Gil LeBreton

Gary Patterson’s statue a symbol of TCU’s renaissance

His arms are folded. His stare is intense.

In bronze, as in life, TCU’s Gary Patterson stands forever now as the essence of a modern football coach. Focused and fearless.

He has said he was embarrassed at the idea of a statue, considering, “obviously not being dead and not being retired.”

Living mortals, we used to be taught, are not supposed to have their likenesses cast in stone.

But it’s sports. It’s religion, of sorts. And it happens nowadays.

Thus, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., you can find the sculpted image of Nick Saban, still alive and still very active as the head coach of the Crimson Tide.

Alabama regularly casts statues for all of its championship coaches and Heisman Trophy winners, making it easily the national leader in football graven images. The original Saban one, as the story was reported, had to be sent back because he looked too much like Robert De Niro.

The eventual one, truth be told, makes Saban look more like Andy Griffith, down to the wavy 1960s hairdo.

Great statues of departed and retired college football figures, however, do abound.

Outside the University of Illinois stadium, the immortal Red Grange — the Galloping Ghost — gallops indeed toward some imaginary end zone.

At Notre Dame, you can view the legendary Four Horsemen atop life-size horses.

In Austin, Heisman winner Earl Campbell stands elegantly as the noble warrior he was. And at Boston College, quarterback Doug Flutie leans back against Miami for all eternity, looking for his receiver in the end zone.

Patterson, about to begin his 19th season at TCU, winced at the statue idea when athletic director Chris Del Conte first presented it to him. But the idea was important to donors Bill and Sue Parrish, Patterson was told.

The resulting three statues, created by David Alan Clark and unveiled Saturday, are of Patterson, legendary coach Dutch Meyer and Heisman winner Davey O’Brien.

No retelling of TCU football history would be complete without extensive mention of Meyer and O’Brien.

Patterson properly contended, however, that a lot of loyal and talented players and assistant coaches were just as responsible as he was for the Horned Frogs’ success.

All true, but Saturday’s honor was not only about the football program, Patterson realized, but also the entire university’s renaissance. Football — winning football — has been the catalyst for the increase in enrollment and the stunning transformation of a once-sleepy campus.

Patterson finally warmed to the idea that the statue could be viewed as a fitting symbol of everything that has happened at TCU over the past 15 or so years.

“This was really hard,” he said after Saturday’s unveiling. “What do you say, because you’re not done yet, not retired?

“Very few times in your life do you get to thank all of those that have made this possible. So that’s kind of the way I look at this statue. I get an opportunity in my career to be able to pause for just a second and be able to thank all of those.

“Davey and Dutch didn’t get a chance to do that.”

His work isn’t finished, Patterson kept saying.

“Obviously, we don’t feel like we’re done,” he said.

Patterson’s speech Saturday was impressively brief and poignant. He thanked many. But when it came time to thank his wife, Kelsey, a Fort Worth girl, Patterson was moved enough that he had to pause.

It was a touching moment.

“Everybody’s life changes,” the coach said. “For me, mine changed when I met Kelsey. I became a better coach, I learned how to be a better father, and I think I’ve become a better person in the community, because before I was one-tracked. I only knew football.”

In Green Bay, Wis., giant 50-foot statues of Vince Lombardi and Curly Lambeau stand in Kremlin-sized authority outside of Lambeau Field. At Alabama, Saban’s 9-foot statue seems to nearly double his actual size.

The new TCU statues, however, are life-like.

“We didn’t want monuments,” Bill Parrish said. “We wanted a life-sized statue that looked alive.”

The finished product was kept secret, enough that when the drape was raised Saturday, Patterson joked how thin he looked.

At Oklahoma in 2015, a bronze statue of coach Bob Stoops was delivered, apparently without notice and definitely without Stoops’ approval. Stoops reportedly wants to see no statue until he retires.

But as the likeness — tied down with cables, standing erect on the back of a flat-bed truck — made its way down to the Norman campus, there was nothing covering it, and photos of Bronze Bob quickly spread throughout the Internet.

Patterson’s likeness was spared such indignity. The ceremony was attended by hundreds and shone beneath a cloudless sky.

On a small plaza outside the new Schollmaier Arena, the football coach now stands in eternal fearless focus, available for selfies.

Feel free to touch him. You won’t distract him, trust me.

He has more football games to coach.

Gil LeBreton: 817-390-7697, glebreton, @gilebreton

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