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Midweek Musing: Gary Patterson and the legacy of not leaving

There’s nothing wrong with climbing the ladder, but with every coach that promises that they want to build something and leave, we should appreciate Gary Patterson even more.

Baylor v TCU Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Matt Rhule is the new coach of the Carolina Panthers.

It’s not a shock to many that the (now) former Baylor coach left Waco for the NFL (is it ever a shock when anyone leaves Waco?), even after waxing poetic about how much he cared about the program and the legacy that he wanted to build at Baylor. And, to be clear, this isn’t meant to be a negative on him or turning the screws on Bears fans, by any means, but it’s just yet another example of how (most) college football coaches will tell you what you want to hear while they always seem to have one foot out the door.

Baylor fans shouldn’t blame Rhule for leaving for professional football; it’s long been spoken about how his dream has been to get back to the NFL and how he always saw himself in pro ball. But, I completely understand if they are a little bitter, a little hurt, and feel a little... abandoned, maybe?

At Big 12 Media Days Rhule said “I plan on being at Baylor for as long as that’s where the Lord wants me to be. If at some point he wants me to do something else, stop coaching, then I’ll go do that.” In November, “I’m planning on being here for a long, long time. In fact, I’m trying to convince my wife to buy a place on the lake.” Last month on Golic and Wingo, it was “I’m really committed to being at Baylor.”

A few short days ago, he said this:

“One thing people don’t realize is coaches, we pick up our families,” Rhule said. “We rip them out of their homes. We rip them out of the places that they are. Sometimes you do that until you get to a point where you find happy. You shouldn’t mess with happy.

“There’s a lot to accomplish at Baylor. And most importantly, it’s just each and every year, I want to put together a championship-caliber team. And I think we have a chance to be even better next year than we are this year. . . . More than money, it’s about the situation for my family.”

Well, things change. And we shouldn’t be surprised when they do.

Gary Patterson was criticized heavily by folks, especially Baylor fans, after commenting at the end of TCU’s season — one that fell short of a bowl game for just the third time in his 20+ year tenure in Fort Worth — that “bowl games are for the kids. For coaches it’s a pain. Our lives are easier. But I feel bad for them. I feel bad for the fans. I feel bad for the seniors.” Opposing fanbases, and even some TCU supporters, took it to mean that he didn’t want to play in a bowl and was looking forward to a stress-free holiday season. Those that know better, or have been paying attention the last two decades, understood the sentiment — it was a moment of honesty instead of the typical coach-speak, something that GP has earned in his 22 years in Fort Worth. In fact, Patterson’s opening statement made it clear that he was as disappointed as anyone, not for himself, but for his kids. “I feel sorry for my seniors, I didn’t get them back to a bowl game. Plain and simple.” Notice where the blame fell — squarely on his shoulders.

Over the years, Patterson’s name has come up for big jobs; as TCU Football was making the turn into a big-time program, schools like Tennessee and Nebraska came calling, and the NFL has always been in and around his program, leaning on him for his defensive wizardry as more and more college concepts flow up to the professional game. Patterson could have left on several occasions; TCU wasn’t exactly a dream job when he took over and wasn’t a big-time destination until he spear-headed the move to the Big 12 and injected the university with Power Five money. Everything that being the head coach of the Horned Frogs means is because GP made it so.

Gary Patterson didn’t just stay at TCU, he chose not to leave.

Don’t get me wrong, TCU’s head football coach isn’t perfect. Maybe he’s too loyal to his staff, maybe sometimes he’s too old-school, he can certainly be grouchy (especially with the media), and his hard-nosed style doesn’t always mesh with the star players of today. But while he can be an easy target for fans for all of the above and more, we shouldn’t take for granted that he not only made TCU into something that mattered nationally in football, he’s stuck around to make sure that the shine doesn’t run out when he steps away. He’s invested — not only in football, not only in TCU, but in the Fort Worth community. To a level that’s kept him here.

When the subject of other jobs comes up, Patterson often jokes of having “married a Fort Worth girl”, it certainly runs deeper than that. GP has never once promised that he would never leave. He’s never said he wouldn’t leave, or that he would make a promise he couldn’t keep. Much like he was in November, he’s been honest when asked in the past about what he would do if the opportunity presented itself. “It would have to be something you just couldn’t say no to, but here’s the thing with me: I never say never, because I always get pissed off at those coaches when they say, ‘This is my last stop,’ or they sign a new contract and change jobs the next year.” But he’s also been clear on why he wants to stay. “For me, it’s not only TCU, but Fort Worth is a special place. It’s very few times anybody in their life ever gets a chance to mean something to a group of people. My investment in this community runs a lot deeper than just football, and it’s a community and a city and a university that have been equally good to me and my family.”

Coach Patterson, of course, deserves a lot of the credit. But TCU’s administration does as well. GP has often talked about the special relationship that he has with Chancellor Boschini and Athletic Director Jeremiah Donati (and prior to ADJD, Chris Del Conte as well), and how working with administrators who believe in him, support his program — but also aren’t afraid to hold them accountable — means to him. “There’s only one way you can stay somewhere 20 years. You either have great years or reinvent yourself, but you get along with people and you give back. You have to grow roots. Nobody in our profession works on growing roots anymore, at least not very often.”

He’s certainly grown roots in Fort Worth, and most of the higher ups have grown alongside him. Maybe its not an “elite partnership”, but maybe it’s not one with one foot out the door, either.

As we watch our rivals rend their garments and gnash their teeth, be thankful we haven’t had to experience a real coaching search in 22 years. That doesn’t mean we have to be content with the down years or not voice our displeasure with missing a bowl game, but it does mean have a little faith and a little patient.

Trust in GP and thank him for sticking around, even when he didn’t have it.