It’s Gary Patterson birthday on Saturday.
Normally that’s not a big deal for the veteran TCU head football coach. He’s not all that into sentiment, and besides, he doesn’t have time.
But this particular birthday, his 56th, may be different. It could be his healthiest in a long time.
He had knee replacement surgery the week after the Alamo Bowl, and in the five weeks since, he has lost 30 pounds in physical rehab. He hit the recruiting trail, even during recovery, and the result was his highest-rated signing class at TCU.
With a share of one Big 12 championship already, more upgrades planned for the football offices, increased staff, widely acknowledged praise for perhaps his strongest coaching job ever last season, plus renewed health and the highest job security of his career, Patterson appears more ready than ever for the next stage of his career.
“That was the first time I’ve ever done something for myself,” Patterson said this week in an interview with the Star-Telegram. “It’s always been the season, going on to recruiting, going on to spring ball. I never ever really think about me. To me, it’s all about the corporation of TCU.”
He decided this was the year. No more putting it off.
“Finally, for the betterment of my health, so I can work out more and do more things — which I think eventually works into helping TCU,” he said. “But it’s been a tough five weeks.”
Patterson walked with a cane and looked slimmer when he met with reporters on National Signing Day. But he gained more than a trimmer waistline and improved health. Patterson’s rehab at TCU gave him insight into how the football program tries to get players back on the field after injury.
He said he was impressed by much of what he saw, but he also learned where improvement is needed.
“Because I’ve been out here early in the morning, I’ve watched how guys come in. Now I know what they go through,” he said. “I’ve got more of an appreciation of what they do downstairs. But I’ve also found some cracks that we need to get better at, as a person watching it. Which I would have never taken the time to do.”
TCU lost more than two dozen players for at least part of a game last season, including eight starters lost for the season. Two other starters did not even begin the season because of injury, and his veteran punt returner unexpectedly transferred.
“We’re looking at every aspect of why. Is it just because it happened? Is there something we can do?” Patterson said. “Every process of that, you’ve got to build to try to make it better. And this has forced me to analyze, which I possibly wouldn’t have. I’d be, ‘Well, why isn’t he back yet?’ And now I know more things about that.”
Patterson does not wonder what last year’s team might have done with better health. He said he hasn’t even stopped to think about how 2015 is considered by many people to be his best coaching effort at TCU.
“My whole deal every year is to try to keep my job,” he said. “I look and see what I did good and what I did bad, but I don’t give myself a grade. This is not the Twitter world. I don’t have to do that. I just try to get better.”
Patterson said his best coaching season might have been his first at TCU, after he took over for Dennis Franchione for 2001.
“We lost all our coaches, we had 10 new starters on offense, and we were 4-5 and we beat Southern Miss and Louisville to get back to a bowl game,” Patterson said. “Had a whole new staff, first year being the head coach.”
By the end of next season, Patterson will pass Dutch Meyer for all-time games coached at TCU. Patterson already is the winningest football coach at TCU, by a lot.
With a strong knee, improved personal health, yearly gains in recruiting and facilities, who knows how much higher Patterson can climb, and TCU with him.
“I’m not preparing any harder or coaching any harder than I have any other years,” Patterson said. “Obviously, we all get smarter as we get older, I think.”
And in some cases, maybe better.