Finally, there came a quiet moment this summer when Gary Patterson realized the merry-go-round in his head had finally stopped.
No more welcome-to-the-Big-12 lessons. No more hands to shake and donor checks to collect for the newly restored stadium. No more drug busts. No more boxes to unpack for his and Mrs. P’s new home.
“It felt good,” Patterson reflected, “to just be a football coach.”
At his first TCU press luncheon of the season Tuesday, Patterson smiled often and seemed disarmingly relaxed, as if riding an elephant on his vacation (which he did in South Africa) had somehow removed the figurative one from his shoulders.
He was right. The Horned Frogs had to traverse a minefield of distractions to get to this, their third season in the Big 12 Conference.
Four losses by three points or less and a fractured arm by quarterback Casey Pachall last autumn helped seal the Frogs’ fate in 2013. Now they’ve faced themselves in the mirror, Patterson suggested, and regrouped. Refocused. Recommitted.
“There’s more of a calmness on this football team since the beginning, I think,” he said. “There’s more of an attention to detail than we had a year ago. There are less agendas.”
The young team that took its Big 12 bitter medicine a year ago is a year older. Trevone Boykin, thrust again into the burning dumpster at quarterback last season, is a trimmed-down junior. His partner at quarterback, Matt Joeckel, is a senior transfer.
In the past, the prospect of starting a transfer quarterback would be lathering Patterson into a cold sweat. But even with new coordinators installing a new, up-tempo offense, Patterson seemed almost serene four days before the season opener.
His quarterback situation, he agreed, is far more tranquil than it was at this time a year ago.
“Yeah, because I think they have more help,” Patterson said.
An injury-depleted problem spot in 2013, the offensive line, should be better with the return of tackle Tayo Fabuluje, he said. He’s anxious to see how track All-American Kolby Listenbee electrifies the Frogs’ receiving corps.
As for Joeckel and Boykin, however, Patterson said, “It’s all about how they play on Saturdays. It comes down to if we throw it to our color jerseys and score points and don’t throw it to their color jerseys.
“If we don’t throw it to them, I’m going to be a happy camper.”
For as long as Patterson has paced the TCU sideline, he has demanded little more than that of his quarterback. This, therefore, should be an intrepid journey for Patterson, watching a Frogs offense operating in quick time.
When asked Tuesday how the new offense will help his defense, Patterson answered honestly, “I don’t know if it does. If it’s doing well and scoring points, it does help. If not, then you’re back on the field.
“One of the myths is that you can’t play defense when you run this kind of offense.”
Despite an abundance of anecdotal evidence to support that “myth,” Patterson again likes his defense’s chances. For one, he thinks the Frogs will have a four-man pass rush rotation to fill the void left by the dismissal of Devonte Fields. Another lift, Patterson expects, could come from a vastly improved running game.
He didn’t seem at all Tuesday, however, like a coach with worries on his mind. A year ago, the Frogs were getting ready to open on national TV against LSU. Two years ago, Patterson was dealing with the new stadium and the fallout from the drug bust.
This time, he said, he just feels like a football coach.
For now, not an elephant in sight.