Picture this, if you will:
Swinging doors and Stetsons. Button-downs and boots. Wranglers two-stepping across a smoke-filled dance floor lit by a neon moon. And on the stage, strumming a six-string and picking a steel guitar, the duo of Gary Patterson and Chris Petersen play for a crowded honkytonk.
“It starts back when we were planning on going on tour on the country singing road together,” joked Petersen, who’s relationship with Patterson dates back to 1986. Pattersonwas the linebackers coach at UC Davis, where Petersen was quarterback. “Except, I can’t sing or play musical instruments so that put that to kibosh.”
What could have been.
Instead, the two coaches went different ways and will meet for the third time in four years tomorrow in Boise in a battle for first place in the Mountain West and a final square-off for non-BCS supremacy.
TCU will join the Big 12 in July of next year and Boise State, rumored to have a Big East offer on the table, appears destined for an automatic qualifier conference, too.
The two schools’ paths to college football legitimacy have been similar – parallel even. Boise crashed the party with a win over the University of Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Two years later, the Frogs and the Broncos, both with just one loss, met in the Poinsettia Bowl. TCU would sneak out a 17-16 win, but Boise would get revenge, knocking off the Frogs 17-10 in the Fiesta Bowl the following year.
Last year, the two programs crossed paths again. Ranked third in the BCS standings and needing two wins to finish a perfect regular season, the Broncos slipped up against Nevada, losing to the Wolfpack 34-31 and giving way to TCU, who moved up in the polls and clinched a Rose Bowl berth two weeks later.
Saturday’s game in Boise will be just the fourth meeting between the Broncos and Frogs, but the two schools’ recent history has been perhaps more intertwining and program-defining than that of any rivalry of the past five years.
The two men behind it all? Patterson and Petersen.
The two coaches, who both started at UC Davis and cut their teeth on the California small-school circuit, have elevated their programs to unprecedented heights.
But despite the similarities between the them – their background, the parallelism of their programs, their nearly-identical last names – Patterson will be the first to admit their coaching styles are different, even if the results aren’t.
“I think it’s a little more laid-back,” Patterson said of Petersen’s coaching style. “They’re not big yellers or anything like that during practice. There’s a lot of ways to skin a cat. That’s his personality. That was Hawkins’ personality. That’s their personality. They call it the Bronco way and that’s the way to do things. We’ve done it differently.”
Petersen said it comes as no surprise the TCU program has thrived under Patterson, who, apparently, hasn’t changed much over the years.
“What he’s done and how his program is, it really isn’t surprising to me,” Petersen said. “He was really a competitive guy way back when. He was a really good recruiter way back when. That jumped out at me. He knows how to do things correctly and run a great program.“
And that’s just it.
Patterson and Petersen have done things the right way. Whether it’s been the in-your-face TCU way or the laid-back Bronco way, the two coaches have built programs as strong as any by doing things right.
Sounds simple. But if it was, then every mid-major, cellar dweller would be doing what Boise and TCU have done.
So here’s to the little guys who aren’t so little anymore. Patterson and Petersen will duke it out one more time as BCS outcasts. Then, like most honkytonk heroes, they will move on to the Grand Ole Opry of college football.
Their big stage is waiting.