TCU Football kicks off their 2015 campaign tomorrow night, and Gary Patterson is pissed. His D can't get lined up. His offense looks bored. Players had to leave the football field because it was too hot. Players are dinged up on both sides of the ball, the offense can't score in the red zone, the defense can't stop them, and frankly, nobody seems to be doing their job well - depending on the day. Gary has made the transformation to Coach P, and nobody is safe.
If you've spent any time around or invested in the TCU Football program since Gary Patterson took over in 2000, you know Patterson's Jekyll and Hyde routine: Gary is the charitable guy who will crack a joke at Big 12 Media Days that rendered TCU beat reporter Carlos Mendez temporarily speechless; Coach P is the FOOTBALL FOOTBALL FOOTBALL guy that even wife Kelsey Patterson isn't always sure about... but seems to enjoy:
If you're in the know, the kind words Coach P shared in the spring about his defense were cause for concern: he built his guys up and praised them early and often, while moving guys to that side of the ball from the offense with regularity because that side of the ball clearly wasn't getting it done. With so many freshmen looking - and needing - to play big roles on a defense that was decimated in the back end by graduations and an early entry, Patterson knew beating them up in the spring wouldn't pay the dividends in the fall. He even said as much at Big 12 Media Days, where he spoke of needing to build confidence and build trust in a group that hadn't taken many on field snaps to that point. Patterson waxed poetic about his young defense and how well they were performing, the speed and athleticism they are gifted with, the way he will be able to manipulate his defense and get creative in his coverages:
"To be honest, it’s back to the numbers we had. Our starting linebackers last year ran 5 flat, 4.8. It was the slowest group we’ve ever had at TCU. The five top linebackers this year average a 4.5-something when we ran at the end of spring. Defensively, not just linebacker-wise, we have a chance to be more athletic than we were a year ago."
Even going so far as to compare game planning his defense to writing and performing music, Patterson reveled in the options he had and creativity he planned to showcase with his new, fast, toys, saying "I used to like writing music. My creative itch is now defense". But he was also quick to add in a Garyism: "And when we're running and we know what we're doing, we're probably the fastest defense we've had in a long, long time. But if you're running in the wrong direction, it doesn't matter."
Patterson is known for being a tough as nails kind of guy who won't settle for less than your very best, something that paid major dividends when he didn't have access to the top flight talent afforded those with a seat at 'the big boy table'. Now that GP has shown he can recruit with the major players in Texas and beyond, he doesn't seem to have let up even a little, regardless of the star rating of the kids coming his way. Take a time capsule back to January of 2011, immediately following the biggest deflection is school history:
And what did Coach Patterson do as his defense ran off the field? "Oh, we knew exactly what he was going to do," says Carder with a chuckle. "He started jumping on our safety, Alex Ibiloye, for letting Wisconsin’s receiver get open. I’m not kidding. Coach Patterson was more pissed off at Alex, the one guy out of position, than he was happy with me for blocking the pass and saving the game. Pretty classic, huh?"
That is vintage Coach P - the man who won't enjoy even a program changing play for more than a beat because there are still ticks left on the clock. This year's team hasn't been spared his wrath either; just days away from opening the season ranked second in the nation, Patterson was not impressed with the final mock scrimmage, saying "is there the potential here to do everything we want to do? Yes. There's also potential to be .500 or less." Mind you, this is the same team led by a Heisman contender and returning 10 offensive starters off of the most prolific season to date from that side of the ball.
In a college football landscape full of entitlement and anointing kids before they have stepped foot on the field, the one thing you can be sure of is that TCU doesn't care where you're coming from, what your star ranking is, or what your high school stats are - they take a 'what have you done for me lately' approach on a game by game basis. And frankly, I find that refreshing. These players will work for what they get - and the minute that stops, they will find themselves on the bench. And in return, they will have a coach that truly cares for them, that wants to see them graduate and succeed as much off the field as they do on it, and an accountability that seems far too lacking in college athletics today. Coach Patterson never has a problem being honest or tough on his charges, but there hasn't been a man among them that he didn't care about them as people, not just players. And even at his frothiest, that sentiment comes through:
"I really like this group. They are really good people," he said. "There are days you don't like them, just like there are days they don't like me. As a general rule, they have done an unbelievable job."
Coach Patterson isn't a jerk; he doesn't hate his players or his coaches, he doesn't belittle them or hold them back. What he does, is refuse to sugar coat anything. He's not going to puff you up with false praise just to make you feel better - he's going to strip you down to your very core and rebuild you in the image of the best player you can possibly be. And that's why I like it best when he's not being nice, but instead chooses to make a point that his players could be playing a little better. He works to keep them humble, to keep them motivated, and sometimes just to tick them off. Because as he has said before, teams need a rallying point, and sometimes the best way to bring them together is over how ticked off they are at their coach that particular day.
Gary is a pretty chill dude really, just check out his song covers and his guitar playing. But Coach P is a man on a mission - and that mission is to win a National Championship at TCU. The Fiesta Bowl appearance was nice, the Rose Bowl win was pretty cool. Taking the Peach Bowl trophy was another step in the right direction, as were each conference championship along the way. But none have left him feeling that he, or his program, have fully arrived.
When I tell Patterson that Kelsey claims he enjoyed the Rose Bowl victory for all of two days before he started to work on the next season, he said, "One day." I ask him why in the world he wouldn’t give himself more time to celebrate. He gives me one of his steely-eyed looks. "We haven’t won the national championship yet," he says tersely.
Here's hoping that Coach Patterson, and Kelsey, get to enjoy the last victory of the year for a little bit longer this off-season.