How Baylor's Art Briles, TCU's Gary Patterson emerged as college football's pre-eminent minds

At first glance, Baylor's Art Briles and TCU's Gary Patterson seem to be a study in contrasts. Patterson is a defensive genius; Briles, an offensive guru. Briles quips maxims with a Texas twang; Patterson can easily delve into a rapid soliloquy.

But in many ways, the two Big 12 coaches mirror one another.

Both held modest jobs while cutting their teeth in the coaching ranks. Briles came up via a series of high schools; Patterson, through a stretch of non-Division I college jobs.

Both devised cutting-edge schemes on their sides of the ball that were ahead of their contemporaries and have stood the test of time.

Both have their teams entering the season with national championship aspirations.

"They both have such strong identities," said TCU offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie, who played under Briles and now coaches under Patterson. "What they do, they're just really good at."

This is how Briles emerged as college football's pre-eminent offensive mind, and Patterson, its defensive.

WHEN PATTERSON FIRST ARRIVED at Kansas State, defensive assistants Dennis Franchione and Gary Darnell were blown away. Not by Patterson's athleticism, but rather by his mind.

"He was a total student of the game," said Franchione, former head coach at TCU, Alabama and Texas A&M and now head coach at Texas State. "That would carry over into his coaching."

Patterson had dreams of playing college football, but he was destined to be a coach. He actually transferred to K-State from junior college on an academic scholarship and walked on to the football team. Realizing his athletic limitations, Patterson gave up a season of eligibility to jump-start his coaching career as a graduate assistant with the Wildcats.

"He was smart," Darnell said, "and he was all in."

Patterson wouldn't get another Division I coaching opportunity for the next decade. But in the lower ranks, he sharpened his mind and fashioned a scheme that would later transform TCU.

WHILE PATTERSON WAS TUTORING linebackers at Tennessee Tech, Briles got his first head-coaching gig in 1984 at Hamlin High School, about a 40-minute drive from Abilene, Texas, where Briles got his master's degree.

After losing a slugfest in the playoffs that season, Briles rethought the veer offense he had picked up while playing for Bill Yeoman at Houston in the 1970s. He decided it was time to take offense away from the box and bring it to the sidelines.

While Mike Leach, who was responsible for the proliferation of the air raid offense across college football, was studying law at Pepperdine, Briles had already begun reinventing how football would be played after the turn of the millennium.

AMONG HIS SEVERAL stints at small colleges, Patterson credits his one season coaching linebackers under coordinator Bob Foster at UC Davis in 1986 as a turning point in his career. On the West Coast, the pass had already begun to take over college football.

"At that time, people there were flipping the ball all over the yard," Darnell said. "That's when the idea of a fifth defensive back came into the equation."

Patterson created his 4-2-5 playbook as defensive coordinator at Sonoma State from 1989 to '92, using a "hybrid" safety/linebacker. The scheme would prove to be the best antidote to the coming explosion of the spread.

The flexibility of Patterson's 4-2-5 allowed it to match up against any offense and create confusion at the line of scrimmage because of its various blitzing and coverage possibilities, and yet, it remained simple for the defenders to remember because no other alignment needed to be rehearsed in practice.

"When everybody went to the spread," said Rice head coach David Bailiff, who was once Patterson's defensive coordinator at TCU, "we were ready for it."

IN 1988, BRILES took a job with Stephenville (Texas) High School, which hadn't made the playoffs in 36 years.

"Talent was lacking," said Colin Shillinglaw, who was then the trainer for Stephenville and is now Briles' director of football operations at Baylor. "We weren't going to be able to line up and run over everybody."

Briles' offense, however, closed the talent gap. By lining up receivers all over the field, he cleared open lanes for his running backs. If opposing defenses committed to plugging those lanes, Briles would just have his quarterback heave the ball deep.

"He was never afraid to attack vertically down the field," said Kendal Briles, who played quarterback for his dad at Stephenville and is now Baylor's offensive coordinator. "He always had that mentality."

Art Briles would eventually add the shotgun formation so the quarterback could see over the line. Then he added the no-huddle offense as a ploy to keep defenses off-balance.

Success didn't arrive overnight. But Briles' aggressive and entertaining style of play captivated the school.

"We kept getting more people out for football," Shillinglaw said. "Because he made it fun for the kids."

Five years later, Stephenville won its first state championship. The Yellow Jackets would go on to win three more.

WHEN FRANCHIONE got the head job at New Mexico, he tapped Patterson to help the Lobos combat the pass-happy offenses of the WAC.

Patterson wasn't the only one calling a 4-2-5 at the time. But according to Franchione, there was no one better at running it.

"He had taken it to a different level," Franchione said. "He [had] revamped everything blitzwise and secondarywise and taken it to an area I hadn't seen before."

When Franchione left for TCU, he brought Patterson with him. Three seasons later, the Horned Frogs had the top-ranked defense in the nation and set an FBS game record with 15 sacks against Nevada.

AFTER ONE SEASON at Oklahoma, Leach was hired to bring his air raid to Texas Tech. Leach had gotten to know Briles from clinics and coaching conventions and chose him as his running backs assistant even though Briles had never coached college before.

"I knew he was a passionate coach," Leach said. "I've never bought the notion that you can't coach at another level just because you've never done it before. If you can effectively coach football, you can probably do it at all levels

"He loved football, and it was contagious."

Because of his three years at Tech, Briles' offense is often incorrectly assumed to be a spin-off of the air raid. In actuality, it's the polar opposite. The air raid is predicated on efficiently completing short passes, which essentially stand in for running plays. In Leach's first season, the Red Raiders finished 11th nationally in passing and 113th in rushing. Briles' offense at Stephenville had always hinged on balance, gashing the defense with runs between the tackles and deep bombs over the top.

Like Leach, though, Briles has never used a playbook. Instead, he has always scratched ideas on a yellow pad, then had his players run the plays in practice. Such simplicity has always allowed Briles to win quickly.

When Houston hired Briles in 2003, he finally got to unleash his attack at the college level. In his first season, the Cougars finished 12th nationally in total offense. Three years later, they won the Conference USA championship.

TCU WAS THE country's surprise team in 2014, going 12-1 after an astonishing one-year turnaround offensively, thanks to the installation of a spread offense. But the school's rise to prominence ultimately was fueled by Patterson's defensive dominance of the 2000s.

"What Gary does defensively is just amazing," Bailiff said. "He can sit down and dissect an offense like no one I've ever seen and exploit their weaknesses. He just has a knack. It's a gift."

Bailiff recalled one week in 2001 when the Horned Frogs were preparing for a game against Louisville.

"That week he picked something up, that Louisville was flip-flopping offensive linemen to different positions," Bailiff said. "He found a protection flaw where the A-gap was always open."

As a result, the Horned Frogs sacked quarterback Dave Ragone nine times that day and upset the eventual Conference USA champs.

Last season, even though the offense was in all the headlines, TCU still led the Big 12 in total defense and forced more turnovers than any other Power 5 team.

And Patterson did it with a collection of defenders who weren't highly touted prospects, which has become another one of his calling cards. His two starting linebackers, Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet, had primarily been offensive players in high school. His All-Big 12 safety, Sam Carter, was a high school quarterback. Patterson, however, saw in them the defensive potential others had missed.

"Gary is as fine a defensive coach as I've ever known," Franchione said. "Not everybody can see outside the box. I've always been impressed with him in that regard.

"He's always been ahead of the trend."

WHEN BRILES ARRIVED at Baylor in 2008, the Bears hadn't had a winning season in 13 years. Briles, however, brought the same weapons to Baylor that he unleashed in Stephenville.

"He was able to create excitement with offense," Kendal Briles said.

In 2011, led by Heisman quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Bears finished second nationally in total offense, behind only Houston. The past two seasons, they've won a Big 12 title. And to top it off, they've emerged as a terror on the recruiting trail, thanks to Briles' connections throughout the state and his touted offense, which continues to attract premier talent.

Briles hasn't stopped innovating, either.

This year, the Bears will introduce 400-pound tight end LaQuan McGowan to the fray offensively.

"Sometimes when he starts talking about something like that, you're thinking he's nuts," Kendal Briles said. "Then you start to think about it and it begins to make sense.

"He's always thinking differently. Always been the trendsetter."