“We come from humble beginnings.”
That is how TCU Football’s uniform release video from last winter begins, and it could not ring more true. The modern era - or Gary Patterson era - of Horned Frog Football began in the WAC, a truly humble league, and took a winding, twisting path to the big boy table.
But Patterson and his players never forgot where they came from, and it showed each week - whether it was against the likes of lowly Rice or a nationally ranked Utah team, TCU Football rarely gave less than their best effort.
Years later, the Frogs are a nationally respected program led by one of the most well-respected coaches in the country, capable of earning conference championships and BCS wins. That’s the story of TCU Football, and the story of their 2019 motto, “Earn the Chip.”
First, for context, you should watch this again:
It’s more than fabric. It’s our story. #HumbleBeginnings pic.twitter.com/aY6Jnc5CZr— TCU Football (@TCUFootball) January 30, 2019
When asked about the motto at TCU’s Media Day ahead of fall camp opening, Patterson was quick to tell you what it wasn’t. “Someone said that we have a chip on our shoulder, but that doesn’t have anything to do with it.”
Then he was quick to tell you what it was.
“We have been here 22 years we’ve had 700 guys go through the program. It’s about earning the right to wear the purple and black.” He mentioned the final few words of the video, when Derrick Kindred goes over all the reasons that TCU players have been under-appreciated over the years - and he would know, as a former two star recruit whose only other offer was from UTSA and has now been an NFL player for four seasons. “Too small? Work harder. Overlooked? Shine brighter. Want something? Earn it. Think you’re out of the fight? Don’t. Back. Down.”
“And when you’ve earned that chip on your shoulders, you are ready to don the armor of the Horned Frog.”
Don’t Back Down was the Horned Frogs’ season motto a decade ago; Patterson has been known to play the guitar and sing a bit, and Tom Petty is one of his favorite artists. The song “I won’t back down” is still something you will hear around the practice fields in the fall and on game days in The Carter at the start of the fourth quarter, and has become a rallying cry for coaches, players, and fans alike. It’s integral to the Earn the Chip mentality.
What Gary Patterson is talking about when he says “earn the chip” is absolutely taking being overlooked and using it as motivation. The essence of NEGU, Don’t Back Down, and more. But not for yourself, for your program. And the way he wants his players to understand as they look forward in 2019 is by looking back. “I had my senior leadership team for dinner and they were asking ‘who is 88 back in 2009?’ and I would say ‘oh that’s Jimmy Young’. They don’t know, because that was 10 years ago. So one of the things we are going to start doing every night, we are going to start pulling five or six plays off of ball games of guys that have earned the chip.”
Little ‘ol TCU is still fighting to be nationally respected annually; the Frogs weren’t ranked in the coaches poll this preseason and you can’t even vote for them as a top 40 program in SB Nation’s Fan Pulse poll (which you should totally still sign up for though). But that’s nothing new for GP, and he doesn’t seem all that worried about it - and he doesn’t want his players to be, either. “It’s not about everybody else - the only thing we can control is us. That’s one of our secrets to our success - worrying about us, not worrying about everybody else.” Patterson has been quoted as saying “those are your stars, not mine” when it comes to recruiting and evaluating players, and he has never really cared much about rankings (save one weekend in December of 2014). He figures that if his team wins, the opportunities will come, and that has mostly been proven true - even the MWC Frogs had back-to-back BCS appearances, after all.
At Media Days last month, Patterson talked about recruiting more of his type of guys - those that have that elusive “Frog Factor”. He mentioned that being a part of the Earn the Chip mentality, too. “I felt like we needed to get back to what it means to be a TCU Football player. How do you represent everybody that’s played before you?” Patterson talked about how LaDainian Tomlinson, his first real star, is 40 years old. How the seniors on his first teams are into their early 40s. About how things like that speak not only to his longevity, but to his commitment to the program - something that truly stands alone in the Lone Star State. “At coaching school down in Houston, we have a round table Sunday nights. They ask you “what do you say about your program, why would a kid want to come to TCU?” Every school, except Texas, has had five or six head coaches since I got here 22 years ago. So if you’re a guy that’s being recruited [by Patterson], I can say that I am probably going to be here when you graduate. We’ve been here, we’ve proven we are going to be here, that’s our biggest strength. We made this place our home.”
Patterson, and his wife Kelsey, have made this place home. And they’re always looking for guys that want to do the same. “You only have to recruit 20 of them, 20 guys that really want to be here. That’s Earn the Chip - we want guys that want to be here. You can’t win or lose unless you have the right way of doing things within your program.”