Make it personal.
Gary Patterson and TCU Football have often walked burdened with the weight of a gigantic chip on their shoulder over the years, and for good reason. Whether it was the back-handed compliment of the Fiesta Bowl matchup with Boise State, the “little sisters of the poor” comment ahead of the Rose Bowl date with Wisconsin, the incomparable sports sorrow of 2014’s drop from three to six on selection Sunday, or simply the lost in the wilderness decades the program spent prior to finally being included at the college football respect table, the Horned Frogs have often had to fight tooth and nail — tooth and horn? — for the respect that is unceremoniously thrust upon other programs simply for playing in a jersey with a more recognizable name or a clothing line more readily available at your local shop mart.
So making things personal has seemingly always been a theme of TCU Football under Gary Patterson in one way or another, whether it was the official theme of the season or not.
It will be the mantra of the Horned Frogs this fall in an official capacity, as Patterson announced earlier this summer that he was going back to the well for a slogan previously used in 2012, a season in which TCU made its Big 12 debut and spent the year trying to prove that they had indeed earned Power Five status through their play on the field and would not be run out like a bunch of also-rans when up against the higher level competition week in and week out. Funny then, how a few weeks ever, TCU would find itself with the same slogan in a season that could theoretically be their last in the conference they have assimilated into — and at times been the cream of the crop of — as the Big 12 is being held perilously together by a string that Oklahoma and Texas are furiously hacking away at.
That year, the Frogs began the season ranked 20th and finished in the “receiving votes” category, losing in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to Michigan State thanks in part of an ill-fated punt return attempt on the goal line. TCU went just 7-6 on the season, dropping that dreadful three interception game to Iowa State (some running back named Boykin had to step in to play QB at the last minute), the very weird triple OT thriller to Texas Tech, and a one score game to Oklahoma to finish out a regular season that crowned Kansas State conference champion. It was a weird season that ended up constructing the foundation of the glory years of 2014/2015, a blip in time that Frog fans would look back on years later as the lynchpin that built champions.
Now, we enter 2021 — kind of a coincidence there, too, that the year is backwards too, isn’t it? — in the opposite feeling, looking back at three years of barely if at all bowl eligible seasons that we expect, or at least hope, leads to glory on the other side. If 2012 built Trevone Boykin, 2019 built Max Duggan, and this version of QB1 was forged by fires that the former never dealt with, namely a global pandemic and a potentially career-ending heart issue.
In his preseason press conference last Thursday, Patterson mentioned that he doesn’t like to repeat slogans, “but as long as we’ve been at it [sometimes you have to].” But he did feel that this redux applied, and that “this group here would take that [meaning].” He went on to explain that “in the world these days, you’ve got to make a stand.” He mentioned the trials and tribulations of the last year, alluding to the way athletes are learning to use their voices and their platforms, while also saying “sometimes we have to agree to disagree, and not everyone wants to do that.” From a football perspective, Make It Personal” is about “we’re going to have to understand, if you want to win ten, eleven, twelve ball games, you’re going to have to determine that yourself. No one is going to give it to you.”
No one has given TCU much of anything over the years (well, outside of that Boise State kicker, I guess). And in this season of change, the Horned Frogs are fighting for more than just bowl eligibility, or a chance to play for a conference title, or even a top 25 ranking. TCU Football is fighting for national respect for themselves, for their program, for the remaining eight of their conference. They’re fighting to remind people why they were invited to the Big 12 in the first place, and why they’re worth keeping as a program in an autonomy conference.
Patterson was asked several questions about realignment Thursday, and avoided delving too deep into the topic, for the most part. The man wants to coach football, focus on his team and his program, and get ready for an opening four game stretch that could well define his 2021 campaign. But he did relay a story about how things used to be, speaking about how former Texas AD DeLoss Dodds was the first person to call he and his wife, Kelsey, when TCU was invited into the Big 12 (a not so subtle shot at the current AD, don’t you think?). The story was told with an air of nostalgia for the way things used to be, and you don’t have to read much between the lines to jump to the conclusion that Patterson was surprised at the way the SEC move went down for Texas/OU. He mentioned “maybe I am a little bit old school, but I worry about about the regional rivalries, about the state of Texas.” He went on to talk about his concern for Fort Worth, a city he and his wife have poured their heart and soul into, mentioning the jobs that might be loss and how the coming changes will effect his adopted hometown. He talked about how the Big 12 is his fourth conference as the TCU head coach, “I think the difference for me is the way we approach it,” and how he still maybe harbors some hurt for how the Mountain West handled the news, screwing with the Frogs’ schedule and sending them on the road to Boise in a change of mind when the Broncos were supposed to make an appearance in Fort Worth. But in typical GP fashion, he had a bit of a warning, too, saying “I have always believed the football gods always get even with you”, while reminding folks “but my job is to win games.” And was quick to remind the room that TCU went on the road and won on the blue turf in an upset over then a top five BSU team. “It it might be where everything’s going,” Patterson lamented.
“I am not even sure it’s about a conference — this new way may be a whole different way that we look at football someday. If everybody has a good plan, people don’t get surprised and it usually is a good thing.”
But we all know the NCAA doesn’t have a plan, and neither does the Big 12. And I am pretty sure Patterson was making that same assessment as well.
But for TCU’s head football coach, entering his 24th season in Fort Worth and 21st as a head coach, the sunset is a lot closer than the sunrise. This will be someone else’s problem down the line, and he can appreciate that as well. “I think I’m glad I’m 61, not 31, is what I think.”