LaDainian Tomlinson goes one-on-one with TCU head coach Gary Patterson. LT’s ties to Patterson go back to his playing days at TCU, but now Tomlinson catches up with the Horned Frogs coach about how the program has changed. As TCU enters a second season in the Big 12, Patterson and LT sit down for an exclusive interview for FOXSportsSouthwest.com.
LaDainian Tomlinson:What are your expectations for the upcoming season?
Gary Patterson: For me, obviously, the top of the pyramid is to get to the national championship game and win the conference. We’re a little bit older … for us it will be interesting with the new guys coming in and guys coming off injuries. Depth, I think you have to have that to be able to win a conference title. You’ve got to be able to have guys step in because you’re going to have injuries.
It will be interesting to see how our guys go through the summer academically and physically. We get back Stephen Bryant. We get back Casey Pachall. We get back Michael Thompson, a big guard. Bring in a junior college kid to help us on the inside, and then we also got some help at linebacker, safety, and corner, which helps our depth. It will be interesting to see how all that improves.
LT: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned after your first season in the Big 12 and how will it better prepare you for 2013?
GP: I wasn’t really surprised at anything. We played a lot of those people before. I think the biggest thing was the depth, it would be a key issue and we had to play with a lot of young players. The thing that I probably learned is that the margin is small and the team learned that, too.
Besides one half of football, we were in every ballgame. I think we surprised people with that. Outside the Oklahoma State second half, we had a chance to win every game and go about our business and I think that’s the positive side. Now, how do we get to where we improve enough, get from seven wins to 10, 11, 12 and get into double-digits? That’s what we’ve been working on.
LT: What road games are you looking forward to in 2013 that you didn’t visit last season in the Big 12?
GP: Well, No. 1, people say to win championships you have to win on the road, and in the conference we won four out of five. This will be the second year we have to go on the road five games, play at home four. Going back to Oklahoma State is a tough place to play. You have to go to Norman. You also have to go to Iowa State and Manhattan (Kan.). Then also a very early game against Texas Tech out in Lubbock, which playing out there at night is a hard ballgame. I think one of the things we learned last year was that our team really focused. In fact, usually we have been really good at home and even over the last two or three years we’ve been good on the road. The thing that really surprised me was how focused our kids really were when we went on the road.
I kind of went back and analyzed what we did…we’re going to change how we do some things at home. Maybe (we) gave them a little bit too much time to rest. We had moved meetings earlier to get them off their feet, but I think I’ll probably go back to later meetings, which is what we do on the road to keep them a little bit more focused. Overall, I was really happy with the way we played on the road … besides the one half against Oklahoma State, (it) was the one half that I didn’t feel like that we played as well as we needed to.
LT: You’ve got LSU, Arkansas, Ohio State and Minnesota on future schedules. Who else would you like to see out of conference and what message is your program sending with all these big games?
GP: We just picked up Minnesota out of the Big Ten. So, you have a couple of SEC opponents, you have two Big Ten opponents over the next seven or eight years. What we’re trying to say is we’re not just going to play in our first three ballgames “just three wins.” We’ve always had a rule here of being what perception would mean, a stretch ballgame, a game like an Ohio State, where people say, “Well, maybe TCU’s percentage of winning that game or against LSU is slimmer than it would be.” It’s a 50-50 game, and one you should win. And if you play four, you would have a couple you should win.
For us, we’re trying to schedule things that keep us on a national stage that gives us an opportunity to grow our program…to be a measuring stick, so you have that competition level to help you play in your conference when you get to the end of the season. I’m excited about it. To be able to play over in Jerry Jones’ stadium at Cowboys Stadium and get a chance to play on that kind of stage I think helps recruiting and our national profile.
Nike always does a great job of always fitting us with a uniform that makes young recruits’ eyes widen. So, we’re going to try and do it one more time.
LT: You’ve been caught on camera tying your shoes a lot during games. Can you explain why?
GP: Well, No. 1, they’re not coming untied! I didn’t start until two or three years ago. It’s just one of those things where if I were just the head coach, I would probably never tie them.
As a defensive coordinator, it just makes me feel better going into a series if I tie my shoes. You know when you tie your shoes to get ready to go on the field and get yourself fit? It just makes me feel better. Everybody should have a camera on them in stressful situations to see what they do. Who hasn’t got a nervous quirk to them? Everyone’s been on me with my pants.
You know even on my hashtags on Twitter, when I’m not talking about football, that’s what I use… #tieyourshoes or #hitchthemup.
LT: You’re right. Everybody has a nervous twitch. I remember I used to always, after every play, fix my shoulder pads. They had to be in a certain place for me to feel comfortable about the next play. LT: After major facility upgrades and the move to a BCS conference, what else would you like to see grow at TCU?
GP: As I’ve told people, we finally got back to where we wanted to be. Now the real work starts. I think a lot of people had a sigh of relief that now we’re in the Big 12. No, that’s what was happening in the Southwest Conference. You don’t want to have a winning season every 10 years.
Our whole thing is about winning championships and upgrading our players. We’ve had really good players through the years. I don’t think they can say we haven’t had good players with yourself (LT), Aaron Schobel and Jerry Hughes. You look through all the guys who have been first- and second-round picks, the guys that have gone on to have great careers. We’re going to keep doing that. We’ve had over 60 guys even in the last 10 years who have gone on and tried out for NFL squads and graduated. So, for us it’s about getting the word out and people understanding that we’re like the “girl next door.” All of a sudden, we’ve grown up and everybody’s wondering why you didn’t take her to the prom.
That’s what I’m trying to become and still keep values, still keep work ethic and show kids how they can survive once they get a degree and get out in the world. Texas high school coaches know that when they come here kids are going to grow up and we’re going to take care of him and love him and get him where he needs to be, but we also want to win championships. It’s not just about getting a good private school degree, it’s about winning national championships, Big 12 championships, and also knowing that you can get a degree and go to the NFL.
For example, Rusty Burns, our quarterbacks coach, has coached nine NFL quarterbacks. Coach [Dick] Bumpas has coached 22 NFL defensive linemen in his career. The running backs that have come through here, like yourself (LT). The defensive ends, we’ve got four that have either won Super Bowl rings, went in the first or second round of the draft, or played as a Pro Bowler (Aaron Schobel). Those are the things that I don’t know if people really understand that we’ve done that quietly because it’s my way not to brag on those kinds of statistics. There are just a lot of things that have happened here that are great. LT: Which Big 12 team do you consider TCU’s biggest rival? Or which team would you like to see a rivalry grow with TCU in the conference?
GP: You want the rivalry to grow with every Big 12 team because that means that you’ve won against them. You don’t want to be the team that they’re happy you’re coming because you’re really nice boys. You want to be where you win enough ballgames they hate you. That’s just what it is. Obviously in the state with Texas Tech, Texas and Baylor you’ve got to be able to hold your own. ..then Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Then you work yourself north to Kansas and Kansas State. You’ve got to protect your own state first. Obviously you have to start with the big three and then you work yourself north with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, then KU and K-State and Iowa State and West Virginia. First thing you have to do is take care of home first.
LT: If you were Johnny Manziel’s coach, how would you handle his off-the-field behavior?
GP: I know Mr. Manziel and I know his family…they’re TCU people. I wish them the best. Obviously, you and I both know that it’s hard to play both sides of the fence. To be really good on the field and then also handle the pressures of everything off the field because so many people are looking to take you down. I just hope he’s very careful about what he does and how he does things, and want him to have another good year. LT: What can you say about Bill Snyder, and are you looking forward to returning to your alma mater when TCU visits Manhattan, Kan. this fall?
GP: It will be my first time back to the stadium in 30-some years. Mixed emotions but obviously you have to go there to win, so that’s what my job is…to go in and try to find a win. It’s always nice to go back to a place where you have a lot of friends and be a part of it. But for three hours, they’re going to hate me and I’m going to hate them. As soon as that final whistle blows, it goes back to the people I grew up with. It will be a special moment for me to get a chance to go back there. That was one of the things I was excited about getting back in the Big 12 is getting back up there. It was fun being at KU this last year playing, and I think it’s going to be even more fun having them yell at me over in Manhattan for three hours in October again. So, here we go. LT: That’s the game, because that’s your alma mater, to me that would be a natural rivalry. So it has to add maybe a little more pressure because you’re facing Bill Snyder. You think he’ll be a little more excited about this game than usual?
GP: Coach Snyder gets them ready to play. They play really well at home anyway because of their fan base and everything that goes on. So, we’ve got work to do. Every ballgame, every week, that’s the one thing you’ve got to go ready to play if you want to win a championship. Coach Snyder has been there for a long time. You know they’re going to be very physical, be very tough and usually … as a general rule … they never beat themselves. You’ve got to always take ballgames when you go play Kansas State because they’re not going to give it to you. This ballgame will be no different.
LT: Do you feel finishing 7-6 in the Big 12 last season, which included wins at Texas and West Virginia, was a bigger accomplishment than 11-2 in your final season in the Mountain West?
GP: I don’t know if it was a bigger accomplishment. For me personally winning a championship, three in a row (in the Mountain West), was a big deal, because we beat Boise State and a Louisiana Tech team that was very good. The world thinks that the 7-6 season was a season they were more excited about, and seeing Fort Worth getting excited.
For us as a program, losing six ballgames is unacceptable. That’s not what we’re about and what we’re trying to get done. But for myself, 11-2.
As a side note, I don’t make any excuses with all the players that we lost, injuries, new league and everything … I thought what our kids did by beating Texas and Baylor and West Virginia on the road, they proved they can play in this league and that they can play at a high level. We know those ballgames will be tough again this year. One of the things you’ve got to be able to do if you want to be a program and be good…you’ve got to be able to go on the road and win. We proved that. So, now we get back to winning on our home grass…that’s one thing we will need to get accomplished.