Tuesday, September 3, 2013

TCU's Coach P (p for paranoid)

      Gary Patterson screams at his players, yells at his assistant coaches and trainers and anyone in his path on the TCU sideline, points and sweats and rants, and offers advice -- no, berates -- game officials.
      It's all OK with the TCU faithful, who like the way the Frogs win football games under Patterson. That's just him being Coach P.
      He's also been known to be verbally abusive to media members, complained to their bosses, and to cut off their access to TCU players and staff, everyone but himself.
      That's not OK with me (retired sportswriter) or my media buddies. Coach P -- Coach Paranoid, or  Coach Petty -- is often secretive, manipulative and distrustful with media.
The maniacal Gary Patterson: It's a football thing
 (photo from blogspot.com)
      I bring this up today because the aftermath of the LSU-TCU football game -- a conflict of interest for me -- reminded me of Patterson's  media manners.
      In his Sunday morning game column, Scott Rabalais of the Baton Rouge Advocate included this: "... Patterson also refused to let his players talk to reporters who cover LSU,  a silly example of coaching paranoia (They may put something on the bulletin board!) that must be addressed by the Big 12."
      Rabalais -- one of my Louisiana media friends -- also calls Patterson "obsessively competitive." (I can identify with that; people can say the same about me.)
      Indeed, complaints were filed to the Football Writers Association of America and to the Big 12 office.
      This is not new, this has been going on for the decade-plus that Patterson has been the head coach -- beginning about a year before I came to Fort Worth to work in Star-Telegram sports. Player interviews are very limited and almost every season, without fail, Patterson has cut off access to his players totally at least a couple of weeks. He rarely makes assistant coaches available for interviews. They might as well be mutes.
      It's the "one voice speaks for all" approach, and he's the one voice. He uses the media to send messages to his team, opposing teams, fans, the world, whatever. In my opinion, he plays mind games with everyone, slanting it just the way he wants. Part of that is ego, most of it is paranoia.
      Often, when he does allow players to be interviewed, he has TCU sports information people sit it on the interview -- to monitor the question and make sure nothing objectionable can be unveiled.
      And here is what I find most distasteful of all, and this comes from the TCU beat writers we had in my time at the Star-Telegram (we had at least five in 10 years): Patterson has screamed right in their faces -- about stories that displeased him, or a question that irritated him, or perhaps just in his post-practice wind-down when he was displeased with his team.
      I've heard about this too many times for it to be incidental. "Obsessively competitive" has its place. This is not it.
      He's treated the media as if they were his players or his staff. And that's totally uncalled for.
      He's threatened to have them taken off the TCU beat, as if he had a choice in that decision.
      This is a guy making, what, $3 million a season, and he's yelling at young people -- conscientious, hard-working young people -- making maybe $40,000 a year. It's pitiful.
      Obviously, the TCU people in charge -- chancellor, athletic director, big-money boosters -- don't care enough or don't know enough to do anything about this. He's Coach P after all; he wins, and he runs his program the way he wants.
      There certainly are other head coaches -- college, NFL -- just as paranoid; it's become a business of "control freaks." Patterson might not rival Bill Belichick, who from all accounts is the most media-control freak of all, but checking with some of the people I know who cover college football, TCU's dictator is among the most paranoid.
      Let's be clear about this: This is my biggest (and perhaps only) sore spot about Gary Patterson.
      I'm like everyone else -- I think he's a terrific coach and he does run a program the way it should be run (media matters excepted). Sure, there have been off-the-field issues -- grades and drugs and misbehavior -- but that happens everywhere.
      The TCU staff, over the past decade, has done one of the country's best jobs of identifying talent to recruit for their school, moving players to positions they can best play and help the team, and then coaching on the practice field and in games. Patterson is considered a defensive whiz, and the statistics -- and records -- bear out his success. You can't say anything but "well-coached" about his Frogs.           
      He's the biggest factor in taking a football program that was once woeful and is now a national player, and in raising the funds (it's a private school) to get a new stadium built.
      To be honest, I've never talked to the man, only seen him in person on campus a couple of times, and from what people close to the TCU program tell me, he's a genuinely personable guy away from football. I read that, too, in the wonderful story (Aug. 25) by the talented writer Tim Madigan in the Star-Telegram.
      And I've come to admire TCU. I've lived close to the campus now for seven years and cross it almost daily on my walks. It's pretty, beautifully landscaped, and ever-changing with a couple dozen new or renovated buildings -- including the football stadium and indoor practice facility -- in the time we've been here.
      The campus motif is neat; follow the yellow-brick buildings.
      We've found a lot of nice people and interesting events at TCU. It is a real asset to the city.
       Sure, I was rooting for LSU on Saturday; I have 55 years of being an LSU fan. But this game was a conflict of interest for me in that I've grown accustomed to TCU.
       Still, it confounds me how Patterson can be so stubborn and, yes, so paranoid about the media.
       During Saturday's game, one of my close friends sent me a text: "Patterson is a complete ass." I can't agree; it only has to do with football, and with the media.
        These head coaches have every right to run their program the way they want, and certainly they do this in the best interests of their players -- their kids -- and their team.
        Got no problem with closed practice; that's done everywhere and it's understandable. No problem with how Patterson has handled disciplinary cases; that's his and the school's business. But handling the media; that's a business on which I can comment.             
        Freshman players not being allowed to be interviewed, that's fine; the adjustment to college football and to college life can be challenging enough. Nick Saban at Alabama has this rule, and so does Texas A&M I believe, recalling that Johnny Manziel never spoke to the media last year ... until his Heisman Trophy candidacy late in the season made him an exception.
        My belief is that players should be coached about doing interviews, what to say and not say, just as they are on the field. It's part of the college learning process. They should know better than to be negative or critical of teammates or opponents ... if that's what Patterson is worried about.
        And he does, I believe, worry about "inciting" the opposing team or his players alienating someone. Maybe that's where the paranoia is.
        A TCU grad, a 1960s football player, suggested to me that Patterson had been "burned" by media in the past. Could be, it happens. Maybe a quote or statement was taken out of context, maybe facts were wrong. I've been accused of doing that a few times -- and perhaps rightfully so. It wasn't done on purpose.
        Plus, I've been screamed at by coaches, ordered out of locker rooms, had the phone slammed  on me, had interview requests ignored or denied. But no more than a handful of times. So I've been there; it doesn't feel good, not when you're trying to do the best job you can.
        Totally cutting off player interviews, to "home" media or away, is just ridiculous, in my view.
        If they are a "distraction," as Patterson has claimed before certain games (SMU a year ago comes to mind), I disagree. No game has ever been won or lost because of interviews; I found that usually these games are settled on the field, between those white lines.
        But if he feels that he has to control things that way, he can do that -- unless his bosses tell him differently.
        Several people have pointed out to me that Patterson is fortunate in that being at a private school, the spotlight isn't as severe, the media group isn't anywhere as large, as it would be at a major state school. That if he faced as much media daily as Mack Brown, Les Miles, Nick Saban or Bob Stoops -- just to name a few -- maybe he wouldn 't get away with screaming at media so much.
        Hard to say. We know what we see, and sometimes it's just unbecoming. Maybe the Big 12 can suggest/demand mandatory player and coordinator interviews a couple of times a week.
        TCU football is back in the big time. The chancellor, AD and especially head coach should rewrite their media-access playbook, and make it big time, too.                   


  1. From John Henry: If he is ever fired, they should donate his living body to the psychology department. Holy cow, talk about grants flowing in to fund that study.

  2. From John Dittrich: I met him once at Del Frisco's. As you stated in your blog, he was very cordial. No doubt he's been a game-changer for TCU. If it weren't for him, they would probably be playing in the Sun Belt Conference these days!

  3. From Patrick Booras: To me, if Patterson or any coach, consistently denies his players access to the media, not only is he paranoid and controlling, but in some aspects afraid. Coaches who are afraid don't win the big one. Patterson has done a good job getting TCU to be a good football program, so kudos to him for that. But they won't win many of the biggest games against top-tier programs. In big games, most of the time, if the head coach is tight, the players play tight. Loosen up, Gary, let your players "turn it loose" in the big ones. I do like the fact that TCU has a resurrected football progam that is winning consistently.

    1. Can't agree here, Patrick. Patterson's teams have won plenty of big games -- beaten Oklahoma, beat Texas last season, won the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin, beat Boise State, and have beaten other big-name schools. TCU's coaches and players are not afraid. They might be media-barred or media-restricted, but afraid doesn't apply.

  4. From Beverly Denver: Good post, Nico. Enjoyed your thoughts on this. Patterson has done a great job with the TCU team, as evidenced by how the team played last weekend against LSU. Apparently, results (not means) is all the school -- and fans -- care about. Sad!

  5. From Dale Brown: Superb! It is not where you coach or who you coach, but why you coach. The why has turned into greed, ego, etc.