The USC head coaching search enters week No. 4 since the firing of Steve Sarkisian and things are eerily quiet.
Sources have been adamant since the search began that USC is looking for a candidate with head coaching experience, while fans add that coach have a proven track record of success. On the college level, few coaches have a better track record than TCU head coach Gary Patterson.
Patterson has been considered a long shot to leave TCU since he yawned at the Texas Longhorn’s head coaching vacancy two years ago. As with Baylor head coach Art Briles, it would surprise many if Patterson left the state of Texas to coach, let alone ended up at USC. Patterson is 140-46 as a head coach, which is a record only Bob Stoops can match in the Big 12. But much of Patterson's success came before TCU made the jump to a Power 5 conference.
Patterson took over as head coach in 2000 at TCU when Dennis Franchione left for Alabama. From 2000 to 2012, Patterson built the Horned Frogs into a power in Conference USA and then the Mountain West. TCU’s defense was ranked among the nation’s best three years running from 2009, 2010 to 2011. In 2010, TCU would finish 13-0 and No. 3 in the BCS.
Patterson has won AP Coach Of The Year, Eddie Robinson Coach Of The Year and Walter Camp Coach Of The Year twice. After going 7-6 and 4-8 his first two seasons in the Big-12, Patterson led TCU to a 12-1 record in 2014 with a 42-3 win over Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl.
“Defensive coaches, No. 1, never get many chances to be head coaches. I’m one of these laser-eyes you see. Most people know me that three hours on TV on Saturday.
“Gary’s that guy that grew up in a town of 175 people from western Kansas. It’s about people, it’s about kids’ lives, it’s about growing doing all of those kind of things. My wife says she loves Gary, she’s not sure about Coach P either.” — Gary Patterson, Dallas Morning News
The 55-year-old head coach has a fiery personality that goes unabated on the sidelines. Patterson coached with a poker face his first few years at TCU, but as his teams lost games and Patterson found himself on the hot seat, he unapologetically changed his approach. Patterson is now often described as brash and outspoken.
“I tried to be that guy when I first started as a head coach. Kinda stoic, quiet. I think my teams played like that and I was 2-2 and they were already ready to fire me as a head coach and I said, ‘well, if I’m going to go down, I’m going to go down in my way.” — Gary Patterson
Patterson played linebacker and safety at Kansas State, working his way up the food chain as a linebacker coach at small programs like Tennessee Tech, UC Davis, Cal Lutheran and Pittsburg State. As Patterson likes to say, he took the “low road” to being a head coach. Several of his early positions reunited Patterson with former Wildcat teammate, Dennis Franchione. Patterson was hired as a defensive coordinator by Franchione at New Mexico before following him to TCU.
But it was Pete Carroll, a name more familiar with Trojan fans, that gave Patterson his most notable compliment. After visited TCU on his Win Forever tour in 2011, Carroll met with Patterson and his staff for a four hour coaching workshop.
“He is an example of exactly what we’re preaching about,” Carroll said. “About finding out who you are and what you’re all about and then figuring a way to make that come to life for your coaches and your players.
“He gets it from A to Z, how to deliver the message of a philosophy and something that is absolutely representative of who he is. “In doing so, he’s been consistently…at the top of his game and has brought TCU to a point where they are absolutely one of the top [teams] of the college football world.”
As a leader, Patterson is comfortable in his own skin and cuts to the point. Patterson hasn’t just changed the culture of TCU football, he has helped build it from scratch. Patterson describes himself as demanding, and has said that players play for or in spite of their coach.
Patterson is a defensive minded coach with a very unique background. Coaching at New Mexico before landing at TCU, he developed his 4-2-5 defensive scheme out of necessity. With more Air Raid offenses proliferating the mid-major college football landscape, and the Lobos having few traditional linebackers on their roster, Patterson decided to field a base personnel package that emphasized speed over size.
This 4-2-5 is not a traditional nickel sub package with four defensive linemen, two linebackers, two safeties and two cornerbacks. Instead, it’s a personnel package of three safeties used in a single high formation. TCU will use a single free safety in the middle of the field, with two rover safeties flanking two middle linebackers. TCU calls these rovers their strong and weak safeties. In this system, Su'a Cravens would be a strong safety, which acts as a linebacker, defensive back hybrid in the 4-2-5.
Patterson calls his defensive front stunts and blitzes separately from his coverages. In fact, Patterson breaks his defensive calls into three groups. First is the front, which consists of the defensive line and two linebackers. Then he has the away side grouping, which will be a cornerback, his free and strong safeties. Finally, Patterson has a read side for the other cornerback and his weak safety.
This is a scheme which relies on blitzes and stunts on almost every play to confuse and disrupt an up-tempo offense's flow. With both safeties near the line of scrimmage, this defense gives the appearance of an eight man front while still having the personnel of a sub package. It’s a defense meant to disguise zone defenders from blitzers.
Plugging USC’s roster into this defensive scheme is tricky because of the Horned Frogs smallish front. The defensive end and the strong safety positions would be key in the transition. In this system, the strong side defensive end plays in the six-technique, head up with the tight end. The weak side end is in a loose five-technique -- playing the outside shade of the offensive tackle. TCU’s defensive ends can play from a two-point or three-point stance depending on their technique. The Horned Frogs only have three defensive ends on their roster weighing more than 265-pounds.
Porter Gustin would fit in at one defensive end spot, while the other defensive end would likely be a bigger lineman like Rasheem Green. TCU does not flip their defensive ends by formation strength. The safety trio in this defense would mostly likely have Chris Hawkins at weak safety, John Plattenburg at free safety and Marvell Tell or Leon McQuay at strong safety, assuming Su’a Cravens goes pro. The strong safety position would ideally fit the physical profile of Elk Grove (Calif.) four-star prospect Lamar Jackson. This position is like a glorified WILL linebacker in the 4-3, but with better coverage skills.
In that respect, this defense isn’t all that different than USC’s big nickel package when Cravens, Hawkins and Plattenburg are all on the field together. The Trojans used this personnel package in the fourth quarter against Arizona last weekend. As a base defense, it lessens the need for 300-pound defensive linemen and tall, rangy linebackers. At the same time, it puts more emphasis on finding safeties who can support the run and pass.
Offensively, Patterson is running the same up-tempo spread offense that many other Big 12 teams use. While that’s a bit of a generalization, TCU uses a ton of two-by-two sets with 10 personnel. TCU currently uses a lot of speed and read option with quarterback Trevone Boykins. With Andy Dalton at the helm, TCU ran plenty of four and five receiver sets, but still maintained a top 10 rushing offense. Patterson’s defense are built to stop the spread, so his offenses run the spread.
How these schemes would fair in a conference with Stanford, and to a lesser extent run-spread teams like Utah and Oregon, is open to debate. The Big 12 simply does not have the variety of schemes and personnel groupings used in the Pac-12. But that’s not to say Patterson cannot adapt. Over the last 10 years, Patterson is 7-2 in bowls games, with a win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. More impressively, his losses to Boise State and Michigan State were by a combined total of eight points.
Patterson is one of the only coaches in the modern era of football to marry a bevy of Air Raid passing concepts with a great defense. In 2009, TCU had the nation’s No. 7 ranked offense and the nation’s No. 1 ranked defense. In 2010, Patterson fielded the nation’s No. 1 total defense again, while ranking No. 12 in total offense. The Horned Frogs were No. 10 in rush offense and No. 5 in rush defense. But again, this all took place while TCU was in the Mountain West and not the Big 12.
Patterson has been recruiting Texas for more than a decade and his ties to the state are very strong. TCU has begun to expand their recruiting footprint to Florida and Louisiana, but Texas is where a vast majority of TCU’s players come from. While the Dallas-Fort Worth area is obviously a focal point, TCU does an excellent job of recruiting Houston as well.
Patterson himself is recognized as a solid recruiter, although his strength is evaluation and development more than sales. Hiring a coach with such strong ties to another talent rich region would give USC unbelievable reach. From a system standpoint, Patterson would have his pick of personnel, which would likely morph his scheme both offensively and defensively.
TCU currently has 15 commits for 2016. The Horned Frogs have the nation’s No. 28 recruiting class, which is rated third in the Big 12. The fact that 28th in the nation lands third in the Big 12 is an eye opener. In contrast, Texas is rated No. 48 nationally with nine commitments for 2016. TCU traditionally finishes behind Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Baylor regionally in recruiting, so these rankings will likely shift. However, it shows that TCU is being recognized for finding good players, which in return, is drawing more good players to the program.
Patterson's perceived fit as a head coach in the Pac-12 may be more of a question. While some Trojan fans may wonder whether Patterson would "get SC," it's fair to wonder if USC would get Patterson.
Patterson sings country music, plays guitar and comes from rural Kansas. While Fort Worth isn’t a small town, it isn’t Los Angeles. Patterson talked about fit and coaching moves to AFCA Weekly a few years ago.
“If you’re not a good fit for your team, if you don’t catch on and you’re not similar to the constituent group that makes up the team, then it’s not going to work, “ he said. “I don’t care what offense you run or what your defense is. I don’t care how good of a coach you are.
“You have to look past money, facilities and the way it looks on TV. You’ve got to find a place where you can do something that nobody’s ever done before and make sure you have an opportunity to be successful.”
Something else to consider is that Patterson's annual salary represents more than 5-percent of TCU's athletic expenditures. Only Nick Saban makes a larger percentage for his university. Patterson has built much of the TCU football program people know today. That control maybe worth the millions of more dollars USC could pay him.
Patterson balked at the Texas Longhorns head coach vacancy, and as he explicitly says, money and the lure of a bigger program doesn’t make him tick. At the same time, how much farther can he take TCU? At this point, 17-years into coaching at TCU, Patterson is going head to head with Baylor for conference prestige.
TCU is not Texas or Oklahoma, nor will they be in the in the foreseeable future. Every coach has a competitive urge to compete against the best, and while TCU has certainly had success, they’ve also been on the outside looking in of the national championship picture. That would not happen at USC. Of course, seeing that Dennis Franchione has been a big influence on Patterson in coaching, Franchione’s move from TCU to Alabama may also resonate. Franchione took the Crimson Tide from a 3-8 team under sanctions to a 10-3 team in two years.
However, Franchione resigned abruptly from Alabama to take a job with Texas A&M despite the offer of a 10-year extension from the Tide. Leaving no bridge unburned, Franchione’s departures from TCU and Alabama didn’t come without backlash. He would eventually resign from Texas A&M as well. Franchione’s foray into big time college football did not pan out and it’s something Patterson likely considers with every new job offer. That is, of course, if he actually considers a new job offer.