FORT WORTH, Texas -- Since he arrived at TCU in 2000, Gary Patterson has won 132 games, had 33 players drafted, been honored with 20 national coach of the year awards and won six conference championships in three different leagues. Patterson's success is even more remarkable when you find out he's done all of this without having a single top-25 recruiting class.
Over the years, Patterson has become the go-to-guy for college football observers that believe recruiting rankings don't matter and the importance of stars is blown way out of proportion. The success of national-title winning programs like Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State damper those critics' arguments somewhat, but still, it's hard not to marvel at the greatness of Patterson's recruiting tactics.
"Gary's one of the best recruiters in the country, without question," said Iowa State offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, who has recruited against Patterson for years during his time as an assistant at Kansas State, Oklahoma and Iowa State plus as the head coach at Kansas. "He trusts what he sees and is not caught up in measurables, stats or outside opinions."
A major part of the "TCU way" is Patterson's ability to play Dr. Frankenstein on the recruiting trail. Patterson loves to find bits of pieces and reassemble them as a cohesive working unit. In many cases, this means finding high school prospects that play one position in high school but could easily project at another spot in college with some proper coaching, nutrition and development in the weight room.
Patterson insists this isn't simply a case of looking at an athletic high school quarterback and sticking him at receiver or taking a defensive back and playing him at linebacker. There's a science to what he and his staff look for, and he points to former high school running back turned defensive end and first-round draft pick Jerry Hughes as one of the best examples of his handy work.
"It's important to at least see the guy play the position at some point, whether it's in practice or when they come to your camp," Patterson said. "It's really hard to just throw a guy in a different spot and expect him to eventually become great at it. That's something we look really hard at in the evaluation process. We want to see them do the actual position with our own eyes, and in many cases you can tell if they could be pretty good at it.
"With Jerry Hughes, I only saw one snap of him playing defensive end his entire senior season because he played tailback, but I saw him play it in practice. ... It showed me he could do it, even though he was the team's star running back."
Patterson certainly wasn't the first coach to move players around, but the way he approaches it as part of the recruiting process made him an innovator. Initially his tactics were met with a lot of raised eyebrows by his peers, but as the wins piled up coaches across the country have tried to replicate Patterson's game plan to varying degrees of success.
"Garry Patterson has proven to the college football world that they have set the standard in the evaluation and development process," UTSA defensive line coach Eric Roark, who has spent the last 13 years recruiting against Patterson with the Roadrunners and previously as the recruiting coordinator at SMU. "Every player that they have signed may not always be position specific, but they are multi-dimensional and bring value to the table. Other schools used to laugh at TCU when it would offer somebody. They would ask 'what in the hell are they thinking?' Now they hurry to be the next school to offer."
"We'll just keep winning games and recruiting the way that we have for years now. It seems to be working pretty good."TCU coach Gary Patterson
Another part of Patterson's recruiting success is finding the right attitude. Patterson isn't the only coach to suggest many of today's recruits have been patted on the back so much that they feel like they've already made it and sometimes don't put forth the type of effort it takes to win at the highest level. Patterson spends a considerable amount of time looking for talented athletes that would be willing to run through a brick wall if he asked them to do so.
"The two-star because of his attitude is probably a four-star," Patterson said. "That's what people don't understand. I always call it the walk-on attitude. When a walk-on comes to your program, every day he's trying to prove he belongs and that he deserves to be on scholarship. Josh Doctson is a great example. He was out there screaming 'I'm going to take somebody's scholarship.' If you can find guys that have the talent of a four-star but with that two-star attitude, then what you get is a team that puts forth that extra effort no matter what the situation is."
Patterson and his staff spend a considerable amount of time researching and looking for these types of players. This is also where Patterson leans on his relationships with Texas high school football coaches. Having been at TCU since 2000, Patterson has a unique bond with coaches throughout the Lone Star State rival Texas universities wish they could replicate. That familiarity allows high school coaches to speak freely and honestly with the Horned Frog coaching staff.
"There isn't a high school coach in Texas that doesn't respect what Gary Patterson has done at TCU," said Houston Strake Jesuit coach James Clancy. "They look at the complete kid and don't get caught up in stars or positions. They love to find kids that are resilient, have been told they aren't as good as others and play with a chip on their shoulder. When you take that attitude and put in a place like TCU that appreciates and fosters that mindset, you get winners."
Patterson also points to two other key areas for explanations into his recruiting success at TCU -- camp evaluations and leaving room at the back end of his class for late bloomers.
Almost every kid that has committed to TCU over the years has spent time at one of the Horned Frogs' summer camps and the one-on-one interaction between coach and prospect is critical. The camps allow TCU coaches to look into whether or not a player matches what he showed on film or is as fast as a reported 40-yard dash time is, but it also allows Patterson and his staff see if the recruit possesses the mental makeup he demands.
"You want the recruiting process to not be a blind date," Patterson said. "You want to see attitude. You want to see work habits. You want to see when you talk to them how important school is. We look for things that you can't see on a SPARQ test. What kind of person is he? How does he fit in with your kids? What kind of personality does he have?"
Patterson is also adamant TCU will always hold some spots in each recruiting class for players that develop as seniors. He believes enough in the recruiting operations he's put in place that his staff will be among the first to find prospects that are blowing up in recruiting's home stretch. Those spots helped land former TCU All-American cornerback and first-round draft pick Jason Verrett and current defensive end Josh Carraway.
"If a guy is ever close to being a player, you shouldn't take him off your list," Patterson said. "You should go back and revisit him somewhere in the season and see how he's playing, because guys come around. What we've also figured out is that you better have five left at the end, because there's a bunch of guys out there that are going to have really great senior years. They're really going to come on."
Those are all tactics that have worked year after year for Patterson, turned TCU into a playoff contender and kept the Frogs competitive Texas recruiting landscape. There's little doubt Patterson has earned the respect of his peers, but maybe it's time his program gets the proper credit it deserves for their success on the recruiting trail.
"At some point in time, I would love to lose the 'we only get kids that we can out-evaluate everybody on' because I think we've had lot better players than people have probably given us credit for," Patterson said. "If we don't, I guess it's OK. We'll just keep winning games and recruiting the way that we have for years now. It seems to be working pretty good."