- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The 7-11. That is what Dennis Franchione's wife, Kim, calls the football office because of time coaches arrive and depart.
But when Franchione had two young Kansans on his staff at NAIA Pittsburg State in the late 1980s, the office might as well have been called the 5-1. Jerry Kill and Gary Patterson typically put in those types of hours.
"I used to tell them to go home," Franchione, now Texas State's coach, told ESPN.com this week. "They were there early and stayed late, longer than anybody. You knew they were going to be successful because of the way they approached it."
Work ethic fueled both Kill, Pittsburg State's defensive coordinator from 1985-87, and Patterson, who replaced Kill in 1988. Both had grown up in small towns: Patterson in Rozel, northeast of Dodge City; Kill in Cheney, west of Wichita. Both played linebacker in college (Kill played for Franchione at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas).
About the only difference: Patterson stuck with defense, while Kill switched to offense before entering the head-coaching ranks.
They became friends and have remained close for more than a quarter-century. Kill was Patterson's best man at his wedding. Until recently, they spent every year swapping football ideas.
"We came up the hard way," Kill said this week. "We worked hard to get where we're at. It's why we've been good friends."
"There aren't very many people from two small towns in Kansas to be where we're at. We come from common folk."
Both have accomplished uncommon things and now lead Power 5 programs that meet Saturday in Fort Worth, Texas. Patterson, who guided TCU to an undefeated season and a Rose Bowl championship in 2010, is in his 15th season as the Horned Frogs coach. Kill has helped Minnesota to consecutive bowl appearances.
"Both of us are highly competitive," Patterson said, "so this week is difficult."
The friends wish they weren't meeting this way. They might rather take on Oregon and Florida State than stand on opposite sidelines at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
In May 2013, when Patterson heard rumors about a home-and-home series with Minnesota, he immediately called Kill.
"You know anything about that?" he asked.
"Nope, we're not playing you," Kill replied. "No way that's happening."
The coaches soon learned their friendship wouldn't stop their bosses from a nice schedule addition. TCU will return the game next September when they open the 2015 season on a Thursday night in Minneapolis.
"It's not something you want to do," Kill said, "but you know what? Ain’t changing that. It's happened, so go play."
Part of the reluctance is how much time Kill, Patterson and their staffs have spent together over the years. Tracy Claeys, Kill's longtime defensive coordinator and fellow small-town Kansan (Clay Center), has made almost annual pilgrimages to TCU to study with Patterson.
When Claeys first become a coordinator, while working for Kill at Emporia State, he attended 10 of TCU's 15 spring practices.
"The way we we've played, [Patterson] probably wouldn't want me to say I've learned anything from him because we haven't played as well as he has," Claeys joked this week. "I've learned a tremendous amount from him and his staff."
Although TCU uses a 4-2-5 alignment and Minnesota operates from a 4-3, Claeys estimates that 90 percent of his defensive philosophy is drawn from Patterson's. Because of the games, Claeys' trips to TCU have been put on hold.
"I've missed that," he said.
Kill and Patterson nearly reunited on TCU's staff in 2001. Patterson had replaced Franchione as Frogs coach after serving as his defensive coordinator at both TCU and New Mexico. Kill, a head coach at two Division II programs, had the chance to become Patterson's offensive coordinator.
But after consulting with Franchione, he decided to remain a head coach and went to Southern Illinois.
"He's one of those guys I have the utmost respect for," Patterson said of Kill. "When we get done coaching, he’ll be a guy, along with his wife, we’ll go on trips and always stay in touch."
Franchione remains in close contact with both of his protégés. The first two scores he checks on Sundays are TCU's and Minnesota's.
He hopes to catch the start of Saturday's game before Texas State begins its final preparations to face Navy.
"They're what America's all about," Franchione said of Patterson and Kill. "They've done it the right way, they've done it with class, they're appreciative of everything. I don't think there's any part of them that doesn't remember being a [graduate assistant] and eating peanut butter and jelly."
Kill and Patterson haven't talked ball very often lately, but Kill knows what to expect Saturday from his friend, the "defensive genius." He's certain Patterson devoted part of spring ball to prepping for Minnesota, and an open date before the game likely didn't hurt.
"We're both cut from the same cloth," Kill said. "We go 100 miles an hour."