Big 12: Rusty Burns

FORT WORTH, Texas -- For years, TCU stuck to an offensive philosophy built around trying to out-physical foes and trick them with play action. That style won the Horned Frogs five conference titles while in the Mountain West and Conference USA. They have not won many Big 12 games.

After two years in his new league and a 6-12 record in Big 12 play, TCU coach Gary Patterson knew it was time for a new approach.

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsTCU coach Gary Patterson brought in new coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie to change the team's offense.
“We’re going to a style of offense that I thought evened the playing field,” Patterson said.

He went out and landed a pair of offensive coordinators who know Big 12 ball to design a hybrid Oklahoma State-Texas Tech scheme that Patterson says will still have “some of the old TCU” in the run game.

But this is the new TCU. No playbook, no huddle, no looking back.

The struggles of 2013 weren’t the lone motivator for Patterson’s change of plans, but the evidence was hard to ignore. Last season, TCU’s offense hit 10-year lows in points per game (25.1) and yards per play (5.03) and 10-year highs in turnovers (30) and three-and-outs (49).

The Horned Frogs had an offense that averaged 8.8 points in the first half of games, behind an offensive line that Patterson admits got “pushed around” at times due to injuries and departures. You can’t keep up with high-speed Big 12 offenses that way.

Another motivator? Patterson’s belief that a seemingly unexciting Horned Frogs offense wasn’t helping his cause in recruiting.

“I had watched too many skill players leave the city. Right now, they don’t know what this offense is about,” Patterson said. “Right now, they think TCU has a defensive coach. But to be honest with you, I have no problem winning 45-31.”

He’s putting his full trust in Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie to build up the new-look offense, so much so that Patterson says he’s taken a hands-off approach to the transition. He just tried to defend it in spring practice, and that wasn’t fun.

Meacham spent eight years learning and teaching one of the nation’s finest spread offenses at Oklahoma State, then left to run his own at Houston in 2013. TCU’s new playcaller has already served as an OC at five other schools in his career.

He’ll collaborate with Cumbie, a Mike Leach disciple who coached the past four years at Texas Tech and will oversee the TCU quarterbacks.

As Tech’s quarterback in 2004, Cumbie put up 70 points on the Frogs -- two touchdowns more than a Patterson-led TCU team has ever given up. And yes, that came up in the job interview.

Both are respected offensive minds and recruiters in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and previous coordinators Rusty Burns and Jarrett Anderson are still on staff and have a say in game plans.

“Their relationship is awesome,” Patterson said. “I think the whole group has meshed real well. They’ve brought a lot of energy and new ideas.”

[+] EnlargeTy Slanina
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsHorned Frogs receiver Ty Slanina caught 19 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown as a freshman last season.
Installing the new attack meant coming up with new terminology, since at least three other Big 12 programs run similar sets, and new answers to how to outsmart opponents.

“It’s not so much you don’t know what’s coming, but can you out-execute it?” Patterson said. “It’ll be very important for us to be able to run the football, because I think going in that’s where our strengths are -- our offensive line and our running backs and our quarterback can run, especially Trevone [Boykin].”

The offensive line should be better and much, much bigger. Six of TCU’s best exiting spring ball -- Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Tayo Fabuluje, Frank Kee, Matt Pryor, Joseph Noteboom and Aviante Collins -- average 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds.

TCU’s top running backs all got hurt in spring ball -- literally -- but there are options there with B.J. Catalon, Aaron Green, Kyle Hicks, incoming freshman Shaun Nixon and a few others.

At receiver, Patterson says TCU has the guys needed to stretch a defense. Whether or not Brandon Carter returns, the staff is excited about speedsters like Deante' Gray and Kolby Listenbee and incoming freshmen Emanuel Porter and Corey McBride to go along with David Porter, Josh Doctson, Cameron Echols-Luper, Ty Slanina and Jordan Moore.

“I think we’ll have enough weapons to be able to move the football,” Patterson said.

Quarterback is still the question mark, especially if the versatile Boykin isn’t the choice. No matter who runs the show, the initial goal will be simple: first downs, points and a tempo that causes trouble.

“They’ve been awfully fast this spring,” Patterson said. “The biggest thing is to go fast enough to make people uncomfortable.”

That, after all, is the goal here: An offense that can prove as challenging as Patterson’s stingy defenses. The Horned Frogs’ mission for transformation isn’t guided by some sort of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” sentiment.

No, this is adaptation, and it’s necessary. After its first two Big 12 seasons ended in frustration, TCU is working on a new way to beat ‘em.
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Before Casey Pachall left TCU's team to seek treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, there was no overwrought, grandiose conversation when both sides compromised to reach a fitting solution. There was no dramatic speech, no tear-filled pleas from either side of the table.

Gary Patterson's message to Pachall was simple: "We’ve got to change the direction you’re going," TCU's coach told ESPN.com in a recent interview.

During a February 2012 campus drug raid in which four football players were among 17 students arrested, Pachall admitted to police that he smoked marijuana and tried cocaine and ecstasy. Two weeks earlier, he had failed a team-wide drug test, and he shared a residence with linebacker Tanner Brock, who was kicked off the team after he was one of the players arrested in the sting.

[+] EnlargeCasey Pachall
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesCasey Pachall is working to regain his spot as TCU's starting quarterback.
The news of Pachall's admissions to police didn't surface until August. He spoke to media members and apologized for his "mistakes" but didn't take questions about the police report.

By October, the Frogs were 4-0 and in the top 15 and Pachall led the nation in quarterback rating. An October drunken driving arrest made it clear, however, that Pachall's substance abuse issues were not behind him.

"We really didn’t have a conversation. He didn’t have a choice in the matter. This was what he had to do if he wanted to have a chance to stay in school here," Patterson said. "The biggest thing for me was for him to understand he had hope that, if he did the things he had to do, that he had something to come back to, because playing college football and possibly having a chance to play in the NFL is really important to him."

Pachall was off the team and left to seek treatment, but Patterson made it clear in a news conference in the days that followed that if Pachall completed the program and left his supervisors and sponsors satisfied, he would still have a spot on the team.

"There were those who said I shouldn’t do anything, just suspend him a couple games. There were those who said you should get rid of him," Patterson said. "In this case, looking at all the information I had, I think this was one of those where we needed to help a young man out, not just because he’d been our starting quarterback. He’s not the first, nor will he be the last, that’s given help to. He just happens to be the most publicized."

Patterson didn't have much contact with Pachall during his in-patient treatment, but quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Rusty Burns kept in touch with his quarterback, who stopped by to see Patterson after leaving in-patient care and beginning outpatient treatment.

"I’ve tried to lend support when needed but really tried to make sure you didn’t show or give him any weaknesses in the fences," Patterson said. "He has to fight his own demons."

By January, Pachall had completed his treatment and re-enrolled at TCU, rejoining the team for workouts and working toward regaining both his teammates' trust and his spot as the team's starting quarterback, ahead of Trevone Boykin, who filled in for Pachall over the season's final nine games.

Amid skepticism from just about everyone, Patterson maintains that the competition is close.

"He’s doing well in class and football, but you can tell he hasn’t thrown a football in a while. But he’s going to keep getting stronger," Patterson said. "For him, it’s now getting back in it, getting your arm stronger, catch up to the speed of the game. The other thing, he left and finds some new people to work with. Him and Josh [Boyce] were kind of an item and now Josh is not here, so he’s got to find who he throws to later on. Trevone already has a feel for that."

Patterson laid out the payoff for Pachall if he could change the direction of his life. To this point, Pachall has held up his end. His journey, however, is only beginning. For anyone who has battled addiction, the fight to stay away from the vices that previously restrained him is never ending.

The two haven't spoken about Pachall's time in treatment, and for Patterson, there's no guarantee that Pachall's struggles are permanently behind him. The focus, though, remains in the present.

"The biggest thing is he understands there are a lot of people paying attention, so he’s got to make sure he walks a straight line," Patterson said. "He’s been doing the right things, and you just take it one day at a time. I don’t think he’s any different than any other person who’s dealt with this."

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