Dick Harmon: Gary Patterson embodies TCU football

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 3 2010 11:00 p.m. MDT

TCU's Gary Patterson has a fierce will to win and has come to embody the immense success his program has enjoyed.   (Associated Press) TCU's Gary Patterson has a fierce will to win and has come to embody the immense success his program has enjoyed. (Associated Press)

Gary Patterson is an interesting guy, a coach who is consumed by his will to win and drives his players to be the best they can be. The results are in his record — he's pretty good at his job and he has the Horned Frogs ranked No. 3 heading into Saturday's monster game with No. 5 Utah.

A man with a deep background in defense, Patterson is keenly aware of how important emotion and effort are in the football recipe. And he's smart enough to know that without the horses, you can't win the derby.

As it stands now, Patterson's TCU staff is out-recruiting the other Texas schools, including the washed elite from the Big 12: Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Baylor. If his senior class runs the table, it will be the winningest group of seniors in TCU's fabled history.

I spoke to Patterson at length at the MWC football meetings in Las Vegas. Always quotable and very forthright, he is a personable man who speaks his mind and has an obvious love for the game. You can also see how football drives him — it is his elixir.

He spoke of how intense his practices are, how he and his staff get in the faces of players and push them hard. "I tell them it's better to get yelled at here in front of the trees than in front of thousands in a stadium."

One of his players got to an NFL camp, got screamed at good and the coach was surprised at how well he took it. The coach asked a nearby scout what was up. "He's been coached by Gary Patterson, that's what's up," said the scout, who'd been to TCU practices in Fort Worth.

Like most coaches, Patterson has his quirks, like dressing a tackling dummy in BYU gear for a year in 2008. That year, when his team lost at Utah on a Thursday night short week, he didn't like the fact the team didn't get enough rest the previous Saturday night at UNLV. So this year, he hurried his players to the hotel after killing the Rebels last Saturday night — to go nighty-night.

Details. Patterson loves details. That's why his team has won 21 consecutive regular season games — home or away hasn't mattered. His past two teams have finished No. 1 in total defense.

CBS.com columnist Dennis Dodds writes on Patterson, "The guy is a grinder."

He has stayed put despite chances to leave for more money. Here's what Dodds had to say about the matter of the Big East potentially calling for TCU: "Patterson is among the coaches who have the most influence on the game, those whose presence defines their programs and their schools in 2010. He is the leverage point of TCU's football existence. The Big East reportedly has interest in TCU. There is a possible symbiotic relationship for each. TCU needs to be in a BCS automatic qualifier conference. The Big East needs to stay at the BCS level. Without Patterson, TCU isn't chasing and the Big East isn't calling."

Perhaps this Big East expansion talk is what Patterson said he knew that reporters didn't know back in August when asked about BYU's departure from the MWC to independence.

Patterson is 92-28 as a head coach. That's heady stuff.

Sometimes emotion can get to you and that may have been the case with Patterson Sept. 24 in a game against cross-town rival SMU.

In that game, Patterson made national headlines when it was revealed he screamed at team doctor Sam Haroldson, who held out running back Ed Wesley after the back got knocked unconscious and was dizzy.

"He had an unsteady gait and a few memory problems," Haroldson told the American Medical News.

"Then five or six plays later, I literally was verbally accosted by the coach, screaming at me insanely at the top of his lungs that he doesn't think (Wesley) has a concussion and what right do I have to hold him out."

TCU beat SMU 41-24 and Haroldson and Patterson apologized to one another, citing a miscommunication in the heat of battle during a very emotional game.

Patterson, and many of his peers, present interesting cases for a psychiatrist.

You have Bronco Mendenhall firing D-coordinator Jaimie Hill in October so he could better reach the soul of his team, yet football is the No. 5 priority for his program. You've got Kyle Whittingham kicking an onsides kick in a blowout against Wyoming several seasons ago to hold then-Cowboy coach Joe Glenn "accountable" for telling a student rally in Laramie his team would win.

You have Utah State's coach Gary Anderson working so hard and long before a game last month that he collapses and hurts his neck and head.

Patterson is equally engaged in a profession that regular folks simply can't relate to. It's not as if it's curing cancer, but in the realm they live in, it sort of is.

Leading 24-3 in a 31-3 win over BYU in Fort Worth Oct. 16, the Frogs faced a 4th-and-3 at BYU's 21 with just over four minutes to play. Rather than kick a field goal, Patterson opted to throw a 21-yard TD pass. Up 48-6 at UNLV with two minutes left last week, the Frogs took a knee three consecutive plays to run out the clock deep in UNLV territory. Said Patterson, "We didn't need to score any more points. I'm always going to do it (that way). We go about our business with class and always have and always will."

Patterson has generally done exactly that. He's pulled punches once games were in hand and did so against BYU in 2008 and 2009, a pattern he's done time and time again in the MWC.

On Saturday, two outstanding coaches will face one another in Patterson and Whittingham. They join Boise State's Chris Peterson as the unwashed who threaten to shake the elite blue bloods of college football and the BCS money horse they ride.

But I like coaches who live only for the moment — not rankings, not the national championship picture, fame or fortune. Patterson and Whittingham are these men. They are die-hard. If they lived in the days of Davy Crockett, they'd be coming home with musket on one shoulder, trap skins on the other.

It's a simple life, you shoot, you skin.

When asked about the BCS standings the week before they came out, Patterson put it this way: "Sometimes I think the whole ranking thing is like 'Days of our Lives.' These two people are going to have an affair with these so we can get everyone over here mad. Then we're going to flip-flop it so that everybody that watched the show isn't happy. It's become a drama deal. I'm going to let everybody else do it."

Thing is, with Patterson, I bet he's never seen a daytime soap.

It doesn't have enough pancake takedowns, red zone stands or crossing patterns.

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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