GTCat: For me, only being 27 years old, I first took notice of TCU as being relevant in the grand scheme of things when LT had a heisman campaign. It seems as though Horned Frog football hasn't looked back since. Can you give us and the readers some sort of insight as to what the football years from 1996 until that season were like?
Yes friends, if you weren't aware, our new conference brethren TCU has an SBN site: Frogs o' War. And if you haven't ventured over there yet, you ought to. Like all schools they do a great job finding good content for their school, but if you ever want to talk College Baseball, you should find no shortage of that. I was fortunate enough to be able to hook up with HawkeyedFrog who knocked it out of the park. Enjoy.
HawkeyedFrog: 1996 was an unbelievably painful season, because despite being co-champion of the SWC the year before TCU seemed absolutely doomed. TCU is a small school with a generally small alumni base, and there were serious attendance issues as soon as the SWC ended. Texas, A&M and Tech fans weren't coming to town anymore and the general Fort Worth fans weren't interested in the bad product TCU was putting on the field- especially not with games against teams we'd never played before replacing our traditional foes. In 1996 TCU pulled off the almost unthinkable combination of winning at OU then losing to Kansas the next week, leading to a really mediocre season. How mediocre? We were 4-7 and with only one exception, we beat everyone with a worse record than us, and lost to everyone with a better record than us, splitting with the teams that finished 4-7 like us. We lost the last two games of the season to our two remaining SWC rivals Rice and SMU which kicked off the longest losing streak in school history, with the only win of the 1997 season coming in the season finale against SMU, knocking them out of their first post death penalty bowl bid- the pony tears were sweet that day. Then came Franchione and Patterson and the 1998 season that was absolutely cathartic- We ruined an otherwise undefeated season for Air Force, lost an absolute heartbreaker to OU 10-9 (we led 9-0 through three quarters), but managed to cobble together a winning season through Patterson's unusual 4-2-5 and Franchione's option heavy style, which was enough to get selected for a bowl game. What made it a big deal was that the bowl game was against USC, with future Heisman winner Carson Palmer under center, and that TCU absolutely smacked the heavily favored Trojans, holding them to -23 rushing yards for the game. It was TCU's first bowl win of my lifetime (I'm 27 years old as well), and really gave the team the hope that we thought may have been lost forever in the demise of the SWC.
GTCat: There's no doubt since the administration took a chance on Gary Patterson, and he took over for Franchione that it has only gone up from there. He's definitely one of those guys that you can see was part of the true magic behind the program (like Chris Peterson in Boise was more of the pulse than Dan Hawkins). When it's all said and done, is this the type of guy who gets a statue outside of the football stadium?
HawkeyedFrog: If Patterson retired tomorrow and never coached anywhere else he'd almost definitely get a statue. After the Grambling game he'll be the winningest coach in school history, and bringing the team into the conference we've always wanted to be a part of (and have felt we should have been a part of) gives him an almost untouchable place in the TCU pantheon. There has always been a slight worry amongst the fan base that Patterson would leave us if the Texas or Oklahoma jobs opened up (since he's turned down historic AQ programs like Kansas State, Minnesota and Tennessee in the past there wasn't too much fear of him leaving for any other school) but now that we're in the Big 12 as well the fanbase is pretty well at ease- the right jobs didn't open up at the right times, and now it's becoming pretty clear that he'll be a TCU lifer since we're an AQ program with a lot of history now as well and it would be really hard to outspend TCU for his services.
GTCat: Speaking of Mr. Patterson himself, what type of tidbits of publicity can you divulge around the time K-State thought we had him as our next head coach? What were the headlines around the MetroPlex there in the fall of 2005?
HawkeyedFrog: There never got to be a headline for the Kansas State situation because things were kept mostly under wraps until word leaked out and Patterson quickly quashed the rumors. However, the general feeling around the TCU program wasn't great when it came to K-State. Patterson had been considered and had his name thrown into the ring for various jobs that had opened before, but Kansas State was the only one I can recall him giving anything but a categorical denial to. Patterson has been celebrated for his loyalty for TCU, and that's more than fair- he seems to place an extraordinarily high value on it, and we respect him for that. However, Texans are familiar with the words of Bear Bryant when he left Texas A&M for Alabama- "Mama called, and when mama calls, you just have to come running," and the general feeling that if there was a job that he might leave TCU for that wasn't one of the top ten jobs in the nation it would be Kansas State. What I've heard from not necessarily the best sources is that Patterson was willing to take the Kansas State job and had more or less (depending on whom you ask) agreed to do so, on the condition that he be allowed to speak with his players and the school administrators at TCU first. Word leaked out, and Patterson felt betrayed- immediately going on the radio to emphatically deny going to Kansas State and that was the end of that. Patterson is simply not the sort of Nick Saban-esque "I will not be the coach of Alabama" sleaze to go back on his word, and once he commented on it publicly there was no going back in his mind. Now I think he's much more comfortable with what he's doing at TCU and isn't likely to be tempted by Kansas State again after Bill Snyder's next retirement (that man can't coach forever... can he?)
GTCat: Of course the other timely topic for the 2012 season is the stadium. How stoked are you guys to get this new Amon opened? And how long before they make sure it can fit 50,000 fans game in and game out?
HawkeyedFrog: The new stadium has been long overdue, as the old Amon Carter was historic but pretty dank and dingy. The renovations have made it cleaner and more impressive looking, and we're really excited to have a stadium that matches the quality of the teams that Patterson is putting on the field. It's looking like we're going to have around about 50k as the capacity for the next few seasons, with temporary expansions for notable home games- I think we'll try to set a new capacity record for the season finale against Oklahoma this season. Further expansion is a possibility, but will probably wait a few seasons as we see how the current demand for season tickets (we're currently sold out) holds in our early Big 12 seasons.
GTCat: In case you haven't noticed, this isn't your ole SWC. What's the biggest difference between the current day Big 12 and the ole SWC, and what excites you the most about the difference? Is there anything you'll miss about the MWC?
HawkeyedFrog: The biggest difference between the current Big 12 and the old SWC is no Texas A&M, which is both a blessing and a curse for TCU. On the one hand, Texas A&M has historically been our kryptonite, even more so than UT. Texas A&M holds the third longest active consecutive winning streak in the NCAA over us, winning 24 times in a row- even when they've been bad they've still managed to beat us somehow. Therefore it's a blessing that they're gone, since they historically give us so much trouble, but a curse because personally I've never seen TCU beat Texas A&M in football, they've been ducking us ever since Franchione went to College Station and despite being happy to give SMU a home and home series we can't even get a one off game with them. What excites me about the new Big 12 is that for the first time in decades is that for the first time in decades TCU is a part of a conference where pretty much everyone in the conference is happy to be there. Renewing our rivalries with Baylor and Tech is fantastic, and the national championship opportunities that exist for the Big 12 Champion exceed that of the Mountain West Champion by leaps and bounds. In regards to the MWC I'll miss the rivalries we built with Utah and BYU, but since neither of them are in the Mountain West anymore it's not something we'll look back on and think "I wish we were still there." Especially since the league absolutely screwed us our last season in the league, we're happy taking the last three MWC football championships and walking away.
GTCat: So onto the game of football itself. I personally was thinking after the conclusion of the 2011 season that TCU had a legitimate shot at a top 3 finish in the league, by in large to the defense; something the Big 12 really struggles with outside of the two big boys OU and UT. Then all of the off-season stories happened, and the defense seems to have been hit a little hard, the latest story being the resignation of LB coach Tademy, I've begun to back off that. Realistically what are the expectations of TCU fans?
HawkeyedFrog: After the conclusion of the 2011 season the general feeling among TCU fans was pretty similar to what you thought- that we could contend for the championship in year one, and have a really reasonable shot at winning it when OU comes to town in December. Then it all went up in a purple haze and this team is thin at a lot of key positions (especially linebacker). However, realistic expectations and TCU fans have not exactly been going together hand in hand about the Big 12, with numerous fans I've talked to seeming confident that we'll slot in to one of the top three places in the league year in and year out. Personally, I think TCU could win every game on its schedule, but won't and we'll finish 8-4 or 9-3, with a 5-4 or 6-3 record in conference. If there are more injuries than usual though the bottom could drop out very quickly. That said, 2013 I think we'll be one of the favorites to win the league.
GTCat: Now above I wasn't trying to imply that TCU's offense won't have some success, I just think in the Big 12 it might end up looking a little more middle of the road than what it did in the MWC. But with Paschall at QB and the backfield that makes it back for 2012, will they have the necessary O-line to buy the both of them the time they need to accomplish what they need to in order to be successful?
HawkeyedFrog: The O-line is the big question this season, because when you look at TCU's offense minus the offensive line it could be the absolute best in school history. Casey Paschall has proven himself to be a clutch and fearless competitor, the wide receiving corps is probably the best we've ever had and even with the loss of Ed Wesley the running back situation should be strong (especially if it results in more carries for blog favorite Waymon James). The O-line will probably be okay and gel together as the season comes along, so by the time we hit the real teeth of the schedule they should be a good unit. If we lose anyone to injury though there isn't much experienced talent behind them to step up, so that could end up being disastrous.
GTCat: If there was one player (offense, and/or defense) the rest of the conference is likely underrating, who would that be?
HawkeyedFrog: Offensively it's a tricky question since most of what I've read has been highly complimentary of TCU. However, Waymon James has a chance to be one of the best, if not the best running back in the Big 12 this year. Defensively I think the praise for DE Stanley Maponga has been fair and consistent, but the underrated one on TCU's solid D-line is Chuck Hunter who should make some All Big 12 teams this year if he lives up to his potential.
GTCat: As far as Men's basketball is concerned, I see you got a new floor (hmm looks similar to another purple court I'm familiar with). Any other facility upgrades in that department down the pike?
HawkeyedFrog: The Daniel-Meyer Coliseum is definitely in need of upgrading as there hasn't been too much in the way of improvements since I started attending games back in 1988. There were some renovations that finished in 2003 but it's safe to say it's still lagging behind the rest of the conference. However, TCU has generous boosters who have been invigorated by the success of the Amon Carter renovation and the basketball facilities are on the next item to address. So to answer your question... hopefully.
GTCat: Speaking of basketball in a general sense, to date have the alumni really paid that much attention to it in recent history?
HawkeyedFrog: No. Oh, you probably want more than that. As I mentioned above, TCU is a small school and unlike football, which has always had some decent reliable turnout, basketball has lagged behind as the team continued to be awful after 1999. Not even the students want to take their dates to games where the home team isn't going to be competitive, so basketball has suffered from poor attendance for most of the Conference USA and Mountain West years. That said, this past year saw some improved results, knocking off two top twenty five teams at home and a generally good home record which has elevated attendance somewhat. That said, TCU has seemed to want to care about basketball for some time, so if we actually put teams out there that are fun to watch and can win some home games I think attendance will increase significantly.
GTCat: All we as outsiders hear is how bad TCU Men's basketball was, yet no one seems to really have done quantifiable homework (RPI and such). Exactly how bad has TCU basketball been in the past few years? Does the new guy figure out how to be competitive in the Big 12?
HawkeyedFrog: It's been really bad, but probably not as bad as most TCU fans think. The Neil Dougherty years were maddeningly inconsistent with solid seasons in conference play in 2003 and 2004 bookended by abysmal seasons in 2002 and 2005. 2006 was almost as bad as 2005 and the desperate struggle to .500 in 2007 wasn't good enough to same Dougherty from firing. In came Jim Christian with big dreams and a new system who turned in two mediocre seasons followed by an outright awful one in 2010. Fortunately for him, that was the Rose Bowl year and everyone was feeling too good about that to bring the axe down on him. 2011 was actually a pretty good year for the frogs, as they finished above .500 overall and exactly .500 in conference, more than enough to give Christian another year. Christian left TCU for the Ohio job, however which I understood completely even if it was a step down to a much less prestigious conference. The issue was that the 2011 team was senior heavy, and going into the Big 12 there was simply no way that Christian would be able to put together a strong enough team to save his head- leaving for a new job ensures him of employment in 2013 that he didn't have at TCU. Trent Johnson came in from LSU with a history of turning around woeful programs, so there's a cautious optimism about TCU basketball in the Big 12 even if we didn't land our favorite son Jamie Dixon. Johnson at least has had success at schools in tough conferences before and we're really hopeful that he can turn TCU into a program that competes for NCAA bids every now and then- which is all the fanbase really wants.
GTCat: And then there's Baseball. I don't see any reason to think that TCU can't be conference contenders in year one. What type of a roster do the Horned Frogs return for this year? Is a title run a possibility?
HawkeyedFrog: I'm not the best guy to ask this, since we do have who I consider to be the best and most dedicated college baseball writer around on our blog staff. I think TCU will absolutely be a contender for the Big 12 this year as they return a strong pitching staff and have brought in a pretty amazing recruiting class and a new pitching coach from Cal-State Fullerton. There are definite questions about how TCU will adjust to the higher level of competition in most sports, but we're pretty confident that as long as Jim Schlossnagle is managing the frogs that they'll be contenders for the Big 12 championship every year.
GTCat: We'll finish up with the University itself. Is there any sort of little known fact or interesting tidbits we need to know about your university? Any gameday traditions, local hangouts or such? We're just glad you're here and that your institution replaces the amount of football National Championships (one) we lost as a conference when Texas A&M decided to pack their bags for the Southeast...oh wait, what's that? TCU actually has twice the National Titles as Aggie did. Welcome!
HawkeyedFrog: Trivia wise, TCU's legendary head coach Dutch Meyer is one of the fathers of the modern passing game and as you mentioned we have as many national championships as every other program in Texas apart from the longhorns combined. We've beaten Texas at Texas more than any other team has despite only playing them once since the demise of the SWC (though the Red River shootout being played in Dallas helps that stat) and there is no team happier to be a part of the Big 12 than we are now (With the possible exception of Baylor who was totally boned if the Big 12 died). Frog fans are a really friendly sort to everyone but Baylor fans, so for all of you coming down to Fort Worth this year expect a warm welcome- we're looking forward to a long athletics relationship in the future. Go purple!