One of Gary Patterson’s favorite sayings is that people handle failure better than they handle success.
This year, for only the third time at TCU, Patterson had a chance to test that on himself.
“I felt like he was actually pretty positive for the most part,” linebacker Ty Summers said. He stopped, smiled and made sure the reporters at Big 12 Media Day did not misunderstand. “Not positive that it was OK, but positive in that all we can do is go up from here.”
The Horned Frogs were 6-7 last season, only their third losing campaign since Patterson became head coach in time for a bowl game in December 2000. His first full season, 2001, was a .500 year. Since then, only in 2004, 2013 and 2016 have the Frogs lost more than they won.
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But Patterson is not brooding.
He bounced into the Ford Center in Frisco on Monday to lead off the coaches press conferences and started with an old coaching joke.
“I tell everybody that the good news is, we have everybody back, and the bad news is we were 6-6, we’ve got everybody back,” he said.
The room laughed, and Patterson was eager to talk. He spent 26 minutes answering questions about his team, recruiting, the College Football Playoff, Bob Stoop’s surprise retirement at Oklahoma, the state of the Big 12 and college football in general.
The only thing missing was an actual game to coach.
“Any time you have a season that you don’t want to have, you want to get back in as quick as you can,” Patterson said. “Really liked our off-season. Didn’t like the way we ended the season. Feel like we had to get back to being more physical. We started that in January.
For us, that’s kind of the way we’ve gone about it. Really like the team. I like the kids. Really have worked hard.”
Whatever Patterson has done in the past after a losing season, it has worked.
Following a 5-6 year in 2004, the Frogs were 11-1.
After a 4-8 season in 2013, the Frogs went 12-1.
That .500 year in 2001? It was followed by 10-2.
“The only way I know how to do that is to shore it up, get ready to go and understand that you have a responsibility to do that,” Patterson said.
Patterson prioritized two areas for his team in the off-season — increasing strength and increasing size.
He brought back the “Night of Champions” weightlifting competition to crown the top achievers on the eve of spring practice. And he recruited bigger players than he typically has, particularly on the defensive line.
“It’s hard to play in this league and play consistent when your best players on the inside are 260, 270 pounds,” he said. “So we went out and got four guys that are in the 300-pound range.”
Patterson relishes self-evaluation. He is a thinker, constantly turning over ideas in his mind. He pioneered the 4-2-5 defense. He turns average offensive players into standout defenders. Three years ago, he brought in the Air Raid offense, the most radical X’s and O’s change of his career.
And he wonders what he did wrong. He said his knee replacement last year slowed him down, perhaps more than he expected, and it meant he couldn’t provide as much energy in practices as he likes.
“I’m one of those guys that believes you evaluate yourself even if you have a winning year,” he said. “But I think you’re even more critical when you come off a losing year, and I think you start with yourself, not necessarily your players.”
Patterson’s track record following a losing season of course sets up high expectations for 2017. But the Frogs embrace it.
“I think he believes we’re capable of that,” Summers said. “We’ve just got to live up to the standards.”