TCU coach Gary Patterson would have probably preferred to be somewhere else, maybe a short scuba vacation before fall camp begins Thursday; or maybe just relaxing at the house with his wife, Kelsey, and his dogs, strumming his guitar. But most likely he probably would have preferred to be in his office dissecting film of the Horned Frogs' first two opponents, Baylor and Air Force.
Instead, he was sitting down with a revolving herd of reporters answering questions about the upcoming season, whether TCU can reload rather than rebuild after a 13-0 season and Rose Bowl victory. Patterson can be a good quote on many topics concerning football, even if he is tight-lipped about his own team at times. The assembled reporters at the Mountain West Media Days in Las Vegas threw him all sorts of questions:
Is your team going to be ready that early in the season? We're going to find out. We've pushed hard. Our motto is "Do it now." Clear back in January we started talking about what we were going to have to do to not rebuild; that's what good programs do. We'll find out come Sept. 2 when we play Baylor and then play Air Force, whether we reached that goal or not. We're athletic enough, but are we going to be mature enough, tough enough, and mentally tough enough to win the game like we did last time we had to go [to Air Force in 2009], when it was a driving sleet storm going sideways and we had to outlast them? We could have easily lost that ballgame, but we were mentally tough enough to handle it. Are we going to be mentally tough enough to handle it this time?
You guys have set a record for season tickets with over 19,800 sold with over month to go before the first home game. That's what they tell me. Here's what I know: If we can win ballgames then season tickets will keep going [up], we'll keep raising money to build stadiums and do what we need to do, and we keep TCU in the national limelight. It's been a fun ride to be a part of, all the growth and to one day be able to say that you were part of something and made a difference. Hopefully we can keep doing that.
You guys are moving to the Big East and the BCS berth has something to do with that; the Mountain West Conference is fighting for that. How important is that going to be for this conference going forward that they get that opportunity? An automatic qualifying berth is a big deal. It has already helped us in recruiting. There's not any doubt about that. I've been part of this conference since 2005, and they've been trying to get to that point before I was even in it. There are other battles they could fight along the way as far as how the BCS money is divided. All of us knew that the automatic qualifying carried a significant punch; it was a big deal to us. It's what we've been driving to; it's what the Mountain West is trying to get to. I don't think there's anybody else in the Mountain West, if given the same opportunity, [who] wouldn't have said yes, also.
Have you been able to sit back in the off-season and think about how impressive it is that your defense has led the nation five times in the last 10 years, including the past three seasons? Oh, no. We have tradition, so that's something we talk about, and we talk about it in recruiting. But out on the field now we're a whole new defense again. We did it differently all five times. In 2000, we had 10 NFL guys and we hardly blitzed at all, playing base defense and only blitzed 6 percent of the time. In 2002, our personnel was different and we man-blitzed 43 percent of the time. In 2008, we were a zone-blitz, two shell team, that's what we did the best. In 2009, we were a four-man rush team because we could run. In 2010, 50 percent of the time we held offenses to three and out. When you get teams down to six possessions you're going to have a chance to win. You just have to find what you're good at. Last year we weren't very good in red-zone defense. The key was, teams didn't get there, so it didn't make any difference. Our whole thing comes down to how many touchdown passes do you give up in a year. We want to average one a game. The last three years we've allowed eight, 10 and 10. We're going to have people in the box to stop the run. Stopping the run and don't give up big touchdown passes, don't give up the big play.
How do you look back at the Rose Bowl win now six months later? Everybody said you played the greatest game of your life after you just beat Wisconsin. We played with passion, but we didn't play that great on defense, to be honest with you. We didn't tackle very well and we allowed too many rushing yards. Everybody says, well it was Wisconsin, you're supposed to [give up rushing yards]. Well, not around TCU. That would be saying the only way TCU can beat a Wisconsin is by playing the greatest game of our lives. That's not how we feel at TCU. We don't feel like it was a one-shot thing. We want to be a top-15 program every year. So that may be other people's standard, but that's not our standard.
TCU is moving to its third conference since you've been head coach when you begin play in the Big East in 2012. How do you deal with change? It's kind of like getting remarried. It's a whole different set of friends. I've always tried to take care of everybody. I'm not going to think of myself any differently going to the Big East. You're still going to have to win ballgames, still have to treat people the right way, still have to grow up players. If not, somebody else is going to be using the new stadium, somebody else is going to get the new locker rooms, and have a new weight room. I'll be one of those guys on the street corner playing my guitar trying to make money singing Sittin' On the Dock of the Bay.
Is Boise State being picked to win the conference a motivating factor for you? Oh, no. They have a senior quarterback. To me, it's a lot easier being the team that's [picked to finish] second or third. Until we did it a few years ago, the team that was picked to win had never won the conference. I'm more concerned with Air Force right now, because they're the first [conference team] I have to play. If I don't beat Air Force, it's not going to matter how we play against Boise.
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760