When you’re the winningest football coach in your program’s history, folks naturally listen.
And while TCU head football coach Gary Patterson does his best talking when it’s gametime, as witnessed by his school-record 167 wins in 19 seasons, he knows how to keep a crowd interested.
Those in attendance at Thursday’s Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce luncheon featuring the heralded coach were dealt a bit of his wit and wisdom as Patterson spoke to the crowd at the Champions Club at Amon Carter Stadium. Some of his speech was as zesty as the barbecue and fixins’ that was served at the lunch beforehand.
Sure, Patterson spoke some about the coming season and the team. He addressed the task of deciding between a half a dozen quarterbacks who will get the starting nod and the many returners on the offensive line who will block for them. He spoke of the plethora of talent at running back, the expanded height at safety, and how the team is “a little short at wide receiver.”
But largely, he was all over the map, which coaches are allowed to be (and I’d even argue encouraged to be) at these events. It’s doubtful anyone expected predictions to be nailed down, complete with starting lineups, and playbooks passed out to the crowd.
There were, however, plenty of highlights to make the event enjoyable and stir some optimism.
Though hardly ever the first question from the minds of fans, Patterson addressed punting, sort of, referencing a newcomer from Australia who joined the team in the spring. Patterson believes he will be a good addition to the team, but he has to adjust from Australian Rules Football to the American game.
“We’ve just to make sure he’s kicking it in the right direction,” Patterson said with a laugh.
If history holds true again, Patterson will have the entire team going in the right direction and perhaps pull off a few surprises this season. Only once in his career have the Horned Frogs had what would be considered sub-par seasons for a Patterson team, going 7-6 in 2012 and 4-8 in 2013. They are coming off a 7-6 season.
Patterson referenced legendary actor Sydney Poitier and his movie “To Sir With Love,” in which Poitier takes what Patterson called a group of “knuckleheads” and turns them into good students. Then, as the film is ending, in comes the next group of knuckleheads to be taught.
“That’s about how you feel as a coach,” he said.
When asked about “stacking” the Big 12 Conference for the coming season, Patterson said, “Parity in this league has been so close. I don’t know how they choose.”
Most prognosticators, it seems, have the Horned Frogs picked to finish between fourth and sixth. Patterson said success will come to which team rises up defensively, which the Frogs have been known to do under him.
“Whoever steps up at quarterback and whoever plays the best defense, even though we have the offenses,” Patterson said of who will ultimately win the league.
Patterson even addressed the subject of team pictures, noting that last season a couple players quit the team after the photo was taken. This season, he said, the photo will be taken later, after fall workouts.
“Call me stupid,” he said, knowing, of course no one will because time and again he’s proven the exact opposite. “That wasn’t fair to the rest of the team.”
The Horned Frogs have two weeks without games during the upcoming season. They are off two weeks after the season opener before traveling to Purdue, and they are off between traveling to Iowa State on Oct. 5 and Kansas State on Oct. 19. Patterson relishes those opportunities to do some tweaking, and perhaps even some big changes if necessary.
“It allows me to be Custer and go over the hill,” he said. “If you have an off week you can do that. When you get a little bit of a break, it gives you time to evaluate.”
Patterson was asked about his longevity at TCU and the accompanying leadership required to be the nation’s second-longest tenured coach.
“At some point in your life you say ‘no’ more than you say ‘yes,’” he said. “You find a place where you think fits. It’s not about the money.”
Patterson also offered some advice to those who frequently switch jobs in quest of the ultimate success.
“Everybody wants to go so fast. If you’re not careful, you’re not going to become an expert at anything,” he said.
Giving, he said, is just that. He advised to do so without expectations.
“You give five thinking you’ll get one back,” he said.
Patterson and his Frogs have certainly given a lot to Fort Worth, and he wasn’t about to let a chamber luncheon pass without addressing his love for the city and their mutual growth.
“That’s the thing I’m most proud of, seeing the energy in Fort Worth, and knowing TCU has been a part of it,” he said.
“I grew up in a small town and all I did was work. I didn’t know how to dream. I’ve met dreamers who didn’t know how to work. When you find someone who knows how to do both, that’s great.”
I would argue, however, that somewhere Patterson did learn how to dream. And because of that, he’s made quite a few dreams come true for Frog fans.