Gary Patterson told an anecdote during media days about how, when he was first named the head coach of TCU Football, the then-Star Telegram TCU beat reporter questioned whether he could handle the media obligations a program leader is handed. A lot has changed in the 19 years since, as the once somewhat gruff and awkward Coach P has become a media darling and one of the best quotes in the country.
As he opened his 22nd fall football camp at TCU last week, Patterson was every bit the quotable, likable, downright hilarious guy that those around the program have come to love over the course of the past two decades, and had several great lines during his 30+ minute Q&A. But none was better than this:
“I tell people all the time, we’re the girl next door who had pigtails - she had a crush on you but you didn’t pay attention to her. And when she grew up, and you look outside the window and she’s going to prom with someone else and she’s beautiful and she’s grown up - that’s TCU.”
But not only is it a great line, it has a lot of truth to it.
Listening to Patterson say that, as the gathered media chuckled, I couldn’t help but be reminded of… Taylor Swift. Because of course.
Way back in 2008, a young Taylor released her second album. This was before she was TAYLOR SWIFT, instead, she was a sweet country singer that apparently had a crush on Tim McGraw. The song “You Belong with Me” was the third single she released off the album Fearless, and became her second-best selling single. Swift described the song’s concept as “basically about wanting someone who is with this girl who doesn’t appreciate him at all. Basically like ‘girl-next-door-itis.’ You like this guy who you have known for your whole life, and you know him better than she does but somehow the popular girl gets the guy every time.”
See where I am going with this?
TCU has been in Texas since its inception, and has been in one of the biggest media markets since 1873. DFW is known for producing a ton of football talent, and for many years, the Horned Frogs were never considered a threat to take much of it. When the old Southwest Conference broke up, TCU was famously left on the outside, not even respected enough by the other programs in the state to be kept in the conference who dominated it.
Meanwhile, Gary Patterson came to Fort Worth and started winning. And then kept winning. No matter who was or wasn’t listening. He won in the WAC. He won in Conference USA. He OWNED the Mountain West. He helped the Frogs earn a spot in the Big 12 and he won that too, and made an appearance in the title game despite almost nobody thinking TCU could adjust to life or recruit at a winning level in the Power Five.
“Nobody gives us credit. We have been here 22 years. We have 122 guys either draft choices or free agents. We have had 700 guys go through the program - most of them have graduated. In this state, to be honest with you, we get knocked down because we aren’t A&M or Texas, but I don’t listen to them,” Patterson said when he met with the media or Report Day. But, despite being considered a “little sister of the poor” at times in state, the Frogs’ reputation has grown, and continues to grow, outside of Texas. “It’s this university as a whole - almost 56, 57% are from out of state. The reputation of TCU outside this state is great - even the guys we’ve got committed - we got one the other day that isn’t even from the US.”
Yes, the girl in pigtails is not recruiting globally, recently earning a commitment from German QB Alexander Honig.
While Texas and A&M battle every Signing Day to see who wins in paper tigers, TCU identifies the players that aren’t as sexy star-wise, but who are athletic and ego-less enough to trust the coaching staff to put them in the best position to develop them. They go after guys who aren’t the most popular or the highest-rated, but the ones who want to get coached up and improve. How many two stars get offered by TCU and then see their profile raised as other schools and coaches come calling? How many two stars have the Frogs signed that have signed NFL contracts? The number has to be in the dozens. And that’s what matters to Patterson, who said at Media Days he is going back to his old way of recruiting. “There are plenty of guys out there. You only have to get 5-7 guys in a class that can play anywhere, if you’ll just recruit good players for the rest of them, then you’re going to have a chance to be successful. You don’t recruit all chiefs, and that’s one of the secrets. I think we got away from it, to be honest with you, for a couple of years, and I’m trying to get back to my old ways.”
The old ways means not chasing stars, but developing them. The old ways means going after guys who want to be here (and yeah if some of those are four and five star guys all the better). The old ways is recruiting guys who want to earn the chip, and then wear it proudly for the rest of their lives.
“There are guys in this state who say ‘small little TCU’ and we aren’t small little TCU. I tell people all the time, we’re the girl next door who had pig tails - she had a crush on you but you didn’t pay attention to her. And when she grew up, and you look outside the window and she’s going to prom with someone else and she’s beautiful and she’s grown up - that’s TCU. We’ve grown up.”
Taylor Swift grew up and became so much more than a country music star. Now she’s a global brand. TCU has grown up, too, and earned respect nationally.
And they aren’t going to stop trying to be the Prom Queen anytime soon.