Darren Hellwege, sports commentator
I’d always counted Gary Pinkel among the good guys. I know in his past he was pretty rough both for reporters and fans to deal with. But things change. Some say it was the death of Aaron O’Neal. I know his grandchildren being born was a big deal to Pinkel. But for whatever reason, he’s become more accessible, easier to get along with, nicer. Which makes this week’s events all the harder.
It’s hard to believe, and to accept. There are guys in the sports world that upon hearing they’d been busted for suspicion of DWI, I’d think to myself, “Self, that’s not surprising at all.” We were all stunned to hear that the coach involved was named Pinkel’s.
That makes it more disappointing, too. He was somebody we admired, an appropriate and responsible representative of the university we all love (yes, my friends, the University of Missouri is more than a fooball team!) and someone we’d be comfortable with our kids looking up to. Now, that’s been shattered.
Mike Alden and Brady Deaton have handled things well. The punishment, while harsh, is completely fitting given the circumstances. It was swift and decisive—and decisions don’t always come out of the MU Athletic Department that way. But Pinkel will have a lot of work to do to regain the trust and full respect of Missourians.
Meantime, we can only hope the sad incident raises awareness. Maybe someone’s at Harpo’s Saturday night after the game, ties one on, and remembering Pinkel, hails a cab and keeps his or her car keys out of sight. Let’s hope the contribution Pinkel’s making to anti-drug abuse and drunk driving groups on campus becomes more than just “my boss said to write you this check,” but leads to real involvement. Kim Dude has done tremendous work on this campus for a lot of years, it’s not hyperbole to tell you that Dude has saved lives. Coach Pinkel, she runs a team you should be willing and active part of. I hope that Pinkel has the type of character I’ve always felt he has. Let’s hope Dude finds out that the coach is coachable.
Then, what had been a hard week got much, much worse. I learned earlier today of the death of coach Kurt Budke, an assistant and two others in a plane returning from a recruiting trip from Arkansas. I’d gotten to know Kurt in various Big 12 tournament and Media Days meetings and he was one of the guys I was thinking I would miss when Mizzou leaves for the SEC. But at least I thought I was going to get more chances to visit. His passing will make the final Big 12 women’s basketball tournament a lot sadder.
His coaching ability was remarkable, he took a program that was as down as one can get and made a real winner out of it . He also inherited not just a team that wasn’t winning on the court but had a lot of off-court issues, political battles, and personal sniping and was able to get everyone working for a united cause. He’ll be remembered as a great coach but also as a good man, a good father. It seems terribly unfair that a school which already had way more than its share of tragedy over the years is now facing another. We send our condolences to Kurt’s wife and kids, to his family and that of his long-time friend and assistant Miranda Serna and the two other victims, to the Cowgirls team and the entire OSU family. Cowboys and Cowgirls fans will draw together to support these families. Sadly, we’ve had plenty of experience at it. But, it’ll prove once again a strength that exists there, through good times and bad.
Now, here’s the fun part.
Last week—I get a very cheap 4-0. When you say “Baylor runs away with it” and the Bears win in OT, I should only get half credit. I also notice that last week I neglected to include my record from the week before. It’s sheer coincidence that the week I went just 3-2 was forgotten.
For the season, I’m 48-14. Bowl eligible yet?
Oklahoma State at Iowa State
A Friday night TV game, with Oklahoma State playing with very heavy hearts after last night’s plane crash. Still, this team’s already achieved more than any team in OSU history and is getting closer and closer to a shot at their first ever national championship in football. They take on an Iowa State team that can pull a crazy upset now and then but is, in general, an awfully weak team.
My pick: OSU’s determination may have been shown in their 66-6 demolition of Texas Tech last week. They’ve got everything going just right, and frankly look more and more to me like the best team in the nation. Sorry LSU, Cowboys win this one in a landslide.
Kansas at Texas A&M
You gotta feel sorry for the Jayhawks. There’s a whale of a difference between having a terrible season and going winless. For the Jayhawks to come so close against Baylor, knowing it’s probably the only chance for a win they’ll have, and let it slip away has to be just heart-breaking for KU. Meanwhile, Texas A&M hasn’t been as good as they’d hoped, but still need these wins badly down the stretch.
My pick: Aggies will blow up the weak KU defense, are better suited to stopping Turner Gill’s team than Baylor was, and should win this one, easily.
Texas Tech at Missouri
All right, I’ve already done the piece where I admit I blew it in calling Tech one of the better teams in the league, right? How a team beats Oklahoma then loses three in a row including Iowa State is beyond me. But this can still be a game that scares you, with all the distraction going on about Pinkel. It’s very sad for this great senior class to not have him there for their Senior Day, but I cannot imagine how that leads to MU actually losing this game.
My pick: The only possible road to success I could see for the boys from Lubbock would be a wild and crazy shootout. Of course, OSU shut out the Raiders last week (TTU’s six points came on a turnover, not an offensive possession) and MU’s defense impresses more and more each week—the way they shut down Texas cannot be ignored. They’ll do the same to Tech.
Oklahoma at Baylor
This one could get interesting. There is a mass of teams around Baylor, clubs at 3-3, 3-4, 2-4. The Oklahoma schools are above the fold and Kansas is dead last, but really those other seven teams really could finish just about anywhere between third and ninth. With Baylor facing 3-3 Texas and 2-5 Tech still, Baylor has a whole lot to play for. But, so do the Sooners.
My pick: Oklahoma still has a decent shot at a national championship game appearance. While they currently sit behind other one-loss teams in the standings (Oregon and Alabama) one imagines that they would (and should) jump both the Ducks and Crimson Tide should they beat the Cowboys in Stillwater. Both teams are playing for a lot, so the fact that OU is just a much better football team becomes what it’s all about. I’m picking the Sooners.
Kansas State at Texas
This one’s hard for me. I know I’ve been kidding about underrated Kansas State, but I seriously remain very surprised at how well they’ve done. By the same token, it’s a little surprising to me that the ‘Horns haven’t done better, and frankly the team I saw Saturday just isn’t that strong.
My pick: I’m going to be laughing at how crazy this game is if I get it wrong, but dang it, it’s time to finally give Bill Snyder the benefit of the doubt. This team’s been finding ways to win all year long and they’ll do it again. EMAW, K-State’s your winner here.
In closing, it’s silly and cliché but it’s what’s in my heart. Go tell the people you love how much you care about them. I’ve told the story before of my friendship with Will Hancock and how deeply I’m still affected by the plane crash that robbed us of him and those other nine Cowboys. For the OSU family to be dealing with it again is just a gut drop. Stillwater’s a nirvana to me, it’s where I grew up visiting my grandparents and it’s just representative in my mind of the very best of life, the best people, the best school, the best fans, the best place. That Stillwater is mourning again, and to have lost another friend, I just don’t know what else to say. Life’s too short, don’t regret not saying something to the people you love, because I swear to God, you just never know what the next day’s going to bring. Listen to Oklahoma State President Burns Hargis’ statement. Hargis is a tough old bird and to hear his voice crack as he talks about Miranda Serna being the first in her family from New Mexico to go to college is just heartbreaking. Nothing’s supposed to be able to do that to people like Hargis. I hope my love for OSU and my obvious bias doesn’t color my reporting too much, but these are just my people, and when they hurt, I hurt.
And we’re all hurting a lot right now.
Vaya con dios, Kurt and Miranda.