Thursday, August 1, 2019

Mizzou 50: 1989 saw the Berlin Wall and Mizzou's win percentage both fall

Missouri began the 1989 season with a new head coach, Bob Stull. Stull had played at K-State in the 1960s, had been an assistant coach at Kent State when Gary Pinkel and Nick Saban played there, and he came to Columbia off a successful tenure as the head coach at UTEP.

It was an autumn of revolutions in eastern Europe as the Cold War roiled toward its conclusion and Germany marched toward reunification and countries overthrew Communism.

Back in Mid-Missouri, which would eventually become home to a chunk of the disposed Berlin Wall, Stull prepared for his first season. He had been an assistant coach under Don James at Kent State and Washington. He wouldn’t find much success at Mizzou, but two coaches later Missouri would have a lot of success hiring a Don James assistant, Pinkel.

The Stull era began with a 14-10 home win over TCU on Sept. 9.

Then came a parade of losses. Missouri lost 24-7 at Indiana. Not sure if this momentarily caused St. Louis people to use the term “Hoosier” as a winner instead of a pejorative. Then the No. 2 Miami Hurricanes roared into Columbia like, well, a hurricane, and trounced the Tigers 38-7 on the Ominturf of Faurot Field.

After a big setback, it’s nice to get away, and the Tigers were able to do just that with a Sept. 30 road game in the brilliant sunshine of Arizona, traveling to Tempe to face Arizona State. Sun Devil Stadium is a pretty cool college football venue, tucked next to a rugged, desert-appropriate mountain, rising above the nearby Salt River. Of course, a September game in the Valley of the Sun sounds like a shvitzy affair. In any event the Sun Devils won, 19-3.

Then Big Eight play started in fairly brutal fashion, playing the top two teams in the conference. Missouri’s 20-year conference title drought would be extended pretty early on in conference play.
The Tigers first traveled to No. 3 Colorado on Oct. 7. With apologies to eastern Europe, the Buffs were staging a revolution of their own in 1989. Colorado was storming toward a 7-0 Big Eight record and the outright conference title, the first time since 1961 - 1961! - that neither Nebraska nor Oklahoma won a share of the Big Eight title. Colorado would end the regular season at No. 1, but lost to No. 4 Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, denying the Buffaloes a national title. They finished ranked No. 4.

In this matchup, Colorado easily beat Missouri, 49-3, winning without even needing a fifth down. Heck they barely needed third or fourth down.

Then came a home game with No. 4 Nebraska. Missouri had managed some competitive efforts in the Victory Bell rivalry, but this wasn’t one of them. With Memorial Stadium packed with plenty of fans in red, the Huskers churned out a 50-7 win. It was the Tigers’ fifth straight game scoring 7 or fewer points.

Missouri was now 1-5, but the schedule let up some with an Oct. 21 trip to Kansas State. Counting the 1989 season, in which the Wildcats would go 1-10, K-State was wrapping up an astoundingly bad 50-season run. During that half century, the Wildcats had posted a 24% winning percentage, with the next worst Division I-A winning percentage during that run being Northwestern, at 33 percent. During those 50 seasons, the Wildcats had posted just four winning seasons, which is staggering, and 37 seasons of 3 wins or less, which might be even more staggering. The Wildcats had gone 2-48 - 2-48! - against Oklahoma during that span, and K-State was selling home games to the Sooners to help make ends meet. There was a grimness, a desperation to the situation in Manhattan, with talk of pushing K-State out of the Big Eight.

Into that situation walked Bill Snyder, who was in his first season as head coach at K-State. Sports Illustrated ran an infamous article at the start of the 1989 season referring to K-State as “Futility U,” pointing out the school had 299 all-time wins, and had been pursuing that 300th win since 1986.

At the start of that article, Snyder said, “There is only one school in the nation that has lost 500 games. This is it, and I get to coach it.”

Coach it he did. He led the Wildcats to just one win that season, against North Texas, but the losing streak was over, and the culture had changed. Inch by inch he brought them back.

But on this October Saturday, Stull and Missouri won the matchup of first-year head coaches, 21-9.
That made Missouri 2-5, but that was the last win of the season. The Tigers lost 31-30 at home to Oklahoma State. Then came a Nov. 4 trip to Norman. Oklahoma had a new coach, Gary Gibbs, and the Sooners had NCAA sanctions left over from the Barry Switzer era, including a postseason ban and a live TV ban, but they still crushed the Tigers 52-14.

On Nov. 11, two days after the Berlin Wall finally started to come down, Missouri lost at home to Iowa State, 35-21.

Finally, mercifully, the season ended on Nov. 18, with one last indignity, a 46-44 loss to Kansas.
Twenty years after Missouri’s last conference title, the program’s malaise deepened.

1989: 30 years ago, 7th in Big Eight

Record: 2-9, 1-6 in Big Eight

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