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TCU Magazine "Riff Ram"
First Person | Football | Coachspeak | Brian Estridge

"You have to go take it"

His Frogs entered September ranked in the Top 25 again, and there is a new indoor facility to practice in. What does Gary Patterson make of it all? It's all hard work. And he's out to prove it.

By Rick Waters '95

Sum up how the summer went and how the team got ready for the season. I’m excited because I think the kids are excited. Everyone has been here all summer, and that’s one of the things that has changed with how we start fall camp. We’re excited about our 105 players who are here. I judge things by the drills when we put the pads on. How does my team attack the heat, how do they handle themselves and will they go out and prove it? If you want to win championships and be 12-0, you have to go take it. I’m going to let them prove to me that they can get it done.

How do you keep your kids from getting overconfident from past successes? One thing that I reminded them about at the Mountain West Conference Media Days is that we didn’t win the conference last year. The goal is to win the conference. We have to keep climbing the mountain. Some day, we want to play in a BCS game. This group of seniors have been here before. The key is keeping things in perspective. Every game counts as one. You have to set your goals high. If we can win 12 games, the seniors will have the most victories of any five-year period in TCU history.

How much better can your defense be after ranking second in the nation last year? It’s hard to say, because I don’t judge that until the end of the year. One of the things I’ve talked with the defense about is being hungry. They are going to have to be better to be as good as they were last year. They are not going to surprise Baylor, Texas or anyone in the conference because they’re going to get everybody’s best shot.

You like to talk about developing second- and third-team players as a key approach to your program. Is that a philosophy that other programs don’t focus on? I just don’t think they put as much emphasis on it. There’s a lot of good coaches out there that do a lot of good things. Everybody has pretty good 1s. Now as you get into a season, how you put together 10 or 11 wins really deals with when one guy goes down how well the next guy comes in. If you look at our history, it’s happened over and over. Sean Stilley goes down. Tye Gunn comes in and was 4-0 as a freshman at quarterback. Tye goes down. Brandon Hassell comes in and keeps a winning streak alive. Or Jeff Ballard comes in and goes 19-2 as a starter. Marvin Godbolt goes down. Jeremy Modkins came in and helped us win ball games. Lonta Hobbs started out as a third-team tailback and had a 1,000-yard season as a freshman. Robert Merrill was a third-team tailback and had a 1,000-yard rushing year. That’s the thing you  have to have on your team – someone waiting in the wings who can come in and pick up the slack.

Looking back at your 10 years here at TCU, is Tommy Blake, potentially, the best defensive player you’ve had here? He certainly has more pre-season accolades than anyone else has ever garnered. He’s one of them. But you also have to talk about Aaron Schobel, Bo Schobel, Bobby Pollard, Shawn Worthen. There’s been some really good ones in my time here.

That’s true, but none of those players had the pre-season hype that Tommy’s gotten so far. I think that’s all precluded on what TCU’s status is now. Part of it is a product of the team success we have had. Aaron Schobel would be benefiting from that if he was here now. Tommy’s a great player and we’re expecting another big year from him, but he’s in good company. He’s in good company.

What are your thoughts on being a consensus preseason Top 25 team? I've always embraced it, but I don’t know how you can go out and pick a preseason Top 25. You don’t know the chemistry and how kids worked over the summer. June and July are what make it happen, but I believe the preseason stuff is very important to the game and helps make college football what it is.

You’ve had USA Today here so far. ESPN has written about you. Sports Illustrated has. The Star-Telegram sent half its sports department to media day. Is this increase in recognition a source of pride for you and your staff. It’s great to have the various media outlets here, but it’s because of the kids and what they’ve accomplished. The local media’s presence also tells you that they know we’re representing Fort Worth, that our program matters to Fort Worth. We’re trying to give Fort Worth something it can be proud of, not just to say that we’re playing 12 football games this fall. I think people are proud of the fact that we win, but I think they’re also proud of how we go about doing it. We’ve been down this road before though. We’ve made some BCS runs but fallen short in the past. Our biggest thing is to prove it. It’s like our team slogan this year is "Prove it." We have to prove that we belong and prove that we can get it done. No one can do it except us.

It’s a year since you made the comments after the Texas Tech game last year about feeling like a stepchild in Fort Worth and Texas. Is that episode behind you, or do you still take lessons from it? I knew I was going to do it. The sad lesson for me is that all the media showed up in the days and weeks following because I said it that way. If I did what I normally do, which is not to say anything too positive or too negative, I wonder how many people would have noticed. Because I made a little ordeal of it, all of a sudden we get national attention. I told the kids down in the locker room after the game that I was going to do it, that I was going to say those things. It wasn’t a spur of the moment comment.

So it was a calculated statement? Yes, that was something I wanted to do. After six years, we’d done it. We had beaten a team we needed to beat. I wanted to try and give us a boost. But I also told the team downstairs, "If it doesn’t work, I’m not going to look very smart."

Did it backfire? Not in terms of wins and losses. We won eight more ballgames after that. We finished ranked in the Top 25. The team backed it up.

So that might be a tactic you pull out of your hat again? No. You won’t see me do that again.

No? Why do you say that? Because that’s not my personality. My personality is that I want to be judged by what we do on the field and to prove what you’re worthy of, not by making radical statements about a whole bunch of different things. In the end, maybe a couple of good things come out of it but most of it is bad. It’s better to represent TCU and Fort Worth the right way and focus on what we are trying to get done. We’ll let our record and the way that we’ve played and the things we’ve done speak for themselves.

You don’t feel like there are hard feelings or that you need to smooth over relations when you speak around town or the state? I haven’t heard anything like that. I think there were a lot of people who agreed with me. But that was a long time ago.

You're obviously very passionate about your program and your team. What fuels your energy and enthusiasm? A guy asked me in the off-season, "With the way you go about things, do you think there is a time that you will burn out?" I said, "Not here in the near future." I think there are a lot of things that need to be done here. You see a lot of positive things, and that is what fuels your energy. I'm a little different than what maybe people perceive me on the sideline. I am probably more in control than people think I am out of control. If I am folding my arms, either we're ahead or I don't care.

When is the last time you can remember that you folded your arms? Not lately.

In the offseason, the University of Minnesota expressed interest in you. How close were you to going there? I don’t know. Either you do or you don’t. Was I offered the job? Yes. I didn’t take it. I’ve been offered the job at Iowa State before and I didn’t take it.

You like what you’re building here better than the potential of those other opportunities? The key for me is that you know what you have here.  People here have treated me well. They’ve allowed me to be how I want to be and do things the way I think is the right way. A lot of places don’t allow you to make decisions for the right reasons. TCU and Fort Worth allow me to do that. Some places the head coach of the football team has to be a certain way or act a certain way. Not here. TCU and Fort Worth allow me to be the kind of coach I want to be.

How do you plan to use the Indoor Practice Facility? Will there be a schedule of when you use it? Rain or lightning.

So weather-driven? It will be until we get into a situation where we need to get our legs underneath us, when we have short weeks to get ready for an opponent.

What is a team that hasn’t been on a TCU schedule that you would like to play? I don’t know. We played Oklahoma a couple of years ago. We’re playing Texas this year. They’re both Top 5 programs in the nation when we played them. I’d say that’s pretty solid. We’ve played Texas Tech and Baylor. We’re scheduled to play Arkansas and LSU and Oklahoma in future years. We have a good schedule.

So there’s no one you’re itching to play? I help with the schedule. And I’m happy with it.

When you say you help, what kind of input do you give? Every year we want to play one stretch game, two 50-50s and one we feel like we can win. I consider Baylor and Texas Tech last year and Baylor and Texas this year like having two stretch games. Then you have Stanford out of the Pac-10. It’s like three stretch games.

How much do you play attention to talk about conference realignment and how it might impact TCU? That’s for the media and the fans. People in charge at TCU are well aware. If they thought it was something they wanted to bring it up, they would. Other than that, I’m not going to worry about it. It will wear you out.

You're a proponent of giving kids a fifth year of eligibility across the board and doing away with redshirting. Why? They need time to develop, both physically and mentally. Part of the challenge for them is to adjust to college level work in the classroom and to manage their time well. Some are ready to play right away. Some aren't. I think they all would benefit from an extra year to do all that. As coaches, we're pressured to play kids early because you never know how long you're going to have them, to plug gaps, etc. We don't do that very often, but other programs do. I feel very strongly about redshirting kids as freshmen -- under the current system. They need time to adjust to the routines of practice, going to class, traveling, missing time in class, keeping up with their classwork. It's a lot to ask of them, and I think they would be better off with more time. Universities and the NCAA would be better off too.

How much does the NCAA's ruling to ban text messaging affect how you recruit? I think it should be somewhere in the middle. It makes sense for the kids in that it costs so much, but it's how they communicate. When December hits and recruiting really starts and you can visit, I think it'd be a lot better to say you can have it then.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno and you have become pretty good friends. What is your relationship like with him? Well, I only see him during the Nike trip. He’s very passionate about the game and his school. I hope I have that much energy and enthusiasm when I get close to his age.

What kind of feedback and input do you get from your wife Kelsey on an average day? Mostly what she does is monitoring me, make sure that I'm okay, everything that is outside of the football team. She's my eyes and ears with everything outside of football - alumni, my foundation, our charities, our friends. She's also the better half. She's the person my kids like to see when they come by the house and hang out. She's the one that loves 'em up and they get a chance to talk.

Your 19-year-old son Josh is a tank driver in the Army's 4th Infantry, and he is shipping off to Iraq this winter for a 15 month tour of duty. What are your thoughts about that? I've thought about that a lot. I'm very proud of him being in the armed services. All of his grandfathers were involved in the service in Vietnam and in the Korean War. It's something he always talked about doing, and he's thinking about it as a career. He does want to get a degree, but he's very excited about opportunities in the military. I wanted him to go to school, go the ROTC route and come out an officer. But this is what he's wanted to do -- do it right now. ... He's talked to a lot of guys that have gone to Afghanistan and Iraq and other places. Josh knows a lot of those guys and talks to them about what they've been through. So I feel better knowing that he's talking to them and has information to make a decision on.

Are there similarities with Josh that you experience as a head coach? Of course. All I can do as a father and as a coach is to give them advice on what you think and let them go from there. He's a grown man. He's making the decision. Then he has nobody to blame but himself, or nobody to thank. You have to let them live their lives and learn from their mistakes. They learn a lot better that way.

How are you different as a head coach from when you started at the start of the 2001 season? When you become a head coach it's like getting married, having babies and buying a house. You hear people talk about it, but you don't know how it's going to be until you experience it. I think you have to find yourself. I think I am a lot better player's coach than I was when I started. When you're a coordinator or position coach, you can focus on X's and O's and it's all about what you have to accomplish on the field. As a head coach, one of the things I have tried to do is help kids solve their off-the-field problems, and by that I mean what to do when a family member gets sick, how do you cope with it. What I have found out is that on August 1 when the team reports if the team doesn't have any off-the-field problems, if they got money for rent from a part-time job and they've done what they needed to do, then they're going to be happy and ready to practice hard. If they're not settled, then it's hard to practice hard after about five or six days. A team that gels together is one that's taken care of its business off the field.

Obviously the Tommy Blake situation dominated the headlines before the season began and you went to see him in Aransas Pass. How much of your time is spent on these off-the-field issues? 80 percent. It's been more than Tommy. We had a player who lost a family member. We had others that almost lost a family member. It's listening. It's goal setting. It's time management. Everything you do as a parent. The only difference is that I have 105 of them.

Do you know the "Star-Spangled Banner" on guitar? Can you play it? I probably could. But I never practice it.

We have a great idea we are trying to sell to Athletics Marketing. We think you should play the national anthem before a TCU basketball game. Nah. You mean like Jimi Hendrix? Nah, probably not. To be honest, you guys give me too much credit as a musician. Play a little bit of everything, good at nothing.

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