A Tale of Two Coaches
Friday night, in Santa Clara, California, David Shaw’s Stanford Cardinals fell to the USC Trojans 31–28. Saturday afternoon, in Arlington, Texas, Gary Patterson’s Texas Christian University Horned Frogs fell to the Oklahoma Sooners 41–17. These final scores, though, don’t tell the entire story. Prior to Shaw and Patterson taking over these programs, simply getting to their respective conference championship games would have been something worth celebrating. However, as a result of their successes, the coaches have upped their school’s expectations, even while being forced to do more with less.
On Friday, Texas A&M set a new standard for head coaching salaries, when it signed Jimbo Fisher to a 10-year, $75 million contract. This comes on the cusp of the many other football related upgrades A&M has made in the past few years, including a $450 million dollar renovation of Kyle Field and the addition of a 20,000-square foot football-only weight room, and, while TCU has undergone its own $164 million dollar renovation of Amon G. Carter Stadium, the difference is noticeable. The differences, though, don’t just end there. Coaching at TCU and Stanford, rather than A&M and Alabama, also mean differences in recruiting classes, coaching salaries, and team facilities. As Shaw and Patterson know well though, these differences don’t necessarily translate to wins on the field.
David Shaw was named Stanford’s head coach following Jim Harbaugh’s decision to leave for the NFL. At the time, there were a lot of questions surrounding Stanford’s decision, given that Shaw had never been a head coach. Fortunately for Stanford, Shaw, quickly, proved their decision correct, leading the Cardinals to an 11–2 record and the Fiesta Bowl in his first season. Even with Shaw’s exceptional first season though, there were still some questions regarding Shaw’s coaching ability heading into his second season, particularly with the departure of “star” quarterback Andrew Luck for the NFL. Shaw, though, continued to prove his doubters wrong, guiding the Cardinals to a 12–2 record and Rose Bowl victory in his second season.
In the years since, Shaw has outgrown his predecessor’s shadow, compiling a career head coaching record of 73–21 and winning three Pac-12 Championships. Shaw’s success has, also, brought along with it a fair amount of attention, his name frequently popping up whenever there’s a notable head coaching job available— first, in 2012, when there was a vacancy at PAC-12 rival USC and, again, in 2017, when it was rumored that Shaw was being targeted by the Indianapolis Colts to be their next head coach. Astonishingly, in both instances, Shaw, politely, informed his suitors that he was content staying at his alma mater.
A rarity in college football these days, Gary Patterson has been at Texas Christian University (“TCU”) for twenty years, initially starting as the Horned Frogs’ Defensive Coordinator in 1998. Following Dennis Franchione’s decision to leave TCU for Alabama, Patterson was named TCU’s head coach. Since taking over TCU’s program, Patterson has amassed a career head coaching record of 159–57. In the process, Patterson has done what many head coaches never will, winning a conference championship in three different conferences — Conference USA, the Mountain West Conference, and the Big 12.
As a result of his tremendous success, Patterson’s name, like Shaw’s, is often linked to vacant head coaching positions, and, unlike Shaw, Patterson has previously met with officials from Nebraska and Tennessee to discuss their vacant head coaching positions. In both instances though, Patterson was not offered the job (Nebraska choosing Bo Pelini and Tennessee choosing Lane Kiffin). To his credit, Patterson was not too distraught with having been passed over, saying that “[i]t’s sort of like the old Garth Brooks song. Sometimes the best prayers are unanswered prayers.”
During a time when Jimbo Fisher recently left Florida State for Texas A&M, one would expect for Shaw and Patterson’s names to come up in relation to one of the, many, available head coaching positions (Florida State, Tennessee, Arkansas), and, with their respective resumes, you wouldn’t be wrong. Neither coach, though, has jumped at the opportunity to leave their school, and, although Patterson hasn’t ruled out the possibility of ever leaving Fort Worth, Patterson, recently, elaborated on his coaching future by saying, “you want to get to a place where you have to say no more than you say yes, and that’s what I’ve found here at TCU.”
Maybe, this is what links Shaw and Patterson — their having found satisfaction in the, often, unsatisfying world of coaching. Shaw and Patterson have chosen to stay “home,” even if it means smaller paychecks, lower ranked recruiting classes, less desirable facilities, and lower salaries for their assistants. The duo, though, have proven that none of these are a necessity for success. Thus, while they’ll almost certainly be contacted regarding an open head coaching position in the future, it doesn’t mean they’ll be in any rush to answer the phone, and, in Shaw’s case, he’ll almost certainly let it go to voicemail.
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