Gary Patterson understands perfection, at least during the regular season. The TCU coach has led his team to consecutive Mountain West titles with back-to-back undefeated regular seasons. In 2010, TCU had a season for the ages. The Horned Frogs finished 13-0, including a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin and a final No. 2 ranking. This year offers some major challenges as the Horned Frogs only return five starters on offense and must replace Andy Dalton, who won 43 career games. On defense, the Horned Frogs will be stout as always. TCU has led the nation in total defense for three consecutive years and ranked first five of the last 11 years. Shortly before the preseason USA Today/Coaches poll were announced -- TCU is ranked No. 15 -- SI.com caught up with Patterson to get his take on the upcoming season.
SI.com: How satisfying has this offseason been given how last year ended?
Patterson: Winning the Rose Bowl was not the be all and end all. It was great to see how happy Fort Worth was, how happy the university was and how happy the and state of Texas was. But there were a lot more "Thank you for what you did for Fort Worth" than congratulations on being 13-0. To me, that's a big picture look regarding what you are trying to get accomplished as far as a university and a football team. As far as the team is concerned, having watched other universities have great years, you have to fight the entitlement issue, you have to fight to grow your team up. We know we've lost 20-something seniors. We have guys that have to grow up for us to be the team we want to be. And that's what we have done the last six years.
SI.com: Andy Dalton won 43 games at TCU. How do you replace not only a great player but someone who had such an indelible impact on the program?
Patterson: Well, I really have tried to learn from Texas and Colt McCoy. He was a four-year starter. I remember back in January for our first team meeting, we talked about Andy Dalton and six other guys who were consummate team players and doing it the right way. How do you replace those guys? We are still working on that.
Every year is different. Every year provides a different leadership person and a different leadership model. Even over the last two years, I have had to be different. I was a fire and brimstone, pregame speech guy but this team did not react very well to that with Andy. I had to be more of a to-the-point-and lay-out-our-objectives in a quiet manner. It seemed to work. So for me: How do I get the team to play at a high level without me being in the middle of it? I have to find what my role has to be. People always talk about players but also as a staff, what is our role now in getting this team to play at a high level? The team the last two years had leaders and ownership. When you don't have a team that has ownership, how do you plug the staff back in to a football team and see how it fits and see how the chemistry works?
SI.com: You've led the nation in total defense three straight years. How proud of you are that stat and do you actively talk about it?
Patterson: Winning is the most important thing, but the tradition of playing well is very important to us. We know that if we are very good in categories, we have a chance to win more ballgames than if we don't. Early in the season, when you are in two-a-days, it is about being the best team you can be and winning. It speaks volumes about where our program has come is that TCU would have a backup corner (Malcolm Williams) get drafted by the Patriots in the seventh round. He didn't play much corner but he tested well, played hard and was very active on special teams. Whether he makes it or does not make it, it was a great thing for me as a coach because I am always telling kids all the time: You don't always have to be the starter to make us a great team. It helped me in the offseason, seeing one of our guys was drafted because of his special teams prowess.
SI.com: You also led the nation in scoring defense, pass defense, fewest first downs allowed per game and opponents third down percentage. What do you consider the most important defensive stat?
Patterson: The five times we have been No. 1 statistically in the last 10 years --and I say statistically because you can't argue conferences or anything else -- every year we have done it a bit different. When we won the conference the first year in Mountain West, statistically yardage-wise, we were not as good. But we led the nation in takeaways. Last year I think the best thing we did as a defense unit was 50 percent of the time we held people to three-and-out. The 2008 team was unbelievable against the run. We had some linebackers that ended up going to the NFL. They could hold their own. Every year you try to be really good at something within the makeup of your defensive group.
The biggest stat for me, as long as you are not giving up big plays, is the amount of plays that you are on the field. We have averaged less than 60 plays. In 2009 we only had to play 55 plays a game. That means your offensive is controlling the football and scoring points. It is more of a team concept. We get known for defense here but our offense has broke the scoring record four years in a row. So I think you have to be able to control the football and get people off the field. I have always felt like if you play a 60-play game and 30 of those plays you had a better call than what the offense did, then you are limiting them to 30 plays to be able to score and do things. The less time they spend on the field, the better. In some years we were just playing base defense -- like in 2000. Then in 2002 our personality changed and we blitzed more.
SI.com: Linebacker Tank Carder is an interesting guy. TCU was his only solid Division I offer and look at the player he's become, an All-America in your 4-2-5 scheme. What's something that speaks to Tank as a football player?
Patterson: Well, he's just got an unbelievable drive to be great at whatever he does. It does not matter what it is. I have seen him wakeboarding on video with a dog on his board. He's always been a guy that's pushed the edge on that adrenaline rush. But he's also a quiet guy. He's not your vocal leader. But when game day comes around he loves to play, which has kind of been one of our trademarks.
SI.com: At the end of the Rose Bowl what's obvious is that if Tank doesn't read that pass underneath, it's a two-point conversion. How do you remember that play?
Patterson: If you watch the video, everyone else is happy but I'm mad at the safety because he didn't cover the tight end. That is pretty much Gary Patterson, from beginning to end, looking for everyone to do it right. But I believe in the football gods. The year before, we got beat on a fake pump against Boise. So that was one those plays that was just meant to be. The guy was wide open, we didn't cover him. But here's the thing: If the safety would have came over and covered the tight end, then the wide receiver on the backside would have been in a one-on-one situation and there was nobody blitzing off the edge to knock down the pass. So I guess it was good the safety was over there.
SI.com: Last year you set a single-season school records for touchdowns (73), points scored (541), first downs (327) and total offense (6,199 yards). What does having your three top rushers back (Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker, Waymon James) back allow you to do?
Patterson: Well, they know the system and you can rotate guys so people can stay healthy. Ed didn't go through much of spring and there's also the addition of Aundre Dean, a Parade All-American who went to UCLA and now has come back here. It allows us to rotate guys and use guys in specific situations and not have one guy have to carry the load 25-30 times every game. In a 12 to 13 game season, it is really hard to do. Even in practice, it allows you to rotate guys so you can practice as a team.
SI.com: Casey Pachall has big shoes to fill. What do you like best about your new starting quarterback?
Patterson: I have never judged quarterbacks until we get to Saturdays. Jeff Ballard was 19-2 and every Tuesday he got fired. But on Saturdays, he was just better than he was on Tuesdays. The thing that Casey has an advantage over Andy was Andy was the No. 2 quarterback in his first spring and then Chad Huffman gets called up and drafted for a lot of money and now all of a sudden we have a redshirt freshman quarterback against Texas. That year we went 8-5 and we were 4-4 after the first eight games. We had to finally put in the Andy Dalton rule: If you throw a pick, you are out. He came back and only threw two interceptions the last four games. Casey graduated early so he has three springs, three summers and two falls under his belt. He has been through a lot of football at TCU. If he doesn't play well it won't be because he doesn't know the offense.
SI.com: TCU moves to the Big East in 2012. How much of an eye will you be keeping on that conference this season?
Patterson: Once we decided to go in the Big East, I watched a lot more Big East games. On Thursday or Saturday nights after our games are over, I started paying attention to offensives and defenses and weather and everything else. When I can, I will TiVo those games. We have three Friday night games so I'll be able to watch their games on Saturday.
SI.com: The schedule includes a Nov. 12 game at Boise State that likely will have national implications. How do you assess your schedule?
Patterson: All the games are tough. We have to go to Air Force and Baylor and we have to go San Diego and Boise. You have to win a conference title. That's what you are judged by. If you don't win your conference title, you can't get to a BCS game or anywhere you want to get to. The Baylor and SMU games are really important because of recruiting and the intangibles.