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Published: Sunday, 11/12/2000

Opportunity will knock often at Pinkel's door

It's a good time to be University of Toledo football coach Gary Pinkel.

The Rockets have won six games in a row and 12 of 13. With yesterday's 31-3 victory over Ball State at the Glass Bowl, Pinkel's record since 1995 is 36-9-1 in the Mid-American Conference and 22-2 at home.

Pinkel, who ranks fourth among MAC coaches with 72 career victories, has nothing left to prove here. He is the all-time winningest coach at Toledo and has coached the Rockets to one MAC championship and two West Division titles.

In the MAC, Pinkel is an icon. He wins without a hint of scandal, graduates his players, and frowns upon running up the score even if it means the Rockets don't get their highlights shown on SportsCenter.

Across the country, the secret is out: Toledo's football coach can coach.

Former Miami (O.) coach Randy Walker is winning at Northwestern the same way he did in the MAC. Walker's success in the Big Ten should open the door for mid-major coaches such as Pinkel.

“If you have the resources to be successful, in almost any conference, there's no question about it, I believe our system works,” Pinkel has said. “It worked at Washington. It's working here.”

If you're Toledo athletic director Pete Liske, you're anticipating the inevitable calls accompanied by 12 of the most dreaded words in the English language: “We'd like to speak with Gary Pinkel about coaching our football team.”

Pinkel's name has been linked with the Rutgers coaching vacancy. Other schools in the market for a coach are West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Alabama, Missouri and Brigham Young.

Two years ago, Pinkel was a finalist at Washington, where he was the offensive coordinator for seven years.

Liske wasn't surprised or annoyed when asked about the possibility of Pinkel leaving for greener pastures.

“Sure, we're concerned, but we're concerned every year,” Liske said. “You always have to pay attention to something like that happening.”

I believe Pinkel when he says he isn't looking to leave Toledo. Some coaches aren't as loyal.

Western Michigan coach Gary Darnell, a finalist for the Rutgers job, reportedly visited the New Jersey campus twice before the start of the season.

It was refreshing to hear Pinkel pledge his allegiance to Toledo.

“I really like being here. I like Toledo,” Pinkel said. “I'm not a move-around person. My family being anchored is real important to me. I have no desire to leave.”

Pinkel signed for around $200,000 annually following the 1998 season, which makes him one of the highest-paid coaches in the MAC. He has a three-year rollover contract that renews itself each year.

Liske has great respect for Pinkel and doesn't want to lose him. However, Liske said Toledo can't offer Pinkel much more in annual salary. The Rutgers job and others like it will pay around $600,000 per year.

At Toledo, winning big means playing for the MAC championship and advancing to the Motor City Bowl. One day, that may not be enough for Pinkel.

“Gary has always wanted to be in position to win a national title,” Liske said.

Said Pinkel: “I tell recruits I wouldn't mind being the head coach on the sideline in the Rose Bowl some day if a great situation presents itself. There's a lot of bad jobs out there. I've got a real good job.”

Toledo has a real good football coach. Enjoy him while you can.

John Harris is a Blade sports writer.



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