Mac Engel

TCU’s Patterson can be a leader for change, or sound like an old man fighting the world

Gary Patterson is hardly an old man, but he is beginning to sound like a guy who wants to scream, “Get off my lawn!”

It’s not 1985, and the name on the back of the jersey matters more than the name on the front. Either deal with it, or quit.

This week, the 59-year-old TCU football coach took exception to his best offensive lineman, Lucas Niang, making public that he was going to miss the rest of the season because he elected to have surgery to repair a bad hip.

“That’s what I told him yesterday in the team meeting. There was no reason for it to be out. It’s good for him, he’s going to take care of his business, but the bottom line is he hurt his teammates,” GP said Monday. “There was no reason for that to have been out, but we’re in that era where it’s all about us. All about me.”

Gary is right. We do live in a world where it’s all about me, and he is perfectly OK with that setup provided the M-E is G-P.

Niang hurt nary a single person with his comments. TCU still defeated Texas, and the world kept going.

No one in sports looks and sounds more like a hypocrite than the men’s college basketball, or football, coach. They all preach “team” and “it’s all about the kids” when, in practice, their entire programs are about one adult.

This is a “game” Gary and his colleagues cannot win, and it’s only going to get worse.

There are two ways to go on this: Be the leader on dealing with the imminent change, or sound like a whiny old man who yells at the ocean about its water being too wet.

Once college athletics made money the priority, and millions poured in, it was only a matter of time before the players were going to get the cut that the coaches and administrators pay themselves.


Niang’s plan was to play throughout the entire 2019 season, including a bowl game, but he had been advised by former TCU teammates who made it to the NFL to be selfish.

I asked him at Big 12 Media Days if he could envision any scenario that would keep him from playing in a bowl game; that is something a Patterson team has thus far avoided.

He has yet to have a player skip a game to prepare for the NFL Draft.

Niang could not envision such a scenario, but he also said, “It’s a personal decision; it depends on every athlete. If you are banged up and hurt through the season, you don’t want to play an extra game. You have to get ready for the draft. If you are feeling healthy, there is no reason not to.”

“A couple of people have told me to be more selfish than you typically tend to be in the past. If you are hurt you have to really take care of yourself. You have to be smart. It’s already a business, but now it’s a business for us because you’d be getting paid.”

Gary is no different than any other coach; none of them want to see their players paid anything beyond what they are already given, which is substantial. They know when the money comes in that will trump anything remotely associated with education.

Just like it does to the rest of us.

Niang is doing what is best for his career. Maybe he could have played through the pain, but given the stakes there is no point.

The timing of the announcement didn’t make him a “Me” guy as much as it just made him “another” guy.


Gary is no different than most college coaches in that they are trying to protect what they have, and what they know.

Kids are different today, because their parents are different today.

On Oct. 24, Patterson said of true freshman defensive player Colt Ellison’s playing time, “If we thought [so], he’d be playing more. This is not high school and we have a PTA and we’re worried about what the parents think. I’m trying to make sure I pay my rent. You play the players. You get to Friday and practiced all week and see the guys who handle it and the guys who don’t.”

That comment didn’t sit too well with the good folks of Aledo, where Ellison is from.

And Gary is not wrong.

The trouble is Gary comes from a generation when the parents didn’t question the coach. He is from an era when the school teacher and the head coach had the full support of mom and dad.

He is from an era when adults’ wisdom was God-like. He is from an era when no parent would have co-signed their little stupid Johnny filing a lawsuit over a bad grade.

He is from an era when transferring was akin to eating rat poison without the fun. He came from an era where paying a student-athlete was against the law.

It does not mean he’s out of touch, or has lost anything.

The world changes, sometimes no matter how much we fight it. No matter how much we may loathe it.

On Tuesday, with an elephant gun and an F-18 pointed at its head, the NCAA agreed to start the process of allowing student-athletes to earn money from their names, images and likenesses.

College coaches and administrators, most of whom earn well over six figures to run for-profit amateur sports, are furious. They are scared to death of what it will do to their precious model.

Know that this change will move slower than traffic on I-35, and most of the fears are empty. All change is scary until we’re used to it.

There is too much money now, and Gary’s fear is no different than anyone else in his position: That it will all be about money.

When any real cash is involved, that becomes the priority.

Gary can either just embrace it, or accept that he sounds like another old guy screaming at those on his lawn.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram

Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.
Support my work with a digital subscription