“I understand, I understand everything.”
The off-hand remark was made to Brian Davis of the Austin American Statesman, who was grilling Gary Patterson on what Chris Del Conte built - or apparently claimed to have built - at TCU before heading south of 35 for the brighter lights and greener (much, much greener$$$) pastures of The University of Texas. Del Conte has sold the folks in Austin on “the Founder’s concept” and how he was able to remodel so much of the Horned Frogs’ athletics facilities while the University carried no debt. That’s the question Patterson responded to, with a wink in his eye, as he gently corrected Davis on just who was responsible for what, no matter who was taking credit for it. “Well, that’s not his deal, that’s the University’s.”
You see, Texas Construction University, as it has been called as the last decade has seen as many cranes rising high into the air as baseballs do out of Lupton Field, as TCU looks to constantly improve the facilities in an effort to keep up with the Joneses of college football. But they have done it differently than a lot of other programs, something that Patterson says is very much by design. “The bottom line is, anything we have ever built, we have always had to raise it up front. We raise it all or we don’t move one brick.”
Patterson was also quick to remind folks the timeline; while Chris Del Conte (deservedly) gets much of the credit for the initial stadium renovation and ushering TCU into the Power Five, the ball started moving well before he arrived on campus in 2009. “For people to get to where they believed in you, you had to go 36-3 (TCU Football’s record from 2008-2010) and have guys that were also one of the highest graduation rates, all things that people bought into and believed in.”
While Del Conte was, and remains, one of the truly great salesmen in all of college athletics - “he has that knack, that ability to ask”, as GP put it - the growth of TCU Athletics into a national brand took more than what any one person could do. And, one could probably credit a Saturday in November in 2009, when College GameDay made their first appearance in Fort Worth, and showed helped bring a vision of the future to the forefront of administrator’s minds. “You also have to have a chancellor who has enough vision to look forward and see how that all works. I think we saw that, and he saw that, in 2009 when we had GameDay at our place. You have ten thousand people in our quad and people are calling from all over the country saying how great our place looks.” Patterson, always one for a good metaphor, encapsulated that moment thusly. “I tell you guys all the time, we are the front porch. That’s the most visible part of the house.”
A lot has changed in the decade since GameDay first set up shop in the quad, and seven years since the newly remodeled Amon G. Carter Stadium opened on the first night TCU was a member of the Big 12, change remains the norm. We learned last week that the latest rendition of the ‘Palace that Patterson Built’ won’t debut in 2019, but this small disappointment doesn’t erase the need to stay ahead of the competition.
Many have asked why TCU decided to throw more money into a stadium that hasn’t even been (re)opened a decade, what with so many other projects looming across campus (ahem, Lupton could use some work, for instance). But Patterson addressed that, too, during Media Days, and why - despite some detractors - the Frogs continue to pour money into a program that continues to serve as the front porch for a University that is going more national annually.
In fact, he challenged those challenging the need for TCU to keep building to go see it for themselves. “You need to walk into our stadium and see how the east side and the new video board, how it changed the presence of our stadium. I think it was exactly what we needed as far as recruiting-wise and fan experience-wise.”
“It wasn’t ‘we wanted to do something because we wanted to do it’. I think you have to be able to show kids in this day and age what you want to do - and as I keep telling people - eyes up, you gotta keep climbing. It’s impressive. I’ve been excited with the vision of the people that put it together. We’ve always believed that you tweak things even if you have great years.”
But it’s not just about recruiting future talent on the field, it’s about recruiting the next generation of wealth and donors off of it that can keep the Horned Frogs competitive well past Patterson’s tenure in Fort Worth. And the ball coach is pretty savvy when it comes to understanding that part of it, too. “I think one of the mistakes that head coaches make sometimes, and especially if you’ve been at a place as long as I have, you get X amount of friends and you grow old with them and you forget everybody else. A lot of that east side was given with funds of younger money, the younger generation of TCU Horned Frogs. I think that bodes well for TCU. It’s a blessing that we have the next generation growing up that still want to be successful.”
The stadium remodel, the recruiting of future donors, is just one part of a bigger master plan that Patterson, Jeremiah Donati, and Victor Bochini have for the Horned Frogs, a plan whose foundation was likely laid in 2014. “We want to become ‘a blue blood’. That’s our goal, is to be thought of on a day-to-day basis, so we don’t get shut out because they don’t think we’re good enough from a program or university standpoint. I think if you look at the stadium, I think you would say that there is not much else they could do. If you walk around the university and see the university is trying to win a national championship I think you would see the standpoint from the whole situation that we’re trying to get to where we need to get to so we represent the Big 12, the city of Fort Worth, the Metroplex and TCU at their highest level.”
TCU may not be thought of as a blue-blood today, and maybe they never will truly be. But, the athletics program and the university as a whole have made it very difficult to make excuses for not believing the Horned Frogs belong on the national stage and that can compete with anyone once they arrive.
That’s why they put another $100 million into a new-ish stadium. That’s why they built a big a** scoreboard. That’s why, when the Frogs open fall camp Thursday, they’ll believe they can win a Big 12 Championship. And that’s why Gary Patterson still believes they can win a national championship, too.