Meet TCU’s Gary Patterson unplugged: at practice, at home and with his beloved guitar

Posted Friday, Aug. 30, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
More information Cowboys Classic 2013 LSU vs. TCU 8 p.m. Saturday AT&T Stadium, Arlington. Stadium parking lots open at 2 p.m. TV: ESPN

Who is the best coach in college football?

Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

FORT WORTH — The new mansion is at the end of a series of curves and turns, on a hill overlooking west Fort Worth. There are great rooms with vaulted ceilings and a terraced back yard with a pool. TCU’s Amon Carter Stadium is visible in the distance, and the downtown skyline.

The heart of the place is Gary Patterson’s football sanctum, a huge office with two big flat screens. The mementos of his historic career as TCU’s head coach are displayed behind glass — helmets, trophies, photos, news articles — taking up two full walls. It is purposely ostentatious. Patterson brings his recruits here and wants them to be wide-eyed when they leave.

But on a muggy night in July, Patterson puts aside football and takes up his acoustic guitar. Sitting on a stool in a corner of his office, as video cameras roll, it is Gary Patterson Unplugged. He plays his favorite song, a wistful country tune by Hal Ketchum, Small Town Saturday Night, that echoes Patterson’s feelings about his own upbringing in rural Kansas.

His playing is impressive, his voice raspy but strong. Patterson introduces his second country song, Everything That Glitters (Is not Gold), by Dan Seals. It’s about a barrel racer who left her husband and young daughter to pursue glory on the rodeo circuit.

“It always reminds me … because coaching, we always seem to be gone,” he says. “We’re always doing something else. It’s one of those songs I play every once in a while that sets up the tone of what you’re all about.”

As he sings, his wife, Kelsey, sits behind the cameras, eyes glistening. It is a tender moment a world apart from the noise and intensity of the sidelines. And the plaintive country songs say much about the man who sings them.

He is whom TCU Athletic Director Chris Del Conte recently called “our Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, our legendary figure.” In 12 years, he has won more games than any coach in TCU’s long history, including the 2011 Rose Bowl. Last season, his team was invited to join the prestigious Big 12 conference, and on Saturday it will open the 2013 season on national television in a marquee game against Louisiana State University.

The school actually once commissioned a statue of the coach, but Patterson said he would quit if it was put up.

“Put statues up some other day,” he says. “I just want to be a ball coach.”

A newly renovated $163 million stadium and his mansion on the hill are monuments to his success.

But Patterson, who turned 53 in February, rarely dwells on all the accomplishments. Instead, he appears determined to broaden the one-dimensional portrait of him that fans and potential recruits see on autumn Saturdays — the guy on TV who sweats and yells and hitches his pants and ties his shoes and reties them, and yells some more.

He knows he is also famous for getting in his players’ faces at practice to a degree almost unheard of among the more laid-back CEO-style head coaches in big-time college football.

That’s Coach P, he says, as intense and demanding as they come. But there is also Gary, the alter ego, the guy with the guitar. He is the guy who cares deeply about his players and graduates more of them than the great majority of major college coaches.

Gary is the guy who has fashioned a happy life with Kelsey. Gary is the guy who speaks of the pain of living apart from his three sons for most of their lives: “How do I make it up?”

Gary is the guy who wonders about his legacy beyond football.

“I want to be remembered as the guy who tried to make kids better,” Patterson says. “Who was a good guy that went along with his life who happened to win a lot of football games. When it’s all said and done, you keep your job because of wins and losses, but if that’s the only thing that’s important to you, then you’re very shallow.”

This spring he took to Twitter, @TCUCoachP, to try to “reinvent himself.”

And for weeks this summer, he agreed to lay open his life, his family, his team, his upbringing, to an extent unprecedented for him and rare for anyone in his profession.

What other major college football coach, especially one at the top of his profession, would take up a guitar and bare his soul, unplugged?

The heat is on

“Welcome to Texas, baby,” Coach P says, wandering among his players as they stretch.

Until now, the summer has been mild, but on this first day of practice, Aug. 1, the temperature has soared well past 100 degrees, probably past 110 on the practice field. Patterson, wearing a long-sleeve black shirt and his trademark visor, a whistle dangling from his neck, basks in the elements.

“Let’s have a great first day,” he says.

See an interactive timeline of Gary Patterson's life and career

For two hours, Patterson is a force of nature in the oppressive heat, the most intense guy on the field many times over — motivating and manipulating, teaching and tearing into his players for any mistake he believes will cost them on the field against an SEC powerhouse like LSU.

“You better understand this,” he says, as his players cluster around him, gassed. “It’s hot in Baton Rouge. It’s humid in Baton Rouge. Every day you got a chance to walk off the field knowing you had a better practice than LSU did.”

He strides away, using his shirt to wipe away sweat. But he doesn’t let up.

“I mean, my mom can run the zone read, I promise you,” he barks at his quarterbacks and running backs.

When a freshman removes his helmet to tie his shoe, the coach yells. “Hey, you don’t take off your helmet to tie your shoe. Put your helmet back on.”

He approaches a reporter, as he paces the field.

“There is going to be yelling on every football field in the country,” he says. “The only reason I’m different is, I’m the head coach.”

Then, 90 minutes into a two-hour practice, something changes. The force that is Coach P intensifies even more. The head coach erupts after almost every snap. He stomps as fast as a bad knee will allow after one defensive player, then another.

Not even student assistants are immune. At one point he takes off on a young woman carrying water bottles who had tried to come to the aid of starting safety Elisha Olabode, bent over with cramps.

“He’s not dying,” Patterson yells. “He just has some damn cramps.”

His team will not falter in the shimmering heat. The coach will not allow it. Patterson has raised his intensity to a point that is almost frightening.

But every so often he hurries to the sidelines for a drink, sees his wife and smiles, or takes a moment to shake the hand of a former player or make small talk with a recruit who has come out to watch.

Then, as the practice winds down, he returns to the fray to yell some more.

“That’s where they needed me the most,” he explains later. “Needed me to supply some energy, needed me to apply some accountability.”

Breaking hearts, strengthening minds

A few hours later a merciful twilight has descended. Horned Frogs players have showered and eaten and are gathering in the dusk before a team meeting, walking stiffly, speaking slowly and softly, weariness in their young voices.

“I love Coach P,” one player says, “But …”

Sam Carter shuffles up. He was a quarterback in high school, shifted to safety at TCU and has become one of the best in the Big 12. He is said to be one of Patterson’s favorite players, and he overhears the chatter about his coach.

“Coach P, when he’s really mad, he’ll say sh** to you that will break your heart,” Carter says.

The others nod, laughing.

“But that’s his job,” he says a few days later, when he is reminded what he said. “We accept it because we know he cares about us. It’s not personal. He’s my guy. But at the moment you’ll be like, ‘Did he just say that?’”

It has become a rite of initiation for TCU newcomers, kids who were heavily recruited and the best players on their high school teams.

Jesse Hejny was a junior college All-American linebacker brought in to play defensive end for the Horned Frogs. In 2004, he was either a little bit late, or just not early enough, for his first practice.

“He just turned around at me and he’s like: ‘What are you doing, gentlemen? Let’s go. This is not junior college anymore,’” Henjy remembers. “I’m like, ‘I’m just walking out to practice, Coach. I don’t know why I’m getting chewed out already.’”

Hejny continues: “I don’t think he would say this today, but he said: ‘You know the best coaches in the country? They’re a**holes. Les Miles, a**hole. Nick Saban, a**hole. It ain’t going to be any different here, gentlemen. You better come ready to play.’ He like, goes off on me for 30 seconds. I’m like, ‘OK, this is how it’s going to be.’”

Patterson cringes when told what Hejny said, imagining how it might look on an opponent’s bulletin board. But he agrees it is kind of funny.

“I probably would say something like that,” Patterson says. “See, I would look at something like that as a respect factor, but they wouldn’t. Nobody in the state of Louisiana will see the context. Nope, they won’t.”

As for the butt-chewing.

“I tell my players it’s their job to shut me up,” Patterson says.

Most eventually get it. Older players mentor younger ones, helping them to hear the words, not just the volume.

“After hearing him and getting mad, you start to realize that he’s right,” says former TCU linebacker Jason Phillips, who plays for the Philadelphia Eagles. “If you listen to the stuff he’s telling you to do, you start playing a lot better football.”

And life lessons typically punctuate his tirades.

“Everybody calls him a mastermind, a defensive genius,” Hejny said. “I was in a lot of defensive meetings, but I really don’t remember a lot of defensive philosophy being shared. It was more like, if you do the small things here, then later on in life, this is how it’s going to reflect there.

“Once I messed up and he’s like, ‘Jesse, you’re going to be second string the rest of your life if you don’t start paying attention to detail.’ It was always a quick jump from the situation at hand to some real-life scenario.”

Patterson tells his players he would much rather they be embarrassed in front of the trees in practice than before 50,000 fans on a Saturday.

“The other thing is that I don’t ever want them to come back years later and say: ‘Why didn’t you tell me about this? Why didn’t you prepare me for this?’” Patterson says. “It’s about teaching. Don’t listen to the tone. Listen to the content.

“Only 1 percent make it to the NFL. What kids have to realize is that their paragraph becomes blank when they get to college. I don’t care how many touchdowns you scored in high school. How are you going to prepare for the next part of your life?”

Football, Patterson says, is just part of the preparation. Last year, TCU was one of only 18 schools nationally with a football graduation rate of 90 percent or better, according to the NCAA. Of the 26 seniors on the Rose Bowl winning team, 23 left school with diplomas.

On a Friday afternoon in early July when the rest of his staff was on vacation, Patterson was studying his player grades from a June summer school session, a task other programs delegate to graduate assistants.

“It’s our job,” he says, “to make sure they do the right thing.”

Taking a chance on a ‘train wreck’

That philosophy is what made the drug bust in February 2012 involving four TCU players so hard for Patterson to swallow.

“He was crushed. He was devastated,” said Dick Lowe, a prominent TCU booster and one of Patterson’s closest friends.

All four players were arrested and were immediately dismissed from the team. “He said there wasn’t much we could do to help them,” Lowe said. “It made him angry that they would do something so stupid.”

Lowe is a prominent convert to Patterson’s ways. In the mid-1980s, the oilman was among a group of alumni who paid TCU players, leading to severe sanctions from the NCAA.

“It not only was morally wrong. It was stupid,” Lowe told The New York Times two years ago. “That dog is dead.”

Lowe and his business partner contributed $15 million to the new stadium.

“I take a blood oath Gary is doing it the right way,” Lowe said in 2011. “He’s not going to let me or any 18-year-old kid ruin the reputation of this university or his career.”

Last fall, shortly after the drunken driving arrest of star quarterback Casey Pachall, the coach got a call from Lowe. Pachall had reportedly failed a drug test months before his arrest, and Lowe was fed up.

“I told him that I didn’t like his tattoos and that it was good that he was gone,” Lowe said recently. “Gary said: ‘That’s not right. The kid’s got a problem, a life-changing problem. I’ve got to try and help him. It’s better for the school, better for him, and it will be better for the team if we can get him straightened out.’”

Patterson took part in the deliberations with Pachall’s family that led to three months of rehab. The player returned to classes last winter and is fighting to reclaim his job as the starting quarterback.

“I told him [Patterson], ‘It will be either a train wreck, or one of the greatest stories in college football,’” Lowe said. Patterson “said, ‘I know it.’ ”

Fast forward to the night of Aug. 1. Pachall and his teammates slump in their chairs as Patterson charges into the meeting room with the rest of his staff. But he seems like a different person than the one on the practice field a few hours before.

That was Coach P. This was Gary.

The room echoes with laughter when Patterson says the first day of practice should be named for Olabode, who cramped up on the first day last year, too. Patterson picks on a hulking offensive tackle with a new buzz haircut.

“With that haircut, you look like an old professional wrestler named Bam Bam Bigelow,” he says, and the players erupt again.

Many of them will return to TCU after graduation to visit, ask for a job reference, to work out. And to seek Patterson’s wisdom.

“He’s always going to say one or two things that takes us back to where we need to be,” Hejny says, “to bring back that focus.”

Over the years, Patterson has asked Phillips and other ex-players whether he should lighten up. The coach says he knows he’s lost recruits to his intense image and old-school ways.

Their answer is always the same.

“He’s not another factory head coach,” Phillips said. “He’s there to win games. That’s one of his main goals. But he’s also big on turning dumb 18-year-olds into legitimate men that are going out into the world and actually doing something worthwhile.

“I don’t think a lot of people outside the program understand that.”

Small town, big dreams

The prairie two hours west of Wichita is flat and treeless, so the grain elevators can be seen from miles away. In Rozel, Kan., there is a tavern in the shadow of the elevators, Pawnee Heights High School, a football field with a few rows of bleachers, and a few dozen aging, ranch-style homes.

The town now has fewer than 200 residents.

View Larger Map

Rozel seems frozen in time, looking and feeling much the same as it did in the 1940s and ’50s when it gave birth to a gridiron legend: the Patterson brothers.

Ray was a junior college All-American and starter at Wichita State, where he was a teammate of former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells. Keith Patterson played a year at the University of Kansas before entering the military. His career as a professional in the Canadian Football League was cut short by a serious foot injury.

A third brother, Harold, is still talked about with reverence across Kansas. He was a three-sport star at KU and went on to become one of the best tight ends to ever play in the CFL.

When their playing days were done, the brothers returned to Rozel and took up a family dirt-leveling business, working dawn to dusk seven days a week. One day off was New Year’s, when they would set up three or four televisions at home to watch bowl games. Football, hard work and empty, flat land were part of the family DNA.

Gary Patterson is the oldest of Keith and Gail Patterson’s four children, thus the first to have to try to live up to the family football legend.

He embraced the legacy from an early age. In the back yard, Gary used cherry trees as down markers, marching up the field with his younger brother, Greg, against imaginary defenses. Even then, Coach P insisted on a balance between runs and passes.

On a recent day in Rozel, Keith and Gail sit at the kitchen table to talk about their famous son. Keith, still a strapping man at age 78, disappears into the basement, returning with an ancient rectangle of masonite. Gary had drawn and labeled yard lines on the board, and X’s and O’s were still faintly visible.

“He must have been about 6,” Gail says. “He had to know how to count, and the lines are pretty straight.”

Gary started for the Pawnee Heights varsity football team as a freshman fullback and linebacker. That, in itself, would not be so surprising because the team had only 20 players.

“But he was a leader as a freshman,” Rod Bauer, his coach that year, remembers. “He wasn’t particularly huge and he wasn’t a speed demon as an athlete. He was just a strong kid and he had a strong personality. He was exuberant and kids wanted to follow him. I thought this right away: ‘This is a gem. This is a special kid.’”

By the time they were teenagers, Gary and Greg had been put to work in the family business, toiling alongside their dad and uncles.

But Gary would also go his own way, pursuing passions foreign to the traditional men who surrounded him. In junior high he decided he wanted to play the guitar and saved his money to buy an acoustic. He pestered his mother to drive him to lessons in Hutchinson, an hour away.

In high school he helped form a popular local band called Walk On Easy.

“After he was gone, what I missed the most was him playing his guitar,” Gail Patterson says. “He’d come home from school and that’s one of the first things he’d do. He’d go in his room or bring his guitar out into the living room. And sing. He always sang.”

Patterson was a sophomore when English teacher Terry Minton, who also directed the school plays, told Bauer he thought the jock would make a good actor.

“Terry wanted to do serious plays,” Bauer says. “I thought at the time that Gary was this strong, fun-loving guy. Would he want to be a drama guy where he would have to be sensitive? But Terry saw something in him. He talked him into doing some stuff his sophomore year. I’d go to these plays and think, ‘Gary’s got some ability.’ I was touched by his portrayals.”

When Patterson was a senior, Minton cast him in the lead role of Picnic, a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by William Inge . Patterson’s character was a former college football star who returns to his hometown in Kansas and tries to make a life after football.

The play was a smash and was performed throughout the area.

“People raved about what a great actor Gary was,” Bauer remembers. “He showed that emotion and inner depth. He had that side of him that could touch people.”

Thirty-five years later, Patterson laughs when asked about his time onstage.

“I just learned the lines,” he says. “That’s how you got the grade.”

He had a scholarship offer from Wichita State for drama, but in the end, he was still a Patterson from Rozel. So after graduation, he left to play football at Dodge City Junior College, then at Kansas State.

His feelings today about the place where he grew up seem much like the man himself, complicated.

In 2011, Sports Illustrated writer S.L. Price was there when Patterson returned to Rozel to help celebrate the town’s 125th anniversary. The coach gave a speech in the high school gym.

“If it wasn’t for Rozel and the people of this town, I wouldn’t be where I’m at,” Patterson said. “The work ethic, giving back to those who need it. I learned how to treat people, how to shake somebody’s hand and live up to your promise.’”

But Patterson tells another Rozel-related story. One that defines him just as much.

“My driving point has been Mr. ‘Smith.’ I won’t tell you his name,” he says. “But after I went back after my first summer as a graduate assistant, he said: ‘Gary, why are you chasing the dream? You’re just a small-town country boy. Why do you think you can be a college football coach? Why don’t you come back, get a high school job, teach driver’s ed and go on with your life? Don’t waste your time.’

“All of us have somebody who says we can’t be that guy,” Patterson continues. “That’s always been my driving point. We all don’t want to go back to our homes because we didn’t make it. So my driving point has always been failure. No matter what you do, it’s always been failure.”

A coaching odyssey begins

Patterson did not play enough to letter as an undersize linebacker at Kansas State. But his tenacity and character made an impression on his college coaches, who offered him a graduate assistant job. When Kansas State coaches moved to Tennessee Tech, they took Patterson with them.

That was the beginning of a coaching odyssey that led to the University of California-Davis, Cal Lutheran, Pittsburg (Kan.) State, Sonoma State, Utah State, the Naval Academy and New Mexico. Patterson and Sports Illustrated’s Price, then a young sportswriter, were penniless roommates at UC Davis.

“The Hayseed, as his fellow staffers called him — eating bulk-rate tuna out of a can,” Price wrote in a 2011 profile of the Patterson from those days. “He ate oranges off of the backyard tree. He bought crackers and supersized tubs of peanut butter wholesale.”

Two marriages, which produced three sons, also failed.

“I don’t know about the second one. I know in the first one, from what my mother told me, she didn’t want to live the coach’s life,” Patterson’s oldest son, Josh, said recently. “It was because of those late nights. A lot of careers are like that. She just couldn’t do it.”

Patterson’s reputation as a defensive guru took hold as he served as head coach Dennis Franchione’s defensive coordinator at TCU for three years, beginning in 1998. Coach Fran’s surprising success in Fort Worth translated into the head job at Alabama.

He wanted Patterson to join him but at the same time let it be known he didn’t believe that his assistant was cut out to be his successor at TCU.

Franchione was scarcely alone. The new head coach, most people believed, would have to be polished, charismatic, as comfortable talking to millionaire boosters as inner-city kids who could run a 4.4 in the 40. Like Franchione. The guy from rural Kansas didn’t fit the prototype.

But Patterson had a powerful advocate in Lowe, the booster, who had played for another famous firebrand at the school, Dutch Meyer, in the late 1940s.

“People would throw out a bunch of bullsh** about him not being like Coach Fran and I’d ask, ‘Have you ever considered the possibility that Patterson was the reason Fran won all those games?’” Lowe told a magazine writer two years ago.

TCU players also stepped up on Patterson’s behalf.

“We had players come in and see me,” said Eric Hyman, TCU’s athletic director at the time. “The offensive players really didn’t know him, but the defensive players … they said, ‘Well, he’s not easy,’ but they had a huge amount of respect for him.”

So TCU took a chance on the guy from Rozel. Patterson’s tenure started well in 2001, with a close loss to national power Nebraska in Lincoln, followed by road wins over North Texas and Southern Methodist. His home debut was against a tiny school from Louisiana, Northwestern State.

“It was my first home game,” Patterson recalls. “I remember this to this day and you’ll never see me do it again. I ran out on the field and I had a smile on my face and that’s exactly how the game turned out.”

Northwestern State beat the Horned Frogs in overtime. Hyman was booed during a halftime presentation on the field.

“That was the first and last time I ever smiled walking on the field before the game,” Patterson says now. “I wasn’t focused.”

Patterson had tried for those first four games to rein himself in, to fit the prototype. No more.

“I figured that if I was going to go down, I would go down my way,” he says. “That’s not who I was. … I’m still calling defenses. It’s easy to stand and be quiet, be the guy who’s writing things down and they’re only asking you, ‘Should we go on fourth down or should we punt?’”

The Horned Frogs won their last two games in 2001 to secure a bowl bid. Over the next 11 years, they won 110 games and lost 29, largely with players whom traditional football powers didn’t want. Then came the undefeated Rose Bowl season, and an invitation to join the Big 12 last year, the team’s first in a newly renovated stadium.

TCU finished 7-6 in 2012, and the skeptics have returned. Patterson has been here before.

“When I took this job, people would find out our goal was the national championship and they would say, ‘We love your passion, but we think you’re crazy,’” he says.

Then, two years ago, it almost happened. Tank Carder knocked down Wisconsin’s two-point conversion try in the Rose Bowl’s final seconds to save the win and the undefeated season. TCU finished second in the national polls.

But this, too, is now part of the Patterson lore: In those delirious seconds in California, as teammates mobbed Carder, Coach P chased down a safety and chewed him out for missing an assignment on the play.

“The thing I’m trying to get people to understand is this,” Patterson says. “Our journey has just started.”

A father and his sons reconnect

Another journey is in the early stages for the coach, one much more personal, the story of a father and his sons.

For most of his life, Josh Patterson, the oldest at age 25, lived apart from his dad, first with his mother in California, then with Patterson relatives in Rozel, then with an Army combat unit in Iraq.

But for the last three years, Josh has been a student at TCU, and for the last two, a student assistant coach with his father on the football team. In the opening practice Aug. 1, he is dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, playing quarterback in drills for linebackers and defensive backs.

“It’s very cool for me,” Gary says. “It gives me an opportunity to keep him close, to get to know him better.”

This part of Patterson’s life is by far the most difficult for him to discuss publicly. In addition to Josh, there are two sons from his second marriage who live with their mother in Utah.

Cade is 18, Blake three years younger. Their dad says both are bright boys and gifted athletes who spend some weekends during the year and a month every summer in Fort Worth.


“When you’re divorced and you’re not living in the same towns, it’s just a hard thing,” the father says.

In the case of Josh, when he began to struggle in California, Patterson wanted to bring him to live in Fort Worth. (He will not discuss the reasons why he could not.) He called his younger brother, Greg, in Rozel.

“Would you help raise him the way we were raised?” Gary asked.

Greg agreed. Josh moved in with his uncle and graduated in 2006 from Pawnee Heights High School. Like his dad, he was a four-sport star.

“I grew up with a family. I still got to see Dad,” Josh says one day over a plate of ribs at Angelo’s restaurant in Fort Worth. “I visited Dad and he came up and watched games every now and then. I got to experience everything.”

He laughs. “Plus I learned how to tie down calves and brand them.”

But there were tough times.

“It was kind of up and down,” Josh says. “I mean sometimes, being a kid that doesn’t understand things, you get angry about stuff. ‘Why am I not living with him? Why am I not spending more time with him?’”

When Josh graduated, his dad wanted him to come immediately to TCU. The young man surprised his family by enlisting in the Army instead.

“I wanted to create my own story,” he says.

That story included six-hour patrols behind a mounted machine gun, and watching fellow soldiers die. Back in Fort Worth after his discharge, it was slow going at first with his father.

“I didn’t know what to say to him because I’ve never really lived with him,” Josh says. “Then the whole football thing started, me coming up and doing practices. It helped us out with the whole breakthrough thing, the whole, what-to-say-to-each-other thing.”

Josh says time and maturity have brought a deeper understanding of the unique demands of his father’s profession.

“He’s got this career and he spent as much time as he could with me, but there was only so much he could do,” Josh Patterson says. “I think it’s starting to become where we’re understanding each other and starting to get to know each other.”

He has also grown close to his younger half brothers. The three of them recently spent a summer month together in Fort Worth, plus several days with relatives in Rozel.

“I hope my brothers understand as much of that as I understand,” Josh says. “Whenever they come out, I try and help them. If they don’t understand something, they can talk to me.”

Gary says he doesn’t know what he could have done differently.

“It’s hard with two boys living in Utah,” he says. “It’s the hand you’re dealt. I think you have to realize that everything happens for a reason. Because of everything that happens, I’m able to take better care of them and I’m able to take better care of my parents.”

But the coaching life, he admits, comes with painful tradeoffs.

“One of the things about coaches, and I’m on the extreme part of it, is that we spend a lot more time growing up other people’s kids than we do our own. It’s as simple as that,” Patterson says.

“I always knew that … I was going to make much more of a difference in their lives in the years after they got out of college. That’s my whole plan. How do I do that? How do I make it different? How do I help them out?

“The thing is, I’m proud of all three of my boys,” he says. “They’re all real smart.

“Josh will probably go into some kind of law enforcement. One’s going to do robotics. I don’t know what the eighth-grader is going to be yet, but they’re all smart, they all take care of business, and they all treat people right. So I’m lucky.”

‘She is my other conscience’

“Did that sound alright, Kels?” Patterson asks his wife after his acoustic performance.

“Yeah, it sounded good,” she says.

A few minutes later he asks her again.

“Sometimes he comes home and pets his dogs and says, ‘Wow, today was awful,’” Kelsey Patterson says. “I think for him it’s about kids’ lives. Imagine having 150 kids and their futures in your hands. It’s also about the alumni that want you to win all these games. It all builds up. Not being in the middle of that crisis, I can say: ‘It’s going to be OK. Life is messy.’”

In the fall of of 2002, she was the new director of marketing for the Fort Worth Zoo. A co-worker was the wife of TCU’s sports information director. She asked Kelsey to meet Patterson on the night he taped his radio show. The two saw each other through the rest of that season and all of the next one.

“I said, ‘You’ve got to decide if you want to put up with what coaches go through,’” Gary says.

They were married in the spring of 2004, but even knowing the demands of the coaching life, the first year was difficult, his wife says.

“Growing up, you think about what marriage is going to be and so, OK, I’m going to try to cook and have dinner ready. And his meeting would last long,” Kelsey says. “Here I would be sitting with dinner and it would be cold. So finally I just said, ‘I’ve got to live my life.’

“We learned to adjust. ... I said: ‘All I need to know is when you’re going to be home. If it’s 10, that’s OK, just tell me.’ Then I can go do other things, have dinner with friends. Once I made that adjustment, and we made it with each other, it got a whole lot better.”

She has embraced the coaching life. Kelsey is a regular at practice, often showing up with their rescue golden retrievers, Daisy and Chloe. She travels with the team to road games and makes a point to try to get to know all the players. She is the good cop who helps humanize her husband.

“I’m there to say, ‘It’s OK,’” she says.

Away from the field, she also took over the administration of Patterson’s charitable foundation. But her most significant achievement might be coaxing Gary, the coach’s alter ego, into the open more often. If Patterson has mellowed, his wife gets most of the credit.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Gary says. “I became a lot better coach and father and person to my players because of her. All of it. She is my other conscience.”

After the concert in the home, she and her husband walk toward the patio. Patterson is concerned because he sees only one dog barking outside.

“Hey, Kels, where’s Daisy?” he says. “I can’t see her out there.”

“She’s out there,” Kelsey says.

They step into a muggy night. He looks east above the trees.

“As a general rule, you can see all the way to Hulen bridge, the grain elevators in Saginaw, Will Rogers [Coliseum], the [TCU] stadium,” Patterson says. “It’s beautiful here.”

By now it is almost fully dark. Patterson needs to get back to the LSU game plan.

“You only get one moment of time to stand on the sidelines against LSU,” he says. “If it’s not going the way it’s supposed to, I don’t want to think I didn’t prepare, I didn’t do enough to put my kids in places to be successful. You’ve got to turn over every rock.”

His only losing season came in 2004, the year he and Kelsey were married.

“The people on the blogs said: ‘He’s married now. He’s at home too much,’” Patterson says. “So she said, ‘Get back to the office.’”

Kelsey laughs.

“Get back to work,” she says.

Supper will be Chinese takeout from Panda Express.

“I think I’m flying,” Kelsey says. “He’s buying, but I’m flying.”

Singing a new song

On another July evening, a few weeks earlier, the TCU football offices are empty except for one. Patterson has talked for more than two hours about his life and career, about the difference between Coach P and that other guy.

His phone chimes every few minutes. He offers to walk his visitor to the parking lot on the west side of Amon Carter Stadium.

In a few weeks, the place will throb with the energy of players reporting for practice, and then with sellout crowds come to witness the next chapter of Patterson’s remarkable story. But now the place is quiet, peaceful. A setting sun reflects off the stadium walls and a warm wind plays across the empty lot.

Patterson shakes hands, and starts to walk away. Then he turns.

“I have a question for you,” he says. “Am I the guy you thought I’d be?”

It could be the title of a country western song.

Tim Madigan, 817-390-7544 Twitter: @tsmadigan

Looking for comments?

We welcome your comments on this story, but please be civil. Do not use profanity, hate speech, threats, personal abuse or any device to draw undue attention. Our policy requires those wishing to post here to use their real identity.

Our commenting policy | Facebook commenting FAQ | Why Facebook?