FORT WORTH, Texas -- Shortly after TCU's thrilling 28-21 double overtime win over Baylor on Friday, Gary Patterson wouldn’t say if he considered this season one of the best coaching jobs he’s done during his 16 seasons in Fort Worth.
“I’m going to let you guys grade me,” the veteran head coach said. “My job is to just win ball games.”
And he did his job exceptionally well in 2015.
On paper, it looks like the Horned Frogs took a step backward this season after a 12-1 campaign in 2014, which included a dominating 42-3 win in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Yet, while Patterson won't say it, TCU’s 10-2 regular season might be the best coaching job he has done during his time in Fort Worth, further cementing his spot among the nation's elite coaches.
“If you just look at all the things we've had to do - with all the players that have been out - it's been outstanding,” Patterson said. “It's been a whole building success story. Nobody lost faith in what's been going on. The key to it is that we aren't going to make excuses. We'll play and let the chips fall and go about our business."
Nobody got hit harder by the injury bug than TCU. It’s easier to list the Horned Frogs stars who stayed relatively healthy this season -- like running back Aaron Green and safety Derrick Kindred -- than list the playmakers who missed significant time with injuries. The defense was hit particularly hard with nine starters missing major time. Kindred was the lone returning starter to play in all 12 games. And the offense was crippled in November with quarterback Trevone Boykin, receiver Josh Doctson and center Joey Hunt each being forced to miss games down the home stretch.
"Last year we had a great team and this season we came in and lost guys each and every week so it was kind of dragging us down,” Kindred said. “But, at the same time, it was picking us up to encourage one another. This season is more memorable because everyone fought harder to get where we are.”
Double-digit win seasons are nothing new under Patterson, who has led TCU to 10 wins or more in 10 of his 16 seasons. But back-to-back double-digit win seasons in the Big 12 is a first, and playing in a major conference can test a program in ways the Horned Frogs had never experienced before.
“It's an amazing year for these guys for everything they've gone through,” Patterson said.
The fruits of Patterson’s labor could be seen in Friday's win in particular, as the Horned Frogs were able to fight through the rainy conditions and sloppy field to find a way to knock Baylor out of the College Football Playoff chase. Several players said all of the injuries and adversity that has followed them this season helped TCU overcome the elements.
"It does," defensive end Josh Carraway said when asked if previous adversity helped against the Bears. "We're used to it, so it doesn't faze us at this point. You just put it in the back of your head and move on."
Some teams would have been crippled after seeing their top returning pass rusher (James McFarland) and top cornerback (Ranthony Texada) lost for the season before conference play began. But Patterson’s mantra of “no excuses” made it easier for his team to absorb those setbacks while finding a way to keep winning.
“Since I've been here we have never made excuses,” Kindred said. “We just go out there and play ball.”
Last year’s 11-1 regular season was led by a healthy squad which featured veteran stars like linebacker Paul Dawson, safety Sam Carter and Boykin. This season’s 10-2 mark has been accomplished by a inexperienced defense full of freshmen and sophomores, along with an offense that had to evolve on the fly after key injuries in November.
“When you see how many injuries we have on our roster and to be able to come out with as 10 wins like we did, it’s really something you’ll remember better than last year,” Boykin said. “Last year we stayed relatively healthy throughout the season. We’ll remember this season probably more than last year, just because the things we’ve been through.”