The best football coach in the country will be in Fort Worth this weekend.
Of course, TCU coach Gary Patterson usually is.
You did not think I was talking about Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, did you? Of course, you did.
You can not read about college football nowadays without stumbling upon a paean to Snyder and how he is the smartest, bestest coach because his Wildcats are undefeated and — if the BCS does not screw them, which is highly unlikely — a contender for the fictional, non-playoff-determined national championship. There is an argument to be made, and I say none of this to diminish him or what he has done. Snyder is 73, on his second go-around in Manhattan, taking a program back over he had built into a power in the 1990s after it had fallen into disrepair and irrelevance after he retired in 2005.
This is amazing. But what Patterson has done with TCU borders on miraculous. He raised a program from the dead.
He did this without any built-in advantages of being in a BCS conference, already having an established name in coaching, being on TV or really any advantages at all. Snyder, meanwhile, took over a team already in the Big 12 when he returned in 2008, one that shares revenue partially gleaned from Texas and Oklahoma successes, a team that had known football greatness in modern times, had a TV deal that actually had them on channels fans and recruits were able to watch, and has to compete only with lowly Kansas for state dominance.
Patterson had none of this. When he took over at TCU, the Horned Frogs were in the Western Athletic Conference. They were within spitting distance of a 1-10 season. Their up-and-coming coach, Dennis Franchione, had jumped ship rather painfully for Alabama. Adding to the awkwardness was the fact that almost everybody in Fort Worth and around TCU agreed Patterson was not who they wanted to hire. The rumor for a while was they only hired him because they felt pressured by a newspaper report saying he had been hired.
Hardly anybody believed good was going to come of this. Well, everybody except Gary Patterson. And he attacked this doubt with work.
No one was really sold until the first week of 2005, when all of that hard work, all of that emphasis on defense, the steady climb with a few deep bumps was rewarded when TCU went to Norman and beat Oklahoma with Adrian Peterson.
The Frogs had finally arrived. The defensive coordinator, who for so long was so unpolished it bordered on awkward, was completing the job that Fran abandoned. It was a football miracle.
This is not to imply things turned around quickly or easily. They did not. There was a stop at Conference USA, and then another in The Mountain West, and finally The Big East for about 30 minutes before The Big 12 came calling last year. TCU’s facilities had to be practically rebuilt, piece by piece, for this to be a possibility. Fan support had to be regained, both those lost in the previously ugly years of losing and those bored by games against San Jose State and bowl trips to Houston. There was no basketball program of which to speak. The only way to bring back the athletic department, to give them a chance just in case, was the football program.
So it was all on Patterson, a guy flawed in the world of politics and all about the football. He buried himself in the work of building a winner, and he did. Faster and better than anybody anticipated.
He built them into a team that went to the Rose Bowl and beat Wisconsin, a team that went undefeated, a team that is competitive year in and year out, a team that holds its own recruiting against Texas and Texas A&M and Baylor and Texas Tech and every other program that ravages Texas for its talent. How and why is Patterson.
He may not have rules, or stay in his office until 3 a.m., or be 73, or even be a media darling. What he has done, though, is nothing short of a football miracle and that miracle will be a pain in Kansas State’s butt on Saturday night.
Snyder knows this. The Frogs, despite having a shockingly young roster — they have played more true freshmen than any other team in the country — and a redshirt freshman quarterback who was practicing at running back until the starter was kicked off the team for a DUI, are dangerous. And as they proved a week ago in beating West Virginia, when Patterson decided to go for two and the victory in double overtime, they have guts.
Hardly anybody expects TCU to beat Kansas State on Saturday (on FOX). And the Horned Frogs may not. But they have the best coach in the country and that gives them a chance.