When the Gophers run out of the tunnel at TCU on Saturday, a longstanding friendship will take a four-hour timeout.
Jerry Kill vs. Gary Patterson. Coach vs. coach. Friend vs. friend.
On the sidelines, however, the subjects of that hoopla likely will be grimacing. Kill and Patterson, for all they share, never wanted to share opposite ends of a stadium.
“I didn’t want to play it — there is no question about that,” said Kill, who actively fought scheduling the matchup. “But we have a new administration and again, I’m not the boss. I’m the football coach.”
“You don’t ever like coaching against friends,” Patterson said. “No. 1, they know more about you than anyone.”
That’s certainly true for the journeyman pair. The two met decades ago, through Texas State coach Dennis Franchione, whom Kill played for at Southwestern College in his senior season (1982). A decade later, Patterson took a job at Pittsburg State in Kansas, just as Kill — who worked under Franchione there for two years — was leaving to take over the program at Webb City High School, 28 miles away in Missouri.
Kill and Patterson quickly discovered they had a lot in common: their small-town Kansas upbringings, their football philosophies, their intensity and a close corner of the Midwest, allowing them to meet and share ideas.
“It’s one of those things where I just think we’re a lot alike,” said Kill, who stood in Patterson’s wedding party in 2004. “We came up the hard way and we worked hard to get where we’re at. We respect each other, how we came up; there aren’t very many people come up from two small towns in Kansas to be where we’re at. We come from common folk.”
As the years went on, Kill and Patterson each moved from job to job, taking steps toward their goals while helping each other hone their own football doctrines. Patterson, whom Kill calls a “defensive genius,” would let Minnesota defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys — who began working for Kill at Saginaw State in 1995 and made three other stops with him before joining the Gophers — come down to spring ball each year to watch his TCU team practice.
“Some of the games we’ve played, he probably wouldn’t want me to say we’ve learned anything from him — because we haven’t played it as well as he has,” Claeys joked of Patterson.
But realistically, Claeys estimates they’ve taken 90 percent of their defensive elements from Patterson and his staff.
“Easily,” Claeys said. “I’ve learned a tremendous amount from him and his staff, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for the way they coach defense and how they do things.”
Though Kill and Patterson have never worked together, professionally, their paths nearly crossed two more times. Patterson had reported interest in the Minnesota job in 2007, before Tim Brewster was hired, and he turned down the Gophers’ overtures in 2010, when they replaced Brewster with Kill. After he took over at TCU in 2000, Patterson tried to hire Kill on his staff, but Kill ultimately decided to take the head coaching job at Southern Illinois instead.
“Anybody would be better off if they had a Jerry Kill on their staff,” Patterson said. “Someday, maybe I’ll go be his linebacker coach. You want to work for good people. ... Both of us are that kind of guy. We don’t have to be head coaches to love coaching football.”
Someday, too, when they’re both done coaching, Patterson envisions him and Kill and their wives, Kelsey and Rebecca, traveling together. But at least for one day this season and one next season — the Gophers open the 2015 season by hosting TCU — they’ll be adversaries.
The past two years, after TCU and Minnesota signed a contract to play, things have been a little different, out of necessity.
Claeys skipped the Horned Frogs spring camps the past two summers — “I’ve missed that,” he said — and these days, Kill and Patterson talk more about their families and less about football.
On the night before the game, the coaches will be all business. No dinners. No reunions.
“I cheer for Minnesota except for the game I have to play them,” Patterson said.
When they walk onto the field, they’ll hope the other one gets beat, for the first time.
“Knowing him, he’ll come out and do some things they didn’t show in the first game,” Kill said. “I know he does that with opponents, and his preparation, that’s what makes him so good.”
On Sunday, the old friendship will be renewed.
“He’s like I am,” Patterson said. “Before the game it’ll be great. During the game it won’t be great. And after the game it will be back to Jerry and Gary.”