TCU's Patterson: From grad assistant to BCS buster

BY foxsports • September 10, 2010

Long before Gary Patterson became the BCS-busting head coach at TCU, he was making about $257 a month as a graduate assistant at Tennessee Tech.

Patterson was helping to build the Tennessee Tech program literally with hammers and saws in the early 1980s. He stayed at the head coach's house while also working toward a master's degree in educational administration with the expectation of being a high school coach.

''He had a room he could sleep in at least,'' recalled Gary Darnell, then the Golden Eagles' coach.

Patterson, who says he worked full time but not for full-time pay, is now in his 10th season as TCU's head coach and making significantly more money.

The fourth-ranked Horned Frogs (1-0) play their home opener Saturday night against FCS team Tennessee Tech (0-1), the first game between the two schools providing a reunion of sorts.

Patterson made eight other coaching stops - none at the high school level - between leaving Cookeville, Tenn., after the 1985 season that was his third at Tennessee Tech, and arriving at TCU as defensive coordinator in 1998. He became the Horned Frogs' head coach after the 2000 regular season.

''I would never have dreamed he would have gone that far,'' said Peggie Parrott, the secretary hired by Darnell's staff who still works in Tech's football office. ''He was a grad assistant, and bless their hearts, they get used. ... They're like gophers and do the small, dirty jobs.

When Darnell went to Tennessee Tech in 1983, two things were missing at the small school: money and manpower.

''You try to do everything you can to try to expand that,'' he said.

One of the ways was to divide one graduate assistant's scholarship among three guys, Patterson being one of them.

As for that $257 monthly salary, Darnell said Patterson might be ''stretching that'' because the former head coach doesn't remember having enough money in the budget for a 20-something kid coaching linebackers to make that much.

''When we went there, we had to build our offices, the coaches did. We put down the carpet, painted the walls,'' Patterson said. ''We had to build the weight room, we redid the players' locker room. We're talking about sanding by hand and cutting boards.''

Parrott, who plans to retire after this season, said there were only the ''bare essentials'' when they started.

''We've come a long way,'' she said. ''Not as far as (Patterson) has.''

Patterson last year got a new contract through 2016 that pays him over $2 million per year. The coach also led fundraising efforts to secure the $105 million needed for a planned renovation of TCU's football stadium after this season.

''We were at about $90,'' Darnell said, with a laugh, referring to their building budget at Tech.

A Kansas native, Patterson played two seasons at a Kansas junior college and then went to Kansas State, where he spent two seasons as a player and another as a grad assistant.

Darnell, who had been K-State's defensive coordinator, took several youngsters east with him. Darnell expected Patterson to coach the way he played.

''I had seen Gary play, I knew,'' Darnell said. ''That has as much to do with it. He was real eager.''

Darnell hired former Kansas State assistants Dennis Franchione (offense) and Dick Bumpas (defense) as his coordinators, and surrounded them with a bunch of minimally paid kids.

''One of my impressions at the time was they brought in too many young guys that were just out of school,'' said Tennessee Tech associate athletic director Frank Harrell, then an assistant basketball coach who became good friends with Franchione.

''Gary Patterson stood out because he was unlike the other guys. He was serious about coaching, serious about getting his master's degree,'' Harrell said. ''Franchione talked about what a student of the game he is. ... He made me notice Patterson. As we talked, he always pointed out that Gary was a cut above all those other young coaches.''

Parrott will be in Fort Worth this week and looks forward to seeing Patterson.

It was Franchione who later hired Patterson as his defensive coordinator at New Mexico (1996-98), then took him to TCU. Patterson became head coach when Franchione left for Alabama.

Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown is a Cookeville, Tenn., native. He was coaching elsewhere when he went home for a clinic during Darnell's tenure and met Patterson for the first time.

''I could already tell he was energetic, a hard worker. I saw that quick,'' Brown said this week. ''He's just moved up the ladder, he's done it the right way.''

Patterson is 86-28 at TCU, which last year had its first undefeated regular season since its only national championship in 1938, then lost the Fiesta Bowl to Boise State. He was the Associated Press Coach of the Year, the first to come from outside the six conferences with automatic BCS bids.

Tennessee Tech was 3-29 in three seasons Patterson was there with Darnell (1983-85). The most notable victory came in the finale of the first season when the one-win Golden Eagles upset one-loss Middle Tennessee State 12-8 to knock their instate rival out of the Division I-AA playoffs.

''There are not many fond memories when you win three games in three years and you're the youngest coach on the staff, and everything rolls downhill,'' Patterson said, though he does relish the ''good people there'' and that big victory. ''They had T-shirts, posters, hats and they did not go to the playoffs. ... That's the best football memory I have of Tennessee Tech.''

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