FORT WORTH, Texas -- As Gary Patterson embarked on his first season as TCU's head coach in 2001, he tried to act like his predecessor and mentor, Dennis Franchione.
Coach Fran, as he was known, looked like a college professor. He was calculating and calm, showing little emotion. He was difficult to read, making him the type of guy you didn't want at your poker table.
"That just wasn't me," Patterson said. "I realized early that season that I had to do what worked for me. I couldn't just stand there."
That's putting it mildly.
Patterson, 49, roams the sidelines at a frenetic pace, yanking off his headset to yell at a player or an official and jumping up and down with his hands waving frantically. He hitches up his pants constantly, as if in desperate need for a tighter belt. He takes his glasses off and wipes his face down with a towel to get the sweat out of his eyes.
It takes a very cold day for Patterson to wear anything but a short-sleeved shirt, he's so active. The only downtime he gets is when he stops to untie and then retie his shoes, something he does at least a few times per game.
"I think that habit is one I can break," Patterson said.
"It's like watching a comedy act," said Dan Jenkins, legendary sportswriter, TCU alum and former neighbor of Patterson's. "He's all over the place. It's like that when you talk to him. He talks about three things at once. He hollers and growls, but gets the best out of people. They play hard for him."
Patterson gets so into the game that most of the time he has to put on a clean shirt at halftime because he's sweating through it.
"Sometimes I've had to completely change all of my clothes," said Patterson, a strong safety and outside linebacker at Kansas State in the early 1980s. "I lose 8 to 10 pounds of water weight during two-a-days."
Patterson's passion for the game and his players is one reason why TCU is basking in national attention not enjoyed by the school since maybe the Southwest Conference championships of Abe Martin's teams in the late 1950s.
TCU is No. 4 in the BCS standings, its highest perch ever, and will play in front of possibly the largest crowd in the history of Amon G. Carter Stadium on Saturday against No. 14 Utah.
The best thing about Gary is what you see is what you get. You can't say that about most people.
”-- No. Illinois coach Jerry Kill
"He's a great coach and he just keeps getting better," said Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill, a longtime friend of Patterson's. "The best thing about Gary is what you see is what you get. You can't say that about most people."
Patterson, in his ninth season as head coach, has won championships in two different conferences (Conference USA and the Mountain West) and had five teams with double-digit wins.
He has impressive nonconference victories on his resume, too. TCU beat No. 5 Oklahoma on the road to start the 2005 season, held Texas Tech without a touchdown at home in 2006 and got past undefeated top-10 Boise State in a bowl game last season.
He's done it all with an extremely high level of intensity. He brought that to TCU in 1998, when Franchione was hired to replace Pat Sullivan. Then, the program was coming off a 1997 campaign that finished with fans -- somewhat sarcastically -- charging the field after beating SMU in the finale to prevent a winless season.
Patterson, who was Franchione's defensive coordinator at New Mexico, came to TCU in the same post. He built TCU's defense into the top unit in the country in 2000. Franchione was hired away by Alabama, leaving Patterson to take the purple reins at TCU.
"I was lucky," Patterson said. "I was in the right place, and TCU gave me a shot."
Nine years later, Patterson is still in Fort Worth. He's never said that he would stay forever, not wanting to mislead anyone should circumstances ever change.
"I've proven I like it here and we can be successful here," Patterson said. "I have some ownership in all of this."
Patterson has had a few offers, but nothing intriguing enough to leave.
"If he ever gets the call from Nebraska or Oklahoma or Texas or something like that, he'd be crazy not to take it," Jenkins said. "But I don't think he's going to go to someplace less than that. He's very happy here and he's got a juggernaut going."
Patterson married a Fort Worth native, the former Kelsey Hayes, in 2004. He's respected in the community, and he's had the chance to settle down and grow some roots, something he couldn't do much of as he worked his way up the coaching ladder.
Patterson had 10 jobs before he came to TCU, including a six-week stay as a coach with the Oregon Lightning Bolts, a team in a second-tier professional football league that doesn't exist anymore. Former Cowboys quarterback Craig Morton was the coach, but the team folded after training camp and Patterson said he never got paid.
He landed in Utah State as secondary coach and just kept working ... eventually landing with Franchione.
"I was always taught to work hard," Patterson said. "I grew up in a small town and we all worked."
That town -- Rozel, Kan. -- had 175 people, dirt roads and no stop lights when Patterson lived there. His dad leveled land for irrigation, his mother was a nurse.
"We didn't even have a town policeman," Patterson said. "The county sheriff came by every once in a while. We took care of each other."
Patterson discovered a love of sports and music in Kansas. He still plays the guitar and sings; he constantly has music going while he's dissecting an opponent on film. He was in a band growing up that played at wedding dances, so he learned a variety of different genres. But he prefers country and classic rock.
"My voice calms down after football season and I'm not quite as hoarse, so it sounds better," Patterson said. "It's like cooking. All that matters is that your cooking is good enough for you. That's how my singing is."
He's thinking about plays and about a better way to do something all the time. You can almost see the wheels turning in his head. He's a perfectionist. As one of his friends calls him, he's the mad scientist of football.
”-- Kelsey Patterson, wife of
TCU football coach Gary Patterson
Kelsey Patterson, who assures anyone that asks that her husband can certainly carry a tune, says he's constantly composing in his mind. And she doesn't mean notes.
"He's thinking about plays and about a better way to do something all the time," said Kelsey Patterson, a former marketing director at the Fort Worth Zoo who met her future husband through mutual friends.
Their first date was at one of Patterson's radio shows during the season.
"You can almost see the wheels turning in his head. He's a perfectionist. As one of his friends calls him, he's the mad scientist of football."
That scientist certainly has an eye for evaluating talent. Most of the elite players in the state are more likely to mull offers from big schools like Texas or Oklahoma before considering TCU. That doesn't seem to bother Patterson or his staff. They look for all-around athletes and players with plenty of speed. Then they determine the best spot for them.
All-America defensive end Jerry Hughes is just one example. He came to TCU as a running back and kick returner but soon found out that he would be wearing No. 98 and playing on the defensive line. The change has turned Hughes into a playmaker with a bright future on Sundays. And it's given TCU's defense a dominant pass rusher.
"If you can't run, Gary doesn't want you," said Kill, who is using the same recruiting philosophy at Northern Illinois. "He finds guys who might be a little undersized with speed and bulks them up and puts them in the right position. He's very good at it."
Patterson and his staff then watch them grow, making sure to prod when needed.
But this season, Patterson thinks he's a little more relaxed. He still prods, for sure, but hasn't had to use too many of his fire-and-brimstone pregame speeches as in the past with a team he thinks is more laid back.
Are those players seeing a more relaxed Patterson this season?
"Maybe a little," quarterback Andy Dalton said.
Kelsey Patterson credits the couple's two golden retrievers, including Chloe, who sometimes runs around the practice field waiting for Patterson to finish and say hello, and a nine-day vacation to London and Paris over the summer for decreasing Patterson's stress level.
"It was the first time we had a vacation like that ever," Kelsey Patterson said. "We always stayed around the campus to make sure everything was OK in the summer. Four days in, he was starting to panic, wondering what he was missing back home. Once we got over that hump, he was OK."
If he's not playing the guitar, Patterson will watch college football and crime dramas.
"He can predict what's going to happen on the shows," Kelsey Patterson said. "I can't watch football with him for very long. He says something and, two seconds later, the announcer says it. But college football is on when he's home. He's a voter in the poll, so he takes that seriously."
Patterson didn't watch much TV this week. He's been up at 6 a.m. and not in bed until 1 a.m. most nights as he prepares for his biggest game at TCU. But he'll still make time to keep tabs on how other sports teams are doing at TCU.
Jack Hesselbrock, the associate athletic director, is impressed by Patterson's support for all of TCU's teams. He remembers talking to Patterson two days before the 2002 Liberty Bowl, and Patterson asked about the women's basketball team, who had just beaten nationally ranked Vanderbilt.
"He told me to dial the number, and he took the phone and told [coach Jeff Mittie] how proud he was of the job Jeff was doing and the team," Hesselbrock said. "They were playing a tough schedule, and it was a good win for Jeff. It just surprised me so close to a big game that Gary would take the time to do that. But he does that all the time."
Patterson believes the success of every team helps the entire athletic program. He said that's what leads to facilities and greater recognition for everyone. So when a recruit from another sport is on campus, Patterson won't hesitate to show them around.
"Athletics is the porch of the house," Patterson said. "It's not as important as the bedroom or kitchen. But it can get people in the door. It's about curb appeal."
TCU has plenty of that right now, thanks to Patterson's efforts. Expect to see him working -- with every muscle in his body -- on Saturday night to make sure the front door stays open for a possible BCS bowl berth and even more acclaim for the university.
Richard Durrett covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.