Gary Patterson and TCU football have been an ideal match for over 20 years.
Under Patterson, the Horned Frogs have earned conference titles as members of C-USA, the Mountain West Conference, and the Big 12 Conference, played in 17 bowl games, won the Rose Bowl as a mid-major program, and almost made the College Football Playoff.
College football’s second-longest tenured active head coach (behind Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz) has achieved almost everything possible except winning a national championship.
As great as all these accomplishments sound, the shine has started wearing off. The Rose Bowl happened a decade ago, the playoff run is almost seven years old, and TCU has not appeared in the Big 12 title game since 2017.
It’s hard to say a coach who has a statue on campus is on the hot seat. However, Patterson’s past success has set the expectations at the Big 12 Title game level and the Horned Frogs have not been close to that lately.
Questions will naturally pop up about Patterson’s future after three straight seasons below or just above a .500 winning percentage.
Usually, Patterson follows up a bad year with a championship-level performance. TCU went 4-8 (2-7 Big 12) in 2013 before ripping off the 12-1 (8-1), Big 12 title season (2014). The 2017 title game appearance came after a 6-7 (4-5) campaign in 2016.
The Horned Frogs ended 2020 on a 5-1 run and finished 6-4 overall (5-4 Big 12), which eased some frustrations. High expectations surrounding 2021 seems logical knowing some key injured players should return, young players can continue developing, and it looks like the team will get a somewhat normal offseason.
Patterson always fields a stout defense, no matter what the win-loss record shows. TCU’s defense ranked top 4 in scoring defense the last three years among Big 12 teams and had the No. 1 total defense in 2018 and 2019.
The defense returns All-Big 12 defensive end Ochaun Mathis and All-big 12 defensive backs Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson and La’Kendrick Van Zandt, among other key starters. Linebacker Garrett Wallow and safeties Ar’Darius Washington and Trevon Moehrig entered the NFL draft. Replacing that talent will not be easy, but Patterson has done it before successfully.
The Horned Frogs’ main issues consistently appear on offense. Patterson acknowledged this by hiring friend and former Minnesota coach Jerry Kill as a special assistant for the offense before the 2020 season. He also reunited offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham. Cumbie and Meacham guided the 2014 offense as it set 26 school records.
The 2020 version of Cumbie and Meacham could not muster similar results as the scoring offense ranked seventh in the conference. Sonny Cumbie then took the offensive coordinator job at Texas Tech, giving Meacham play-calling duties moving forward.
Meacham needs to open up the playbook and help quarterback Max Duggan blossom. Duggan can already spread the field as a runner and has talented pass-catchers, including All-Big 12 wide receivers Quentin Johnston and Taye Barber, who can make this a more explosive offense. The Horned Frogs’ rushing attack led the Big 12 with 214.7 yards per game last season.
If TCU can put everything together and contend for a Big 12 title game spot, the noise surrounding Patterson might quiet down.
Patterson, currently under contract through 2024, probably doesn’t have many worries about job security since he has, rightly, gained immense respect within the Fort Worth and TCU communities. Plus, an athletic director’s bucket list does not include firing a legendary coach.
Still, the Horned Frogs will need a strong performance this fall or else Patterson’s seat could warm up and make the next few years a little uncomfortable.
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