When TCU and West Virginia both joined the Big 12 before the 2012 football season, both schools were presented with a unique challenge.
Both schools would have to find a way to prove their worth in a new conference, but the circumstances at each school were vastly different.
For starters, Horned Frogs head coach Gary Patterson had held that position in Fort Worth for 10 years before the move to the Big 12, and had already overseen two conference changes in his career when TCU left the Western Athletic Conference for Conference USA in 2000, and when the Frogs jumped from C-USA to the Mountain West in 2005.
In West Virginia’s case, head coach Dana Holgorsen had just taken over that position in 2011, one year before the Mountaineers left the Big East for the Big 12, and was in just his second year as a head coach at the time. The Mountaineers also dealt with plenty of upheaval on their coaching staff in their first few years in the conference.
Continuity has been key for Texas Christian, but don’t think Patterson hasn’t changed anything to make his team more suitable to its new conference. The Horned Frogs embraced a new style of offense, bringing in a new offensive coordinator in Doug Meachem and a co-coordinator in Sonny Cumbie in 2013.
When asked about how TCU has been able to make such a quick rise in the Big 12, Holgorsen pointed to Patterson’s willing to embrace change on offense as a key factor.
“Gary (Patterson) has been doing the same stuff there. I commend him for changing what his thought process was offensively. That’s been the difference with their first two years in the league and where they are right now. You have to have that in all three phases of the game. If you want to develop real consistency and real improvement, then you have to keep things relatively the same and continue to get better at it,” he said.
Patterson said that change, along with an adaptation in recruiting style including rethinking what type of player to bring in to his program has helped TCU make such a drastic jump to the top of the league in such a short time.
“Obviously even after we got into the league we had to make a couple tweaks. We felt we had to change our offense, do some things, and then we’ve been analyzing how he have to recruit and who we have to recruit going into it so we can keep being successful. It’s hard to do in this league. The league keeps getting better and growing,” he said.
The college football landscape has changed drastically in the past few years, and not just in the Big 12. Some point to TCU’s location in the heart of Texas as an advantage when it comes to recruiting Big 12 quality players, but Patterson said the effect of Texas A&M moving to the SEC has opened the door for more powerhouse programs from that conference to come into the Lonestar State, and made the battle for each recruit even more intense.
“It’s still tough to get the guys that you want…You can have a couple of the top 100, but if you can get the rest of your class between 100 and 200, you’ve got a chance to be really good. That’s what we’re trying to do,” Patterson said.
It has worked for him and his staff so far, as TCU has brought in some of the most electric skill players in the country the past few years. But Patterson isn’t just looking for talent on the field, he said he wants players who fit the school and the community, not just his game plan.
“We’re still trying to get the guy that has the TCU factor, that wants to be here, wants to get an education, wants to go to school, wants to play great, wants to be an NFL player and all the above. A lot of places now, there’s not an emphasis on school and doing some of the things we need to do. One of the reasons I’ve stayed at TCU is because we want a guy that wants to – when he leaves our place – he wants to be successful between 22 and 62,” he said.
In the end, it seems the central location the Horned Frogs have in “Big 12 country” might not be as much as an advantage, and considering all the other factors outlined above, Patterson said there are times when it is even a disadvantage.
“The recruiting (in Texas) is a hot bed, but everybody knows and everybody comes here. In some ways it’s a disadvantage. We’ve had guys leaving because it’s too close to home…Like everything else, if you want to be good at it you’ve got to roll your sleeves up and do it every day,” he said.