Even for a top-three, nationally ranked football team, the media crowd that gathered for coach Gary Patterson’s weekly press conference Tuesday was provocatively large.
There were cameras, big and small. There were reporters from the big college football websites. And reporters from the newsrooms of the local TV stations.
The scent of another college football “scandal” was too much.
Two TCU football players arrested. An alleged burglary. A fight, followed by a felony charge.
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“Where do y’all want to start?” Patterson asked, letting the media decide whether or when it wanted to ask questions about the Horned Frogs’ approaching game at Texas Tech.
We had seen him under similar circumstances at the same podium before. The Casey Pachall driving-under-the-influence case three years ago. The campus drug bust that involved four former players before the 2012 season. The Devonte Fields case last year.
“In my lifetime here at TCU, 18 years, we’ve had a few of these,” Patterson said. “Not as many as others.
“And we’ve always handled it about the same way.”
As an eyewitness to all 18 of Patterson’s TCU years, I can vouch for the head coach on that.
As he put it Tuesday, “If they screw up, they screw up.”
Which is why his response to the assembled media came across as unusually compelling.
“I’m just going to tell you something right now when it comes to Mike Tuaua,” Patterson said. “I named him a captain, but outside, in our community and with kids, he’s the most-liked kid we have on our team besides Trevone Boykin.
“I’m not letting you all say that this kid is a bad person.”
Tuaua and redshirt freshman Andre Petties-Wilson were arrested Monday on charges of burglary with bodily injury.
The arrest report was widely circulated Monday. But Patterson’s belief that the report doesn’t tell the full story prompted him Tuesday to come to Tuaua’s defense.
“There’s a bunch of stuff I can’t talk about now,” Patterson said. “But I would say this to you. You’ve sat here before when we’ve had anything going on, and you’ve never heard me — ever — speak up for a kid.
“But you did now, OK?”
If Patterson’s endorsement didn’t ring in the air Tuesday, it should. I, for one, can’t remember him ever publicly supporting a player’s innocence.
Pachall was his starting quarterback, but you didn’t see Patterson trying to manipulate the legal system to get the DUI charges dropped. Instead, he and wife Kelsey donated $100,000 to a TCU alcohol and drug recovery and support group.
Tuaua was suspended from this season’s TCU team as soon as the football program learned of the arrest.
“He hasn’t played, hasn’t practiced — period,” the coach said.
Patterson noted that he was “very disappointed” that KXAS/Channel 5 first erred in reporting that injured senior Davion Pierson was one of the arrested players.
In the news gathering world, it’s an unforgivable mistake. Somebody’s job should be in jeopardy. Patterson said he didn’t know what to tell Pierson after the blunder.
“My suggestion is to sue them,” Patterson said Tuesday.
“I just hope that when all the facts come out that you cover it as strongly as you’re doing here. Because it’s not even close to what happened south of here.”
Across social media and the blog world, Patterson was almost immediately castigated Tuesday for trying to throw Baylor under the bus.
But Patterson was totally within his rights. When an athlete gets into trouble, the whole program and university takes the public relations hit. The headlines are the same size. The public outrage comes in the same volume.
Patterson compared his players’ case to Baylor’s because, frankly, he wasn’t convinced that the media would make the same comparison.
Gary Patterson, after 18 years here, doesn’t usually do things like that.
And in that regard Tuesday, he spoke volumes.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697