LOS ANGELES — Gary Patterson’s statue remains at TCU and in many ways so does his heart.
It’s totally understandable.
For more than two decades, Patterson was the coach who took TCU on a five-conference odyssey that led to the Horned Frogs in the Big 12. Along the journey, he became the winningest coach in school history at 181-79 with 17 bowl appearances. Then he and the school parted ways on Halloween 2021 during a string of subpar seasons.
Now TCU (13-1) will play defending champion Georgia (14-0) for the College Football Playoff national title Monday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. Patterson will be watching the bittersweet moment from afar.
“Yeah, you’d like to be there,” the 62-year-old Patterson said. “Anyone who told you anything different would be lying.”
While new coach Sonny Dykes brought in some key impact transfers, many of the most familiar names at TCU were recruited by Patterson — Max Duggan, Quintin Johnston, Tre Hodges-Tomlinson and Kendre Miller, among others.
“You’d have to ask him, but I think Sonny was surprised at the talent level that was still there,” Patterson said, pointing to a win last season against eventual Big 12 champ Baylor after he had departed. “You knew they could play, that they had the athletic ability to play.
“Sonny and his group have done a great job of turning it on and getting it to the point where there’s positivity and then these kids start believing. What I’m trying to do is try not to bang my chest. That’s the biggest thing I’m staying away from.”
He’s still stayed in contact this season with some of his players, including Duggan.
And when NFL scouts stop in Austin, Patterson will answer questions about the Texas roster and then plug some of his former TCU players. Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte, the former AD at TCU, made Patterson’s role in TCU’s return to prominence clear.
“Every move that we made, Gary deserves the credit,” Del Conte said. “The foundation was laid through football and that allowed these things to happen. I would say Gary deserves a significant amount of credit for putting TCU in this position to be in the Big 12.”
Everything changed in October 2021. TCU was floundering en route to a 5-7 finish. Nothing seemed to be going right. AD Jeremiah Donati, who had replaced Del Conte, didn’t want to see the program regress.
So he made what many thought was an unthinkable decision by deciding to remove Patterson. He wanted Patterson to coach until the end of the year. Not wanting to be lame duck, Patterson left on the spot.
TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini declined to discuss the move, saying he didn’t want to revisit raw nerves.
For his part, Patterson said he didn’t see it coming. When he was summoned to the meeting, he brought his wife, Kelsey, to have a corroborating witness.
Patterson acknowledges that the change did work, noting that players sometimes need a different voice. Dykes has been able to get some of the resources that Patterson wanted.
“At some point, they just want to hear somebody else say it,” Patterson said. “Sometimes at the university, you have to change so the school picks up its step. They always give the new guy more things. There’s a lot of things that needed to happen for it to get where it is.”
Patterson said he’s happy for Dykes — an analyst on Patterson’s staff in 2017 — as well as the staff and the school.
Now a special assistant to Texas coach Steve Sarkisian, Patterson made contributions to the Longhorns’ 8-5 season, especially with the defense and as a sounding board for Sarkisian.
“Anybody who thought I was washed up as coach all they needed to do was look at a lot of different areas in how I tried to help Texas,” Patterson said. “We probably played TCU as good on defense as anybody did. There’s a reason why everything happens.”
He hasn’t decided if he’ll be back in Austin and says he wants a job that will help him contribute to college football.
Patterson, also a songwriter, is working on a composition called “Pennies of Your Life,” about how you might spend your last few cents.
He says he’s not looking for the best opportunity to win a title or to prove anything. Patterson still remembers the advice Texas A&M legend R.C. Slocum gave him this season.
“You don’t have to prove to anybody you’re a good football coach,” Slocum told him. “How many attaboys do you need?”