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College Football Hot Seat Watch: Gary Patterson built TCU, but is he burned out by the state of CFB?

Gary Patterson, TCU Horned Frogs Football

TCU head coach Gary Patterson has won a lot of games and seen a lot of change during 22 seasons in charge of the Horned Frogs

Before the 2021 college football season started I would’ve argued that TCU’s Gary Patterson was entirely exempt from the very concept of a hot seat. Patterson is the second-longest tenured head coach in the FBS behind Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and the architect of the Horned Frogs’ ascension from Southwest Conference castaway to Big 12 champion over his 22 seasons in Fort Worth. Without Patterson’s consistency (180–76 with seven titles in four conferences), TCU likely doesn’t make it to the Power 5.

But Patterson, normally a mild curmudgeon, had one hell of a September with the press. In case you haven’t been paying attention:

1. Patterson said TCU could lose up to 30 players because of new rules allowing players to profit from Name, Image, and Likeness. Patterson also said local businesses needed to step it up and that SEC schools were offering his players at least $1,000 a month in potential NIL revenue.

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2. Summarizing NIL’s impact, Patterson, who makes over $5 million a season, said: “There is no wrong anymore.” According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “Patterson raved about this year’s roster being relatively indifferent” to potential NIL earnings.

3. Patterson accused SMU of attacking assistant coach Jerry Kill during a celebration after the Mustangs upset TCU 42-34 in Fort Worth. He was also upset about SMU using a country song Patterson wrote to mock TCU, and for planting a flag at midfield after the game.

4. When SMU’s athletic department reviewed videos that showed that no Mustang players or staff were at fault for Kill’s injury, Patterson didn’t rescind his claim — he doubled down.

Taken individually, these are anecdotes consistent with Patterson’s demeanor and attitude since he took over the program in 2000. But in total — and combined with what looks like another lackluster season for the Frogs after a loss Saturday to Texas — Patterson suddenly looks out of touch with college football’s rapidly changing landscape.

TCU is 2–2 and has allowed at least 30 points in each of their three games vs. FBS opponents (including 32 to offensively inept Cal). Patterson’s ability to “solve” Big 12 offenses with his 4-2-5 has waned in recent years, and the Frogs’ offense has never regained the explosiveness that won them the Big 12 in ’14.

Still, this is Patterson’s program. He’s under contract through 2024, and even if TCU were to tank down the stretch, it’s hard to see a scenario in which athletic director Jeremiah Donti pushes Patterson out the door for football reasons. What seems possible now is retirement. Based on his comments and diminishing returns on the field, Patterson could become the first of what many believe is a group of older coaches looking to exit the college game before the full effect of NIL and player compensation is felt.

“If that’s how Gary actually feels [about NIL], and I’m sure he’s telling the truth, he’s doing himself a disservice,” an FBS head coach told Athlon. “He’s setting himself up for what he’s predicting because if you’re publicly opposed to NIL, it means your program isn’t looking for ways to get ahead, and yeah, that’s gonna hurt your ability to recruit and retain guys.”

Three Jobs To Keep An Eye On

Miami: The Hurricanes are 2-3 and winless against Power 5 teams this season after losing at home to Virginia on Friday. The defense is inarguably bad and the offense is a shell of its former self before D’Eriq King was injured last season. The U is on a bye before playing what certainly feels like a must-win game for Manny Diaz at North Carolina on Oct. 16. Barring a miracle run to win their final seven games, this job will likely open.

FIU: Butch Davis is 24-25 since taking over the Panthers in 2017. The former Miami and Cleveland Browns head coach will turn 70 in November, and FIU just lost to crosstown rival FAU to drop to 1–4 this season. Davis was long sought by athletic director Pedro Garcia, infamous for firing Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal from this job and replacing him with Ron Turner. This season seems like a logical end for Davis. The problem is that Garcia’s reputation among coaches could scare off quality candidates.

Western Kentucky: It's early, but: Former WKU head coach Mike Sanford was fired after just two (losing) seasons, and the expectation in Bowling Green is to win like Jeff Brohm and Willie Taggart. Tyson Helton is 15–14 in his third season, and so far the stunt to raid FCS offensive power Houston Baptist for players and coaches (WKU hired HBU’s OC and took a group of transfers from the program, including QB Bailey Zappe) hasn’t translated to wins, but the Hilltoppers have had a brutal schedule. Losses to Michigan State, Army and Indiana all make sense, but undefeated UTSA looms this week to open conference play. A 1–4 start would be a tremendous hole to dig out of at a G5 program with high standards.

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Steven Godfrey is a senior writer for Vox Media's Secret Base, and co-host of The Split Zone Duo podcast. Follow him on Twitter @38Godfrey