COLUMBIA — Gary Pinkel was told not to come to Missouri.
Following the 2000 season, the Missouri football team had compiled just two winning seasons in its last 17, and Pinkel's Toledo Rockets were coming off their seventh straight winning season with a 10-1 record.
"They said, 'Why would you go there? You're going to have a couple more great years at Toledo and you can get a better job,'" Pinkel said.
But athletic director Mike Alden sold Pinkel on the Missouri job, which he accepted and held for the next 15 seasons.
On Sunday, Pinkel was named a Missouri Sports Legend, the highest honor bestowed by the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
"I'm a Missourian forever," said Pinkel, who still resides in Columbia after retiring as Missouri's coach with a 118-73 record following the 2015 season. "I love this place."
During Sunday's ceremony, a bronze bust of Pinkel was unveiled. It will be displayed at the Hall of Fame's Legends Walkway in Springfield.
"It's very humbling, it's such an honor," Pinkel said. "The coaching profession is about getting people together, working together, whether it's coaches, players, etc. There are a lot of reasons why I'm standing here, and it's basically because I've been blessed to have good people around me my whole life."
While at Missouri, Pinkel guided the Tigers to 10 winning seasons, which included seven consecutive bowl game appearances. Missouri won three Big 12 Conference North Division titles and two Southeastern Conference Eastern Division titles during Pinkel's tenure.
One of the key wins that elevated Missouri came during the 2003 season, when the Tigers upset 10th-ranked Nebraska 41-24. Missouri went on to finish the season with an 8-5 record and appeared in its first bowl game since 1998.
"We needed a big national win to get a taste of what that's like," Pinkel said. "That was very important."
When Missouri defeated Kansas 36-28 during the 2007 season at Arrowhead Stadium, it lifted the Tigers to their first No. 1 national ranking since 1960.
"I've coached in Rose Bowls, Orange Bowls, Cotton Bowls, I've been in some of the biggest game environments," Pinkel said. " But that was as good a game day environment as I've ever coached in. There's nothing that's better.
"Chase Daniel was on Sports Illustrated (cover) the next week. It was a big, big win, and we had a pretty good run for the next eight years."
After winning a program-record 12 games in 2007, the Tigers also finished 12-2 in just their second season in the SEC in 2013.
Since his retirement, Pinkel played a role in pushing Missouri to build a state-of-the-art complex behind the south end zone at Memorial Stadium. The complex was completed ahead of the 2019 season.
"That was my baby," Pinkel said of the $98-million project. "Honestly, I get giddy driving by and looking at it."
Pinkel, who was inducted previously into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2016, said he misses the experience of game day after coaching for more than 40 years, but he still keeps busy with the GP M.A.D.E. Foundation, a nonprofit organization he founded to support children who are facing physical, economic or social challenges.
"That's where I'm spending most of my time," he said. " I have a passion to help kids, that's what I've done my whole life."
Former Jefferson City football coach Pete Adkins donned his red Missouri Sports Legend jacket, which he received in 2013, for Sunday's big day.
"I thought, 'I'm going to wear that thing,'" Adkins said. " Now's the time to do it."
The Jays football program became the eighth high school football team to enter the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
"For the team and all the coaches we've had through the years, this is really neat for them," said Adkins, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986. "I've had my share of the glory, and I don't need this myself. It's great for the kids and great for my excellent coaches I had through the years."
Adkins led the Jays to nine of their 10 state titles, but he considers Sunday's hall of fame recognition to be "right at the top," as far as biggest moments in program history.
"Everybody since 1958 that has had a part in this, you just can't say enough about them and how exciting this is for us," he said. "They've still got that ol' Jay pride."
Starting with the 2020 season, Jefferson City will be a member of the Central Missouri Activities Conference, along with Battle, Capital City, Helias, Hickman, Rock Bridge and Sedalia Smith-Cotton. The Jays will play their first varsity football games against both Capital City and Helias.
"We're going to have some big changes, we all know that," Adkins said. "By and large, I think that it's going to help football in Central Missouri, having a conference and having something to play for.
"I can't see but good things happening."
Some things haven't changed in the month since Blair Oaks softball coach Sharon Buschjost was announced as part of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2019.
The Lady Falcons won another Tri-County Conference title, their 23rd in Buschjost's 24 seasons as coach. They also secured their eighth straight 20-win season.
"I've never been a wins-loss person," Buschjost said. "I just take pride in every team, every year, knowing the caliber of softball we play, and that any given year we could be one of those four teams left (at the Final Four)."
Blair Oaks had its streak of 13 consecutive district championships snapped this season by the Helias Lady Crusaders, who won the Class 3 state championship Saturday.
"A huge congratulations to Helias," said Buschjost, who traveled Friday to Springfield to watch the Lady Crusaders' semifinal game. "They beat us three times, and in my mind, I thought they had an excellent chance of finishing it off in Springfield."
Buschjost takes pride in her team's strength of schedule year after year, and it was evident in 2019. Five of Blair Oaks' six losses were to teams that played in a state championship game.
Buschjost, who is nearing 500 career wins, led the Lady Falcons to the 2009 Class 2 state championship, as well as 10 Final Four appearances in the past 20 seasons.
"In '09, achieving a state title is any program's ultimate goal," Buschjost said. "That in itself stands out. But then along the way, over the years, any big win or any accomplishment that happens for a player — and you know it's a big deal to them — those are moments that I coach for."
Leo Lewis III spent years working toward getting his father, Leo Lewis Jr., inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
The persistence paid off, as Lewis Jr. was inducted in this year's class. However, Lewis III was surprised to learn he was joining his father in the hall of fame.
"I was thoroughly shocked, because I never lobbied for myself," Lewis III said. "I was always trying to get my father in. I'm elated, and I think it's very special that we're both going in. I've never heard of a hall of fame bringing in a son and a father in at the same time. This is a really special time for us."
Lewis Jr., who passed away in 2013, was an All-American running back at Lincoln University from 1951-54, helping the Blue Tigers to two unbeaten seasons. He still holds the program's all-time career rushing record of 4,457 yards.
Lewis Jr. went on to play 11 seasons in the Canadian Football League, helping the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to four Grey Cup titles. He returned to Lincoln as a football head coach from 1973-75.
"We've been following dad's accolades throughout the years," Lewis III said. "It's unfortunate that he's not still alive, but this is the sixth hall of fame — and it might be the last — that's he's achieved.
"There's more to it than just his football identity. He was a great man and a great father, and was a great citizen in Jefferson City and Columbia."
As a quarterback, Lewis III led Hickman to a state championship in 1974. He went on to play college football at Missouri before spending one season with two teams in the CFL and 11 seasons in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings and the Cleveland Browns.
As a senior, Lewis III played in the Liberty Bowl with Missouri, who won 20-15 against LSU.
"Being able to play quarterback that was promised to me when I came out of high school was a good time," Lewis III said. "They had to switch me to wide receiver because I had Steve Pisarkiewicz and Pete Woods in front of me."
Melinda Wrye-Washington is back where it all began.
The Eldon native led the Lady Mustangs to four consecutive Final Four volleyball appearances from 1986-89 and made the all-state team three times. Last week, she wrapped up her first season as head coach at her alma mater prior to being inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
"They came so far, I'm so proud of them," Wrye-Washington said after her Eldon team finished the 2019 season with a 17-14-1 record. "They really bought into the idea of culture and how they want to go about changing that. They've set goals and they've stayed on track."
Between her stops in Eldon, Wrye-Washington played for three seasons at Missouri and one at Columbia College, where she was a conference MVP and All-American her senior year.
After starting as a coach at Westminster College, Wrye-Washington returned to Columbia College, where she posted a 719-112 record in 19 seasons from 2000-18. She led the Cougars to the national tournament every season, and they won the NAIA national championship in 2001 and '15.
Columbia College also had runner-up finishes in 2000, '03, '05, '10, '12 and '18.
"I'm a very goal-based coach," Wrye-Washington said. "We took those trips in steps. We would try to play the tournament almost in reverse, we took the first game just as seriously as you would the national championship. The girls' personalities being so diverse, we had some great times."
Being from Mid-Missouri, Wrye-Washington was able to recruit some of the best talent in the area, as well as recruiting players from other continents.
"It meant a lot to keep those kids here and keep the relationships with all the local coaches I've known for so long," she said.
Jeremy Maclin is enjoying being a coach, but it was his playing days that landed him in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
"I grew up here, went to college here, played for the Kansas City Chiefs," Maclin said. "Everything's kind of coming full circle."
Maclin, a two-time all-state football player at Kirkwood, later became a two-time All-American at Missouri during some of the Tigers' best seasons. In just two seasons with Missouri, he broke the program's career all-purpose yards record with 5,609 yards.
"It truly was a family environment," Maclin said of his time at Missouri. "Coach Pinkel had an awesome staff and the guys I played with are some of my best friends to this day."
Maclin was selected in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, where he remained until 2014. He then spent the next two seasons with the Chiefs and finished his career in 2017 with the Baltimore Ravens.
Maclin retired from the NFL earlier this year and had to decide what he wanted to do next.
"I had opportunities to coach in college and the pros this past year," he said.
With his wife, Adia, and his daughter, Jett, Maclin and his family decided to return to St. Louis so he could be an assistant coach at Kirkwood, with his cousin, Missouri commit Jay Maclin, on the roster.
"What an awesome time to go be a coach," Maclin said. "I love it."
Maclin said he could see himself becoming a head coach someday, but for now, he wants to spend time with his wife and his 5-month-old daughter.
"I think that's most important," Maclin said. "I think I'm going to watch my daughter grow up for a little bit, and then after that, I could definitely see myself getting into (head) coaching, for sure."
During Sunday's Missouri Sports Hall of Fame ceremony, former Columbia College men's basketball coach Bob Burchard received the Pinnacle Award, while Dr. Mark Adams was the recipient of the President's Award.
Other hall of fame inductees include:
Chris Gervino, KOMU sports broadcaster
The Fry Family (Dave, Shaon, Ryan, Brett and Shannon), multiple sports
Eric McDonnell, Missouri athletic trainer
Ed Lampitt, Missouri wrestling
Erle Bennett, Centralia football coach
Jim Scanlon, Rock Bridge boys basketball coach
Dave Gill, Southern Boone coach
Barry Koeneke, Hallsville baseball coach
Rock Bridge boys and girls tennis programs
Hallsville baseball program
Show-Me State Games and Missouri Senior Games