Gary Patterson: Front and Center
Day one of the two-day Big 12 Media Days happened Monday at the Omni Hotel in downtown Dallas and showcased five of the conference’s 10 teams – TCU, West Virginia, Kansas State, Texas Tech and Kansas (day two happened Tuesday with Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State and Iowa State attending). Coaches and players were made available throughout both days to ScoreBoardTX and the media throng in attendance. Here are some thoughts of TCU’s head man Gary Patterson regarding his favored Horned Frogs squad, the upcoming college football season and the College Football Playoffs.
When asked about his team’s incredible turnaround and bowl-winning season last year, Coach Patterson had this to say:
PATTERSON: We’re now going into our fourth season in the Big 12, last year after 4-8, we changed offenses, and go 12-1. For me, it’s about standing in between the lines and not getting too high or too low, either way. So a year ago you had to prove people wrong. This year you have to prove people right. As a football team that’s really how we’ve tried to handle it. It’s been a great summer. Last year having an opportunity to be in a situation where you won more than you lost and getting a chance to play in a great bowl game. So for us, we’re just moving forward – recruiting-wise, football-wise, facility-wise. Things have not stopped at TCU.
When asked about his quarterback Trevone Boykin, who just a year ago had the Frog fan base in doubt (including your truly), and is now a pre-season pick to be a Heisman finalist, Coach Patterson had this to say:
PATTERSON: Really, I wasn’t surprised by his success. Our kids really came along during the summertime on their own, really bonded and started doing it, and things just happened. In Trevone’s case, I think one of the things I’ve tried to do, and I’ve talked to the whole offense about it, is just the handling success. Understanding that winning is the most important thing and all the rest will come. They don’t have to score more points, gain more yards. We play six tough road games. It’s going to be hard to win by the margins that we did last year (where the Frogs set scoring records). That’s the thing that I’ve tried to instill in Trevone. I’ve been very proud of him – the circuit he’s been on, some of the awards, everything he’s been a part of – that he’s handled it in the right way.
Probably the best example, he’s had a couple of the NFL guys, quarterbacks – the gurus – that wanted him to come work out with them this summer, and he told them all no. I think his biggest thing was staying with the offensive group this summer, making sure they were doing seven-on-seven, winning ball games. He’s doing the right things, and I think that’s half the battle. Sometimes you can get lulled into everything, especially if you went from where we were to where he is now. So for us, from everything I’ve seen up to this point, he’s handled it very well. We have a lot of older guys on offense – so the leadership aspect is not just him, it’s been Joey Hunt [center] that’s here today, Josh Doctson [receiver]. You have many that have played in a lot of football games.
When asked about the remarkable turnaround last season produced, and now being the favorite to win the conference this year, Patterson said this:
PATTERSON: It’s a nice feeling, but the bottom line is I’ve been in this business too long to get caught up in it. I know that last year we [supposedly] didn’t have any linebackers, we didn’t have a quarterback. This year I’ve got to replace six starters on defense. But we came a long way in the spring. Everything that we’ve been able to accomplish at TCU in the last 18 years, it’s all great and fine, but it’s kind of like winning any awards. You can put them all in the closet because it doesn’t mean anything to anybody anymore when we play Minnesota (this year’s opener). Right now we’ve been moving forward. I really like the attitude of our football team. This summer has been a very business-like manner, how they’ve gone about it. To be honest with you, it hasn’t been as hot in Texas. So we’ve had to turn off the air conditioner in the indoor [practice facility] to create the humidity to make sure that we play like TCU teams are supposed to play. We’ve just been trying to do what we need to do.
When asked about his apparent riches of wide receivers, a perceived lack of depth at linebacker/secondary, and being prepared for a season in which the Frogs are now the targeted ones, Patterson said the following:
PATTERSON: I don’t know if you ever have enough of anything. But we have the same guys [at receiver] coming back, and we have some freshmen coming in. We lost David Porter (receiver), but everybody else is back. I think, like any football team, the key was in the last half of the season we were beat up in that position, and it showed in our numbers. Like anybody else, we have to stay healthy.
Linebacker-wise, we had two guys, both Mike Freeze and Alec Dunham, that came in the spring. Ty Summers redshirted. To be honest, it’s back to the numbers we had. Our starting linebackers last year ran 5 flat. It was the slowest group we’ve ever had at TCU. The five top linebackers this year average a 4.5-something when we ran at the end of spring. Defensively, not just linebacker-wise, we have a chance to be more athletic than we were a year ago. You’ve got to replace a Kevin White (corner) and then a Sam Carter (safety) and a Chris Hackett (safety). You have a group of guys that in the last three years in the Big 12 that picked 65 footballs, so there’s a lot of production that we have to be able to replace. How do you do that? So we started in the spring because I treat spring like two-a-days, where it’s really about being physical and learning. And then we’ll get into two-a-days and hopefully it carries through.
We’ve got a lot of practices before we get to Minnesota, which it’s going to be a very tough ball game. It’s like Custer. The only difference between Custer and us is we know what’s on the other side of the hill. For us going into it, then you have Stephen F. Austin and SMU, and you have a very tough four-game swing with going to Lubbock and Texas at home and then going to Manhattan and going to Ames. So three out of four – you play a lot of games on the road and get ready to go. But that’s the Big 12. We’re excited about it. You’ve got to embrace it and go forward.
When asked about the new rules limiting days teams to only two days of contact in practice, including a game day, Patterson said this:
PATTERSON: It’s easy for us. Just on Tuesday. That’s the only day we’re in full pads besides the game. Everybody always looks surprised at me when they hear that because we’re physical. Sunday we’re in shorts. Tuesday we’re in full. Wednesday we’re in shells. Thursday we’re in shorts. We’ve been that way really since we’ve been at TCU. Our whole thing is about being physical in the spring, being physical in two-a-days. In this league, you’ve got to be able to pull up because of the bodies, and you’ve got to be able to get guys through to the end of the season. I think what you’ll find is that there’s a majority of coaches, we like keeping our jobs, and we want to keep our kids healthy. Fresh shoulders, fresh legs means more physical players. I just think the body types are getting so big, so strong, so fast, I think it’s just important that you make sure that you get all your guys to game day and keep them healthy. That’s been our mindset for a long time. Best teams play best at the end of the year.
When asked what he thinks the Frogs chances of playing in the College Football Playoff this year (with the Big 12 still not having a championship game), and how they were left out of the mix last season, Patterson has this to say:
PATTERSON: After last year, I don’t feel confident about anything. But the key to the whole story is I’m going to always be a team player. The bottom line, I handled it the way I handled it because that was what was best for college football, best for the Big 12, best for TCU, best for my team. And I knew if I handled it differently, then they wouldn’t have played like they did in the Bowl game (a 42-3 thrashing of Ole Miss). For me, I think every year is different. I’m not a big believer that you have to have a Conference Championship [game]. I thought the whole thing about going to a playoff was that they picked the four best teams. You didn’t have to have a championship game. That’s what I was led to believe.
In 33 years, I’ve seen different forms of how we got to a National Championship in every shape and manner. For me, all I can do is control what I can control, and that’s to try to put the best TCU team on the field that I can and make sure that they act right on and off the field, and let all those other people decide all the other things they need to. There were eight really good football teams last year, I thought. And I think I would have told you, before we even went into the season, every year there’s always about eight. There’s very few times that I ever look up and say, well, this team is so much better than everybody else, they’re the favorite. I think once you get into one of those tournaments our key is to control our own destiny, and the best way to do that is to try to win them all. That’s what we’re going to try to get done. Then we’ll see how everything else falls.
I have to believe and trust in the operation of what goes on, that everybody’s going to deal above board, everybody’s going to do the right thing. Because we don’t do it for the coaches. We do it for the kids. The kids are the ones that are practicing 365 days a year and doing the things they’re supposed to do. That’s how we’re supposed to find the top four teams — not about money, not about leverage, not about anything else. Just supposed to be about who are the four best teams. I’ve been in this long enough that I have to believe that the people who are in charge of it, that’s what they’re going to do. We’ve only done it one year. Just like coming into this conference, I said we have to do it a couple years until we understood the landscape – how we have to recruit differently, how we have to play differently. We changed offenses, and I think we also have to look and wait and see how was last year an anomaly. A couple games could have been different. Maybe both Baylor and ourselves could have been in the playoffs. So I can’t judge yet until I see it go out a few more ‑‑ a couple more years and see how that all extends. So we’ll see.