.'

Once we beat Western, Cincinnati, we knew we were rolling. We were locking in, week by week. Coach Pinkel wouldn't let us think past the next game, so it was one after the other.

Before traveling to Bowling Green, Toledo had its first and only blemish -- a 28-28 tie against Miami (Ohio), in the last season that regular-season ties were still possible. Pinkel's team had to regroup for the stretch run and a shot at a MAC championship and the bowl berth it would bring. First up, though, was Pinkel's albatross.

HUZJAK: I just remember being really frustrated by it the first couple of years, because Bowling Green was very good. They had won the MAC a couple of times straight (1991, 1992). I remember consciously talking about our program and overcoming those guys. That was something we were really conscious of. Just knowing that they had won it, they were good and would continue to be good, we had to get through them. They were our rival. I mean, that game in particular, that season, I think we went into that game really, really confident. I don't remember having any doubts about it, because at that point, the Miami game, we outplayed those guys and had some really tough things happen to us on the road, in terms of calls. But I remember going into Bowling Green very confident.

The one thing I remember about it was they came out in their brown jerseys. We just got the biggest kick out of that. A, they were horrible looking, and B, we felt like at the time that they felt like they had to do something special to beat us. We were an extremely confident group going into that game. I don't remember the circumstances or what their record was, but I just knew we felt like this was our time to get back and take over the league. We were tired of them beating us and winning the MAC. We were tired of seeing them.

Toledo beat the Falcons, 35-16. Pinkel's Rockets would win four straight in the rivalry, and five of the last six in his Toledo tenure.

HUZJAK: That's one of my favorite memories as a football player, going in there and seeing those horrible jerseys and almost just laughing about it. Feeling like this was awesome. They were wearing those jerseys to make a special move on us or what have you, and now they were going to have to lose that game in those jerseys. It was a great memory, a great game.

Toledo earned a share of the MAC championship with a win over Akron on Nov. 11, 1995. A week later, the Rockets won the championship outright in a 31-20 home victory over Ohio.

HUZJAK: The students came out in force, they tore down the goalposts. I remember we were on the field. The Vegas Showgirls (and Las Vegas Bowl representatives) were there, they gave us Las Vegas Bowl hats. It was the greatest. (The students) took the goal posts and ran them through campus after the game.

Coach Pinkel, the first couple of years, especially after we had a good year his (second) year with (future first-round NFL draft pick) Dan Williams and all those guys, and then the next couple of years were a little bit down. The '93 season was down, '94 was probably a little better record but the defense wasn't up to snuff so we didn't win enough games. We lost a heartbreaker to Eastern Michigan and Charlie Batch.

(Pinkel) had gone through some adversity those previous two years, so it was a big year for him. He took a lot of criticism I think those first couple of seasons, so '95 was great. It was special. it was the culmination of a lot of hard work. We were his first recruiting class, so he had a few to backfill in behind us, so it was clearly Coach Pinkel's team all the way through and through at that point.

HACKENBERG: Then they played in the bowl game, the first bowl game they'd been in in several years, out in Las Vegas.

Toledo traveled to Las Vegas to face Nevada for the second time that season in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Rockets won 40-37 in the first overtime game in Division I-A history.

HUZJAK: It was special for him. He brought Don James and some other guests that were special to him to Vegas to the bowl, and we knew that was a special time for him.

I don't remember exactly, but we did prepare for it (an overtime scenario). We discussed it in our bowl practice, what we would do if it went to overtime.

If we had the opportunity to choose, our first choice would be to be on offense last, so we knew what we had to do to win. That was the thing that I remember sticking out in my mind, and Coach being in total agreeance -- let's just have total control of our destiny.

Back then, it wasn't so obvious.

PINKEL: Toledo's in the College (Football) Hall of Fame for that, so it's pretty cool.

Beginning of the End

HACKENBERG: I think he started getting overtures at that point. He made it clear that he thought he had a really good job. Regardless of record, standings or results, Toledo is the best job in the MAC. From a standpoint of what you're getting paid, what your staff's getting paid and what the resources are. I'm sure that some others have gotten very close and may have caught up, Northern Illinois being one, Ohio being one. For the most part, Toledo is the best-paying job in the league and has been for some time because they have better resources and alumni support than a lot of places.

HUZJAK: We definitely heard the criticism of Coach prior to that season and we definitely, after that and ending the season in the Top-25, we were definitely aware of the heightened notoriety, both local and national.

I was really aware of it. I think anybody that follows it and knows it sees that the MAC is a great proving ground for coaches. I definitely felt like he was capable of coaching anywhere, any program. Certainly didn't want to see him leave Toledo, but certainly understood his capability.

Prior to the 1996 season, Al Bohl left to take the athletic director job at Fresno State. He eventually became the athletic director at Kansas, but was fired in 2003. Bohl is now an adjunct professor in sports management at Flager College in Florida. Huzjak graduated following the 1996 season.

BOHL: You'd have to understand what happens when coaches get hired. Anybody that does well in the Mid-America Conference, he immediately, for any of the other schools and conferences that are considered to be bigger than the Mid-America Conference, they're definitely going to be on the radar, and Gary would have been then. People start to take a look at him.

HUZJAK: My first couple of years out of Toledo, I was in coaching. I went and coached at Northern Iowa with Coach (Mike) Dunbar, so I was a little bit in the circle and heard about some things that he was thinking about.

But I also knew that Coach Pinkel wasn't a guy that was looking to jump jobs every two years. He's not that type of guy. He values his family, his home life and those things, so I knew it was important to him to make sure his kids could finish school. That was a big part of his decision. Stability was a huge part of who he was, so I knew if and when he decided to move on, it would be for an opportunity that he would want to be at for a long time, maybe the last job. That's what we all kind of knew about him.

He was someone who was going in there for the long haul.

KULIGOWSKI: Anytime you go undefeated, other people around the country notice you. Really, the last year we were there, beating Penn State, that got Coach Pinkel's name around more than anything else. He had a lot of schools interested in him the whole time he was there at Toledo, but he wanted to stick around because he didn't want to go to any place that wasn't going to be able to win and he wanted his kids to graduate from high school.

HACKENBERG: The first really serious one I remember was when Rick Neuheisel got the head coach job at Washington (prior to the 1999 season). The two finalists were supposedly Gary and, what was the guy's name? He later became the coach at Idaho, I want to say. But anyway, Gary was one of the two finalists that were sort of out front.

You'd have to ask him about this, but my impression was that he sort of felt he got used a little by the athletic director, as a former coordinator there and a guy that Don James was pushing, that the athletic director out there sort of let him be the show pony while she was secretly meeting with Rick Neuheisel to try and get him away from Colorado.

That's the first big-time national job that he was involved in, at least in my recollection. I think there were some other opportunities where, frankly, he just didn't think they were as good as the job he had.

It's sort of a funny story because the guy down at Bowling Green who had such a great run his first four, five years, then followed it up with five straight losing seasons. He was maybe the hottest name, one of the hottest names in coaching those first four or five years and he turned down Duke once, he turned down I think Wake Forest once, turned down Iowa State once. They just weren't good jobs.

(Gary Blackney's) thought process was, 'Those aren't good jobs. I'm not just going to take any job that comes along.' Then it went south for him and he couldn't get an interview.

I think Gary Pinkel might have, after ten years, might have looked at that and some other situations like that and realized that, 'If I'm going to go from the MAC and get a big-time job, I better take this.'

I think everybody -- in that profession, with someone who is considered a rising-guy within the profession, to get ten years out of him, that was not usual, that was not the norm.

You look at an Urban Meyer-type of ascension, two years at Bowling Green, a couple years at Utah and then he's off, and he's making the moves that he has to make to get to the top. I don't think, you know, Gary never approached it that way. He felt that he had a good job here. When an opportunity came, I'm sure he looked at them.

BOHL: You ever heard of a guy named Brady Hoke (Michigan's current head coach)? How did he get to San Diego State? Because he did a great job at Ball State. Then he gets the San Diego State job, does a great job there.

There was no surprise to me that Gary is someone that would be mentioned when job opportunities come up. But, each coach has to analyze their own situation, though, and decide whether it's a good time to look at another job or not.

Saying Goodbye

On Nov. 18, 2000, Missouri fired head coach Larry Smith after going 7-15 in his final two seasons. Pinkel's Toledo team finished 10-1 that season, including a road upset of Penn State, but didn't receive a bowl berth. Twelve days after Smith's ousting, Missouri athletic director Mike Alden announced Pinkel as the Tigers' new head coach. Pinkel took most of his coaching staff at Toledo with him, and Jones, Ford, Kuligowski and OL coach Bruce Walker remain.

HACKENBERG: He's mentioned, I know at the time, that they went 10-1 and didn't go to a bowl game. And that was back when the MAC had one bowl affiliation and no one else even looked twice at any of them. It's a whole different story now, whether merited or not is another question. But back then, the MAC only had one bowl game. I think they lost to Central Michigan, that's my recollection, and Central Michigan didn't lose another game in the league, so they got the bowl berth, where ever it was.

Toledo's lone loss in 2000 came to Western Michigan, which advanced to the MAC championship game to face Marshall, the East division champions. Marshall beat Western Michigan and went to the Motor City Bowl, where it beat Cincinnati to finish 8-5. Western Michigan did not earn a bowl berth and finished 9-3.

HACKENBERG: I think Gary talked a little bit about how discouraged he was to have a team go 10-1 and not get any postseason reward. I'm sure he was being honest when he said that, but at the same time, let's be honest. Missouri came in and offered to, what? Triple or quadruple his salary at that time? And it's far more than that now. That was sort of a no brainer, as long as he felt like it was a job that had some potential and I think he felt that way.

PINKEL: When I was there, you know, shoot, if they had the number of bowls they do now, we'd have gone to a bowl game eight of the ten years we were there.

We had a 10 and 1 team, won our division but didn't win the championship because the one team we lost to I think was Western Michigan. But we had like 17 sophomores on that team, so we were going to be really -- and Tom Amstutz (his successor) did a great job, they won for the next two years I think and then passed it on.

For me, when I was there, one of my goals when I went, from a personal standpoint, when I went to Toledo, I was 12 years at Washington, I went to Toledo, is I wanted all three of my kids to graduate from the same high school. That was real important to me to do that.

When I had other opportunities, maybe an interview and things in the ten years I was there, I didn't do that specifically for that reason. And it happened. It worked out well, because my daughter, who's the oldest, and my oldest son had already graduated, they were attending the University of Toledo and my youngest son, Blake, was finishing his senior year, so I just missed from January on.

KULIGOWSKI: I can't tell you how these things go down. It's like no one knows anything for real, you don't know what's really going on, and then all of sudden someone says you have a job offer or don't have a job offer.

FORD: At that time, it was probably one of the more difficult things that I'd ever had to do, leaving that time, because it was a very special team. We had built it, just like we built it here. Those kids, they died for us. They would go to war for us. So it was hard leaving those players at that time.

BOHL: We still have a relationship, but it's not where, no, we're not still regularly meeting and talking to each other. We're well passed that, nor do I do that with any of the previous coaches I've hired.

With Gary, he's someone I continue to hold the highest respect for. Absolutely do I follow the Missouri Tigers. But not only because of Gary Pinkel, but because of a young guy that played for Gary (at Toledo) named Brett Bohl... That's our oldest son, and he played for Nick Saban and Gary Pinkel. When Gary went to Missouri, he took Dave Steckel (Missouri's current defensive coordinator) with him, he took Dave Christensen, who's now the coach at Wyoming, among other guys. So a lot of those guys I lived and died with at Toledo went to Missouri, so yeah, I follow Missouri.

I just have a great appreciation and always wish the best for Gary's teams.

HUZJAK: I assumed it was a great opportunity for him and he felt like he could go in there and have a long career, do great things. It made sense. I knew he was going to go to a major program, and Missouri, to me, I wasn't all that familiar with their track record or otherwise, but I knew that he was going to go for an opportunity where he could really build something really special over the long haul.

PINKEL: I think it was just a good opportunity. People have talked about Missouri forever being the only Division-I school in the state. There's a lot of things to overcome. We all understand that. There always is, it's hard to win. It was just the right thing to win. I had some people tell me I was crazy. I had a lot of people tell me I was crazy, I shouldn't do it. But my gut feeling was, Mike Alden was here, someone I felt I could trust, so I took a stab at it.

HACKENBERG: When he came back (in 2009), he was elected and inducted into the U-T athletic hall of fame or the Varsity T Hall of Fame, whatever it's called. There were like five or six inductees in that class, and there was no question who the star of the show was. When everybody else was introduced, there was enthusiastic but polite applause. When they brought him out at halftime of the basketball game, he got a standing ovation.

I think people respect what he did here. He left here -- he didn't burn any bridges in leaving. He put in ten years and left the program far better than he found it.

HUZJAK: I think anytime, and it's the same for me, but anytime youre associated with a MAC championship, particularly an undefeated team, that never goes away. I know that Coach (Matt) Campbell (the Rockets' current coach) and Coach (Tim) Beckman (now at Illinois), before him, really value the tradition and the history at Toledo. Those guys, Coach Campbell is an awesome guy, an awesome ambassador for the University of Toledo, and he doesn't just give words to it. He truly is a huge fan of the history, and embraces the history and the tradition of Toledo. Coach Pinkel is a big part of that. He's in the Varsity T Hall of Fame, and there's a group of supporters that keep track of all the greatest accomplishments in all of Toledo athletics, football and otherwise.

He's very well thought of at Toledo. That team, people are always mentioning it, everyone I run into still remembers the team. He's a special part of the history at Toledo, and I believe he still has the most wins in history there. He's definitely legendary status back at Toledo.

MATT CAMPBELL (to The Toledo Blade in this article): All I know is of coach Pinkel. I certainly know the legacy that he left here. He had one of the most tradition-rich tenures of any coach associated with this program.

When you talk about that tenure it wasn't just about winning football games. There's everything else that came with it, like the discipline, attitude and effort he created here. His legacy, I think, is what a coach hopes to leave behind.

PINKEL: We built our program there. The foundation of the same program that we had here, the same program that was at Washington, the same program that was at Kent State, with Jack Lambert and Nick Saban and all those guys. I never went there to try and bring a bunch of players in and I don't care, win and get out of there. I never took that approach. We're building this like we're going to be here forever.

I'm always rooting for Toledo. I'm always rooting for Washington, obviously except when we play them.

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