FORT WORTH (AP) – Gary Patterson leans forward in his chair, then back. He shuffles papers. Picks up a file folder, taps it on the desk. Puts it down. Leans forward, then back. Then way forward, his head only a few inches off the desk.
If the worst season in Patterson’s 14-year tenure as TCU’s coach had him seeking therapy, well, good luck getting him to lie on a couch.
As it turns out, the fidgety 54-year-old wasn’t looking to deconstruct his psyche or his program after going 4-8 in 2013.
“We didn’t need a wholesale change,” Patterson said. “TCU is not in that position.”
The Horned Frogs are most definitely in unfamiliar territory, though, entering Year 3 as a member of the Big 12. In the four seasons before moving from the Mountain West Conference, TCU went 47-5 and won the Rose Bowl in 2011.
Since the move, the Frogs are 11-14, 6-12 in conference, and it’s been one thing after another for Patterson. A stream of injuries, suspensions and off-field issues stretched thin a roster that was not quite Big 12-ready. And the Frogs often simply couldn’t catch a break. Four of last year’s losses were by three points or less.
So what’s the winningest coach in the history of TCU to do?
Nothing rash, but a music lover such as Patterson knows to stay relevant for the long haul, like Bruce Springsteen or U2, you have to be open to change.
“I think we’re all searching for that all the time,” Patterson said in a recent interview. “You steal and you conform it to what you do. How do you re-invent so that you can still keep all the (good) things in place, but you give them a better outlook of what tomorrow’s going to be like.”
What Patterson stole — so to speak — was a version of the spread offense that started with Mike Leach at Texas Tech and has been handed down and modified by programs such as Houston and Oklahoma State.
Doug Meacham was hired away from Houston, where he was offensive coordinator last year after a long stint as an assistant at Oklahoma State, to run the TCU’s offense. Sonnie Cumbie, the former Texas Tech quarterback, came over from the Red Raiders to be co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
In their first two seasons in the Big 12, TCU has ranked eighth (2012) and ninth (2013) in total offense in the conference.
Patterson, a former defensive coordinator, insists the switch was not simply a reaction to recent woes.
“This wasn’t one of those, ‘Well, we had a 4-8 season. We’ve got to make a change on offense,'” he said. “It was something I’d been thinking about for two years.”
Whether TCU has the personnel to get the most out of the new offense this season remains to be seen.
An uncertain situation at quarterback could get smoothed out when former Texas A&M quarterback Matt Joeckel transfers in. He should be eligible to play immediately. That could move last year’s starter, Trevone Boykin, to wide receiver, another position that needs a boost.
The defense should be feisty as ever with eight starters back, including star pass rusher Devonte Fields, who was suspended for the first two games of last season and then missed a bunch more because of injuries.
Patterson knew it would take time to build Big 12-quality depth. He’s also been dealing with a spate of player suspensions, departures and run-ins with the law the past two seasons.
Former TCU quarterback Casey Pachall, in an interview with the Star-Telegram in Dallas, said the Frogs have had “zero leadership” among the players.
“Nobody wants to step up and take charge of anything,” he told the newspaper in February.
Patterson said his 2010 and ’11 teams — with quarterback Andy Dalton and linebacker Tank Carder— had such a solid core of upperclassmen to set the tone that younger players could stay in the background.
“Sometimes, kids get invisible,” Patterson said. “You don’t necessarily not have great leadership. You just don’t have a whole bunch of guys left on your team that have been there before.”
A two-year hiccup hasn’t shaken athletic director Chris Del Conte’s faith in Patterson.
“I have full confidence in everything that Gary’s done,” Del Conte said.
As for Patterson, he’s not searching for himself — just a few more points.
“You’ve got to have an open mind (about) how you do things or it passes you up,” he said, “but you don’t want to get away from you as a person.”
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