Gary Patterson gave his blessing to a new offense.
It wasn’t easy.
Like a protective father, the veteran TCU head football coach didn’t find it comfortable letting go.
“It was one of the hardest things I ever did in my life,” he said the day before the first practice.
But it had to be done.
Watching his team go 6-12 in its first two years in the Big 12, and last year produce one of the lowest-scoring offenses in his almost two decades at TCU, convinced Patterson to pull the trigger on the idea he had been kicking around for a while.
He had to go uptempo. Like Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oregon.
And he had to go now. One more year was too long to wait.
“Truly a change in philosophy,” Patterson told the media audience at Big 12 Media Days in July.
He was in a good mood that day, but he doesn’t want to be in a good mood too much.
Patterson said he spent the past two years being positive — if he was perhaps buoyed by the entrance into the Big 12 of the program he built, who could blame him? — but now he wants to go back to his hard-to-please self.
He is sinking himself back into the defense, which is what has brought him this far — the nation’s seventh-winningest major college coach (.732 winning percentage).
“We’ve been here 17 years on defense,” he said.
The offense? He’s convinced it’s in good hands with his co-coordinators, former Tech quarterback Sonny Cumbie, who put 70 points on Patterson’s Horned Frogs in 2004, and former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Doug Meacham, who steered Stillwater offenses with the likes of Dez Bryant, Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden.
“That’s one of the things that, if you really come down to it, the reason why you have to change offenses, you have to change because of recruiting,” Patterson said. “Whether we like it or not, perception becomes reality. We needed to keep some of the great wide receivers in the Metroplex here in the state of Texas. And quarterbacks.”
So Patterson let go.
“I don’t have anything to do with the offense besides talking to them about the depth chart, and I’ve done as much as I can within our practice schedule to make sure that they can practice exactly like this offense has ever practiced, so they can be successful,” he said.
It would have been easy for Patterson to stick to his coaching guns. In fact, it would have been a good guess. Coaches are as hard to turn as battleships when it comes to changing what’s worked. They might take close notes at a clinic. They might watch other teams. They might tinker in the spring.
But truly changing is hard.
“We all coached well enough to go to a Rose Bowl and win it,” Patterson said. “But this is one of the biggest mistakes coaches make: ‘It’s worked for me for 20 years.’ ” It’s kind of like in 2004 — we had the worst pass defense in the nation here at TCU. You go look at yourself in the mirror, and you go out and talk to people, and you tweak. We didn’t change everything, because we’ve been good on defense. ... And the next year, we led the nation, I think, with 46 turnovers or something like that.
“So you just keep evolving.”
The people around him didn’t necessarily see a changed Patterson following a 4-8 season. But evolving might be the right word.
“I think Coach Patterson’s a very progressive coach,” Meacham said. “I think he’s a really, really smart guy. He gets it. And I think that for whatever reason, in his mind, he felt like a change was needed. And Coach Cumbie and I happened to be the guys he chose.”
Veteran center Joey Hunt watched Patterson roll out what must have looked like an offensive game plan from space. But he instantly knew where Patterson was coming from.
“Coach P’s a winner. He’s going to do whatever it takes to win,” Hunt said. “There might be some risks. Ever since I’ve been watching TCU, it’s been more conservative — not the no-huddle. But the game’s changing. Coach P’s a good football coach, and he likes to win. So he’s going to change, too.”
Apparently, he did. With everyone’s blessing.