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November 23, 2010

Q-and-A: TCU coach Gary Patterson

TCU coach Gary Patterson isn't a playoff guy. He said so last season, before the Fiesta Bowl.

"If you're asking Gary Patterson to jump on the bandwagon, my answer is 'no' right now because you haven't given me the guidelines of what a playoff system would be about," he said.

Patterson understands the BCS system -- while not ideal -- gives his school a better chance to play for the national title than a playoff, which would require two, three or perhaps four wins over Big Six schools to win a championship.

That's why Patterson likes where his program sits at this moment: at No. 3 in the BCS standings, behind No. 1 Oregon and No. 2 Auburn.

But there's the potential of TCU being passed in the BCS standings by No. 4 Boise State. Patterson knows that, but he's not dwelling on the possibility. There only is so much his team can control. TCU has one game left: against one-win New Mexico. Win that, and the Horned Frogs wrap up a second consecutive unbeaten regular season.

That TCU is this high in the BCS standings is a testament to what Patterson, 50, has built in Fort Worth since becoming coach in 2001. He has taken what Dennis Franchione started at TCU and made it better. TCU is an elite program capable of playing with any school.

Rivals.com spoke with Patterson as he prepared for the regular-season finale.

How special did you think this team could be?

"You never know that. But I told them after the 2008 season that this team probably would be the most mature team. You were going to have a senior quarterback, four senior offensive linemen and some veteran receivers. The last two years defensively have been surprises. In 2008, we lost seven starters off the defense. Last year, we lost a first- and second-round draft choice. This year, we have had some young players step in. [Stansly] Maponga at left end is an impact player. Tanner Brock is a sophomore linebacker. We thought this would be one of our more mature teams we have had overall in the last three years."

What has been the key to making TCU a power?

"A big thing has been staff consistency. We have pretty much stayed together. And the high school coaches in Texas have been committed to giving us good evaluations and we have been able to see kids in camps. The administration and alumni groups have been great, too. They have raised almost $130 million to improve our stadium, weight room and locker room. There has been a commitment here to make this place better."

Why weren't you a popular hire?

"The players and a lot of people around the program stuck by me. We struggled early that first season and we pulled it out and went to a bowl. In 2002 and 2003, we went 10-2 and 11-2. This will be our ninth bowl in 10 years. [Patterson coached TCU in a bowl after the 2000 season after Franchione left to coach Alabama.]

"None of the assistants talked to the media when 'Fran' was the coach, so no one knew what I could do. That's the way he ran his deal. The thing that helped me is I also was in charge of academics and I ran the offseason program. A lot of times, assistants [just] coach on the field and go recruit. I had a good idea when I took the job of what to do. But you never know how long you will last, and you never think you'll stay somewhere for 10 years.

"We started a three-ply plan. People 55 and older can help you the most [with donations]. We also started the middle group. We didn't just tap TCU alums. We also went after alums from other schools, like A&M, Texas, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, couples with kids who didn't have time to go their alma maters often and invited them over, and they kind of became our hometown fans. And that's sort of how we have grown from 17,000 to I think we are going to average 42,000-43,000 this year.

"And we also started 'Bleacher Creatures' for 6- to 13-year-olds. They could run the length of the field after we ran onto the field. There was a Cincinnati game one year that we had 1,000 kids run across the field. They have grown up 10 years later and are Horned Frogs fans. In fact, we have a kid who is a redshirt freshman now who was one of those kids."

Do you think you get as much exposure as Boise State?

"They have done a smart thing by playing on Fridays. But how great is it for college football to have four undefeated teams? If we had just two, nobody would be talking about it. But you have 10 teams that are good enough to beat each other on any given day."

Do you think you can stay ahead of Boise State in the BCS standings?

"I don't know. But I do know this. We played them the last two seasons. We beat them 17-16 two years ago [in the Poinsettia Bowl] with about the same people and they beat us 17-10 last year [in the Fiesta Bowl]. The yardage was about the same, 317 [Boise] to 308 [TCU] last year. It came down to a fake punt. They made plays in the end and we didn't. And we are right there again. I think both teams are good again, and I think people underrate us because we are in non-automatic qualifying leagues.

"But people always talk about the culmination of work you've done. Nick Saban says that. I think Boise and TCU have become no matter what league, we have proven we can play at a high level. We should be given the same respect as anyone in any other conference. It's hard to go undefeated.

"Boise has done it three years in a row and we are trying to do it twice in a regular season. We have beaten some good teams. The only three losses we have had in the last three seasons are Oklahoma [in 2008], which played for the national championship; Utah [in 2008], which beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl; and Boise [in 2009]. Those are our three losses in the last three years.

'If they are going to vote them over us, then do it because you think they have a better team. But don't do it because of the score this week, last week '
- TCU's Gary Patterson,
on Boise State
If you stay at No. 3 in the BCS standings, and Oregon or Auburn loses, will TCU play for the national title? Or will a one-loss team pass you by?

"I think that would hurt college football. You do the work that you do, and that's all you can control. We don't shy away from people. Oregon State wasn't on our schedule at the beginning of the year. They had 18 or 19 starters coming back. They were predicted by some to be one of the top teams in the Pac-10. And we chose to play that game. Our season could have been over from taking that game had we lost. But we chose it.

"We did the same thing going to Clemson last year on a one-game deal, and we went in there and won in a tough environment.

"I don't want to compare who is better and that kind of stuff with Boise because we both are good teams. But don't say they are going to pass us because we won by only five points over San Diego State. If they are going to vote them over us, then do it because you think they have a better team. But don't do it because of the score this week, last week "

So, you think you were penalized in the BCS polls for only beating San Diego State 40-35 two weeks ago?

"We didn't play Ed Wesley vs. San Diego State, a 1,000-yard rusher. What would happen if Auburn played without Cam Newton, someone who makes that much difference with their team? How would they do? None of those facts were brought up. They don't watch the ballgame. They just look at the score.

. There is talk about TCU joining the Big East. Is that something you would like to see happen?

"It has its positives and negatives. You have a chance to be an automatic qualifier. The money is probably 10-to-1 with what we get now. In recruiting, you have changed things because schools hold the fact we don't play in an automatic qualifying conference against us. We have to earn our right into the game. In the Big East, we wouldn't have to. I think it helps everybody. But I am a loyal person. I like the people in our conference.

"But we are used to change. I already have been in three conferences. It's like being a young exec: You have to often move your family to get ahead. I am not saying the Big East is better or worse, but I don't want to talk badly about the conference we are in."

What about joining Big 12?

"If you were going to do what was right for college football, that is the best answer. But the problem is, they aren't knocking on our door. Maybe we are a more viable player if we are in the Big East."

Is the Mountain West better than the WAC?

"I don't know. I stay out of those conversations. They change year to year."

How close have you come to leaving for another job?

"Not that close. I have turned down people who have wanted to talk. I have interviewed. But I think that is good for TCU, for me to talk to other schools. Everyone needs to stay on edge. You have to keep moving forward. You have to be able to make yourself the best you can be. And we have done that."

Do you see yourself ending your career at TCU?

"Maybe. Every coach who ever has worked here has said it's one of the top jobs they ever had because of the people. And they have treated me unbelievably here."

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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