Former Rockets coach Gary Pinkel and Michael Schaefer celebrate after upsetting Penn State in 2000. Pinkel was 73-37-3 in Toledo. BLADE
For a power-conference team, playing a Mid-American Conference team on the road just doesn't have many benefits.
So why on earth would former University of Toledo coach Gary Pinkel agree to bring his No. 24 Missouri Tigers to the Glass Bowl, when he knows plenty well how dangerous a trip it is?
“I thought, really, I'd be gone now — they'd have fired me by now,” Pinkel said. “I didn't plan on being here.”
Pinkel's joking self-deprecation aside, the former Rockets coach accepted a series which is an endangered species in college football. Now in his 12th season at Missouri after 10 at UT, Pinkel agreed to a home-and-away series with Toledo that will conclude with Missouri's Saturday trip to the Glass Bowl.
The practice is rare. When a power-conference school agrees to play a mid-major school, it almost always follows the same blueprint: The big school pays the small school between $500,000 and $1 million for a one-time game at the big school's stadium, the big school pounds the small school into oblivion, and they both go about the rest of the year.
Not in this series. Missouri agreed to play the Rockets on the road, risking their entire year for little payoff. Pinkel was the lynchpin. He chose to accept the series, even though he knows about UT's upset history perhaps better than anyone. During his time in Toledo, Pinkel beat a Big Ten team three times, including a 24-6 romping at Penn State in 2000.
“We talked about it several years ago, and I said I wouldn't mind doing it later on. This was the date that [UT] picked,” Pinkel said. “Knowing the history of how well they play and the history of beating nationally ranked teams and top-level teams — we don't do this very often, but we made the decision to do this several years ago.”
Oddsmakers are taking the game seriously too. The game opened Monday with Missouri as a 6-point favorite. Forty-eight hours later, the line was down to 4.5.
The Rockets are 60-18 at the Glass Bowl since 2000, which includes victories against Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas, and No. 9 Pittsburgh in 2003.
Pinkel himself has been burned by a home-and-away series against a MAC school before. The Tigers had a home-and-away with Bowling Green in Pinkel's first two seasons in Missouri, and BG won both games. That included a 2002 trip to Doyt Perry Stadium in which a talented Falcons team humiliated Missouri 51-28.
Even with that history, Pinkel said he wasn't apprehensive about the series.
“If you're a good football team, you gotta win no matter where you play,” Pinkel said. “To me, down the road it was OK to do a home-and-away. I agreed with it. It's a great challenge for us, but it's a good game for us.”
Beyond the game itself, Pinkel still looks fondly on his years at UT and in Toledo. Pinkel's tenure coincided with some of the program's happiest times.
After he departed for Missouri, his final recruiting class turned into one of the top classes in school history. The Rockets won the West Division three times in four years and the MAC twice.
Even if the game at Toledo is a dangerous one for the Tigers, there will be emotional ties for Pinkel. He spent a decade trying to turn UT into a program of prominence, work that makes him proud — even if that same program comes back to bite him come Saturday.
“I love Toledo. I spent 10 years of my life there, and I’d like to think I’ll always be a Rocket,” Pinkel said. “All three of my kids graduated from high school there, which was important to me.
“The right opportunity came for me at Missouri, but I never built the Toledo program to get out of there. I built a program to last, and I think for the most part, it has.”