It has been a wild ride, that’s for sure.
Arriving in Fort Worth as defensive coordinator under Dennis Franchione in 1998, Gary Patterson has completely changed the fortunes of TCU Football both as a member of someone else’s staff and the head coach of the program (since 2001).
The Frogs went from 1-10 in 1997 to 10-2 in the year that the whistle changed hands from Fran to GP, and since his first full season in the fall of 2001, the Horned Frogs have averaged nine wins a season and hit double digits 11 times. The Frogs have won titles in four different conferences, remodeled their football stadium twice, and seen new student applications rise from around 6,000 a year to nearly 25,000.
There have been some heartbreaking losses and incredible wins along the way; the first win over a ranked opponent (#17 Louisville in Fort Worth on a Friday night in 2001), the upset at Oklahoma in 2005, the back-to-back BCS Bowl appearances and the Rose Bowl win, and the Big 12 title and near miss of the College Football Playoff in 2014.
Of the 200 victories, Patterson was the head coach for 175 of them, passing Dutch Meyer as the winningest coach in program history, clinching victory 110 in a rout of Grambling State in the first game at the remodeled Amon G Carter Stadium in the Frogs’ first season as a member of the Big 12 Conference. He’s never going to pass guys like Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden, or Bear Bryant, but in this age of college football, no TCU coach is likely to ever pass him, either.
Though he can be brash and frustrating at times, one thing he never is is cocky; that remained evident as he reflected on win #200 following TCU’s victory over Texas Tech, as he deferred to the many people who have been a part of the program’s success.
He didn’t forget the most important person, either.
“The other person I should throw in there is my wife, to be honest with you” said Patterson. “She’s had to put up with all the losses. The wins are okay. But she’s had to put up with the losses.”
TCU Football has struggled the last three seasons; as the recruiting has leveled up and the talent increased, the wins have not exactly followed. There are a myriad of reasons for that to be the case, of course — and while we shouldn’t expect less than a highly competitive program that maximizes every opportunity, it is critical to stop and reflect, and celebrate, Patterson’s milestone.
We rightly laud Dutch Meyer, who holds three SWC championships, three 10+ wins seasons, and — of course — two national championships. But he went to just six bowl games in 19 seasons and finished .500 or worse eight times. Abe Martin won three titles in five years but never once completed a double-digit win campaign, and neither F.A. Dry or Jim Wacker sniffed a conference crown. Pat Sullivan was run out of town after just four seasons and one bowl appearance, and Dennis Franchione turned 7-5 into 8-4 into 10-2 and turned tale for Tuscaloosa.
Without discounting the obvious weight of championships, it’s pretty obvious that no one has done more for TCU Football than Gary Patterson (especially in the modern era). No one has loved this program more, lived this program more, or put in more blood, sweat, and tears. He has been loyal in an era where loyalty is rarely lauded, and stayed true to what he build despite the siren songs of bigger programs elsewhere.
TCU Football fans don’t complain about missing bowl games without Gary Patterson raising the bar. We wouldn’t dared to have been fraught with frustration over a season that saw a sweep of Texas Power Five schools. We don’t dream of the CFP in 2014 — or cry tears of righteous anger over missing it — with GP staying for two decades.
TCU Football might not matter if it weren’t for GP.
We can all think of the future and be upset in the present and want more; it’s what fans do.
But I would encourage us all to take a step back (I’m sorry, I had to) and remember why we feel the way we feel.
The man does have a statue, after all, and not a single Frog fan doesn’t fully believe he deserves it.