FORT WORTH, Texas — Gary Patterson doesn't sit still. He leans back in his chair and slouches down, like a third-grader just before recess. He leans forward with elbows on desk, as if daring the kids at camp to make him go around the table.
Patterson's cadence is staccato. His stream of consciousness doesn't always reach the finish line. Patterson is a little rough in presentation. A little disheveled.
Sort of like his sideline demeanor; on game day, Patterson can be a little on the wild side.
Patterson squirms in his chair. But not in his seat. Patterson's seat, figuratively and literally overlooking the construction of a Camden Yards football stadium, is as comfy as any in college football.
Patterson is a made man in Cowtown.
TCU joins the Big 12 at a time of iconic coaches in the league. In Stillwater, Mike Gundy is only three wins shy of the OSU record for football coaches. Baylor's Art Briles seems to be bucking for a Grant Teaff remake. Kansas State's Bill Snyder is the author of the Manhattan Miracle, the greatest football story ever told.
Bob Stoops and Mack Brown haven't surpassed the status of Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer and Darrell Royal, but at least they're in the conversations at OU and Texas.
But no Big 12 coach — heck, no American coach — means more to his campus than does Patterson to TCU. Sure, Snyder's success probably saved Kansas State from Big 12 banishment. But Patterson's success has brought the Horned Frogs to the Big 12. He's a modern-day Henry Iba, who half a century ago willed OSU into the Big Eight.
“What adjective can I use for him?” said TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte of Patterson. “He's truly been our iconic figure. He put our university on a platform to tell our story coast to coast.”
Surely by now you know the remarkable TCU story: 67 wins the last six years, a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, three AP top-10 finishes the last four years, a $165-million makeover of Amon G. Carter Stadium and an invitation to the Big 12, which 17 years ago left the Frogs to fend for themselves in one low-rent conference after another.
And the one constant through TCU's journey has been Patterson. Through three chancellors, three athletic directors and three board of trustee presidents, Patterson has lifted the Frogs from irrelevant to major player on the college football stage.
“He is a rock star in this town,” said Mark Cohen, TCU's associate athletic director for media relations. “People will tell you, he's the reason we're in the Big 12.”
Patterson arrived in Fort Worth in 1998 as a vagabond.
He played at Dodge City Community College, then at Kansas State.
Patterson began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at K-State in 1982, then (take a deep breath) went to Tennessee Tech (1983-84), Cal-Davis (1986), Cal Lutheran (1987), Pittsburg State (1988), Sonoma State (1989-91), the minor league Oregon Lightning Bolts (1992), Utah State (1992-94), Navy (1995), New Mexico (1996-98) and finally to TCU, as defensive coordinator on Dennis Franchione's first Frog staff.
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Stadium: Amon G. Carter Stadium, opened 1930, refurbished 2012, 45,000 capacity.
Greatest player: Sammy Baugh, 1934-36, the legendary quarterback and punter who became a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Greatest NFL player: Bob Lilly, the great tackle on the Cowboys' Doomsday defense, a seven-time first-team all-pro.
Greatest coach: Gary Patterson. Before Patterson, it was Dutch Meyer, who in 19 seasons (1934-52) went 109-79-13; coached the Frogs to three Cotton Bowls, two Sugar Bowls and one Orange Bowl; and led TCU to the 1938 national championship.
Championships: Seven Southwest Conference titles between 1929 and 1958, one co-SWC title (1959), two WAC co-championships (1999-00), one co-Conference USA title (2002) and four Mountain West titles (2005, 209-11).
Greatest team: 1938. Led by eventual Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Davey O'Brien, the Frogs went 11-0, won the national title and beat Carnegie Mellon in the Sugar Bowl.
Greatest upset: On Nov. 18, 1961, a TCU team that was 2-4-1 went to Austin and upset No. 1-ranked Texas 6-0. The Frogs scored in the second quarter on a long flea-flicker pass from quarterback Sonny Gibbs to Buddy Iles. TCU repeatedly turned back the ‘Horns and ended UT's national title hopes. After the game, Texas coach Darrell Royal famously called the Frogs “a bunch of cockroaches … it's not what they eat and tote off, it's what they fall into and mess up that hurts.”
Greatest win: In November 1935, the Horned Frogs suffered a 20-14 loss to SMU in one of the greatest college football games of the first half of the 20th century. But the 11-1 Frogs went on to the Sugar Bowl and beat LSU 3-2 in New Orleans. In that final season before advent of the AP poll, the Frogs were proclaimed national champs by the Williamson system, one of the rankings that bestowed national honors.
Poll position: TCU has placed in the AP top 10 six times in its history — including thrice in the last five years. No. 7 in 2008, No. 6 in 2009 and No. 2 in 2010. TCU was No. 1 in 1938, No. 6 in 1955 and No. 7 in 1959.
Bowl record: 13-14-1, including 5-5-1 in major bowls. The Frogs went 51 years between major bowls, before losing to Boise State three seasons ago in the Fiesta Bowl.
Archrival: SMU. The Metroplex schools have played every year since 1925 except 1987-88 (during SMU's death penalty) and 2006 (scheduling conflicts). The Frogs lead the series 44-40-7. But will the series survive conference realignment? Stay tuned.
Last 10 years: 11-2, 13-0, 12-1, 11-2, 8-5, 11-2, 11-1, 5-6, 11-2, 10-2.