TCU coach Gary Patterson has a reputation for being one of the most tightly-wound coaches in college football. But even he found a few moments to relax during the COVID-19 quarantine.
Patterson enjoyed more quality time with his grandsons this spring than ever before. He spent time raising money and distributing meals to those in need in the Fort Worth community. He even sent some of the music he’s written over the years to an unidentified band to be recorded and made into an album. It was something he always wanted to do, and finally got the chance.
“You might be really surprised when we get done with this,” Patterson said. “If it hits No. 1, I’m gonna make all you guys go out to a country place and dance to it.”
When he’s not songwriting, though, Patterson has spent the past several months evaluating what exactly went wrong during a surprisingly rocky 2019 campaign.
The Horned Frogs were one of seven teams in college football to produce three top-40 2020 NFL Draft picks. The other six teams averaged 12 wins. Three of them made the College Football Playoff. Patterson’s Horned Frogs missed a bowl game at 5-7. The Horned Frogs led the Big 12 with five draft picks; they finished eighth in the conference.
“We score one less point in seven games,” Patterson said. “From our standpoint, we’re disappointed. Other than the Iowa State game, we had a chance to come down, tie, score, win any of the rest of the ball games. From my perspective, we didn’t.”
The games were painfully close during TCU’s second missed bowl game since joining the Big 12. Six of the losses were within one score. The Baylor game went to triple-overtime. The Horned Frogs held Big 12 champ Oklahoma to just one score in the final 42 minutes. TCU wasn’t even eliminated from a bowl until West Virginia’s Jarret Doege threw a game-winning touchdown with two minutes remaining in the Horned Frogs’ season. But still, all the losses count.
“We only had nine seniors, so we’ve got some guys who need to grow up,” Patterson said. “I can tell you this much, we’ve had a lot of conversations about it.”
To try and grow an anemic offense, Patterson turned to one of his best friends. Former Minnesota coach and fellow Kansan Jerry Kill, who served as best man at Patterson’s wedding in 2004, is taking over a special assistant role that Patterson has dubbed “head coach of offense,” and will manage offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie and the staff.
“I’m trying to take some things off his plate so he can do what he does best,” Kill said. “When we can take things off his plate, we can win games.”
Additionally, Patterson re-hired former coordinator Doug Meacham as inside receivers coach. Meacham was play-caller during the legendary Trevone Boykin run. Everyone in Fort Worth is praying he and Cumbie can find that magic once again. It’s been five years since TCU posted a top 25 national offense.
Defensively, the unit is fully focused on trying to replace the NFL draftees Jeff Gladney and Ross Blacklock. Luckily, there’s impressive returning talent in almost every unit, spearheaded by the top returning safety combo in the nation and the Big 12’s most productive linebacker. The group started getting more comfortable late in the year.
“You can’t go nowhere without the hard work and dedication you put into a team or program,” safety Trevon Moehrig said. “As long as we’re always trying to push forward and get better every single day, the program will be back at the top.”
Ultimately, Patterson has had his back against the wall more than once. TCU has finished with a losing record four times since he took over. In the years following those losing seasons, the Horned Frogs have posted a combined 34-5 record. Statistically, it’s also highly unlikely that the Frogs will lose six of seven one-score games again.
Patterson isn’t stressed. Maybe he’ll even write another song about the next turnaround.
“In 2004, some of you laughed at me when I said we were going to go to a BCS game, we went 5-6 that year,” Patterson said. “We went to a few BCS games since then. I’m not saying anything crazy about where we’re going next, but the foundation of this program is not cracked.”
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