Gary Patterson built TCU football.
Now, as ‘special assistant coach’ at Texas, which hosts the Horned Frogs on Saturday, he’s tasked with, well, not necessarily destroying the program he led so brilliantly for nearly 22 seasons only to be essentially fired. barely a year ago, but at least finishing his dream season.
TCU is 9-0 and N°4 of the last CFP ranking under new coach Sonny Dykes. He controls his way to not only the Big 12 Championship, but also a berth in the College Football Playoffs.
It’s a feat that was unfathomable in 2000, when Patterson took over in Fort Worth.
From 1960 to 1997, TCU went 136-262-13, a meager .330 winning percentage. It was one of the worst programs in the country and it was left behind when the Southwest Conference disbanded. His fate seemed to be just another equally run mid-major, spinning like a whirlwind from one powerless conference to the next.
Next, Patterson replaced Dennis Franchione, who took TCU to 10 wins but quickly left for Alabama. Not only did Patterson make the Frogs even better, he stayed. There have been 11 10-win seasons, including a 13-0 Rose Bowl champion team and two top-three finishes in the polls.
TCU began to matter to Fort Worth fans, to Metroplex rookies, and to alumni who raised more than $100 million to transform the aging and limited Amon G. Carter Stadium into the so-called “Camden Yards College Football.”
All this was enough to become a member of the Big 12, or, in other words, to access the big moment.
That’s why no figure in recent college football is as important to a single school as Patterson is to TCU.
He is TCU. Where was.
On Halloween 2021, after a loss to Kansas State dropped TCU to 3-5, the school told Patterson he could finish the season, but his time was up. The program had slipped into mediocrity. Patterson, 62, quickly resigned from a school that had erected a statue of him on campus years earlier.
In January, he joined Steve Sarkisian’s team at Texas, the school he was obsessed with beating perhaps more than any other.
TCU has beaten Texas in seven of its last 10 matchups under Patterson, who not only despised the Longhorns, their power and their money, but knew nothing to build credibility, especially in recruiting, like defeating the flagship program of the state.
And now…it’s Dykes trying to not only extend his perfect start to TCU and keep the Frogs pace going for the playoffs, but to enjoy his own win in the state capitol. It’s a night game (7:30 am ET) on national television. The ESPN pregame show will be there. The Frogs bet on the underdogs (+7) but are at least partially chased for a change.
And it will be Patterson, a defensive genius with extensive knowledge of many of TCU’s best players, who will be instrumental in stopping a high-powered offense (43.1 points per game) led by quarterback Max Duggan ( 24-2 TD-to-interception), running back Kendre Miller (1,009 yards and 12 TDs) and a deep receiving body.
“Gary is working 24/7 to beat anybody,” Sarkisian said with a laugh Monday when asked if Patterson was staying up to stop the Frogs. “He’s got an incredible work ethic about him… This week has been no different. He does a great job of forward scouting for us to get ahead of the incoming opponents. He does a great job of conveying his thoughts and information to the defensive staff.
At TCU, it’s a weird situation, but just another hurdle to jump through.
“I don’t know what Gary’s role is there,” Dykes said Tuesday. “It’s hard for me to assess that. Gary is a very good trainer. … I know he obviously knows our players. I have no idea what impact this is going to have on the game.”
It may not be, but it’s a delightful subplot nonetheless.
Dykes certainly knows what’s at stake. His father, Spike, was a legendary high school coach in Texas, most notably at Midland Lee (now known as Legacy High). He spent 14 years as a head coach at Texas Tech. Sonny was an assistant at Tech after his father retired and later a head coach at Louisiana Tech and Cal before spending four seasons at SMU in Dallas. He even spent a year, in 2017, as an analyst on Patterson’s TCU staff.
He jumped at the chance to take over, convinced that the program could go even further in the talent-rich Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Seventeen of TCU’s current 20 recruits are, unsurprisingly, from Texas. The next breakthrough is whether TCU can’t just beat Texas or Oklahoma on the regular field, but also for rookies.
The 9-0 start is one of them. So is all the attention, the big crowds, the local excitement. A playoff offer (the first for a school in Texas) would be the next level. It’s a byproduct of Dykes’ refusal to set boundaries on that first post-Patterson season.
“We may have exceeded expectations externally, but we didn’t internally,” Dykes said. “I don’t think anyone is that surprised.”
In Fort Worth, the dream seasons for an upstart program continue, only with its old architect looming in Austin on Saturday.