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08/28/2014

Uncomfortable questions with former TCU football coach Pat Sullivan

SullivanWhen Pat Sullivan resigned as TCU’s head coach on October 27, 1997 to end his six-year tenure at the school everybody there knew it was the unofficial beginning to the school’s march to relevance.
Morale within the athletic department was at a painful low; it was merely a matter of time before the school removed the vast majority of the people within that department.

Only a few of the people who were there the day Sullivan resigned remain at the school.

On Saturday, Sullivan was scheduled to return to the school where he was once the head coach as the man in charge at FCS Samford, which will open TCU’s 2014 season. Sullivan, who had throat cancer as a result of years of using smokeless tobacco, is recovering from a recent procedure and will be unable to make the trip to Fort Worth; he said via email he suffered a “small setback”.

This game was Pat’s idea, and a chance to celebrate his 20-year anniversary of TCU’s co-Southwest Conference title in 1994. Pat resigned in the middle of the 1997 season, when TCU finished 1-10.
His return is a good reminder for every single TCU fan either young or old to either learn or remember just how far this school has come, and what a “bad season” can look like.

He was nice enough to answer some questions via email as he was unable to talk after surgery.

What is this latest surgery for and how is your recovery?
Pat Sullivan: I had surgery on my neck in April and, unfortunately, have had a small set back. That said, I’m doing well and improving every day. My staff has done a tremendous job of getting our team through fall camp and we’re excited about the season kicking off, particularly against a program like TCU. Since I arrived at Samford back in December 2006, one of my goals has been to build a program that truly buys in to the team approach.

Medium_SullyWhat advice would you give people who use smokeless tobacco?
Pat Sullivan: It will never get easier to quit than today. Don’t wait until tomorrow, it’s not worth it. We all think we are invincible and I was no different. I was wrong. I thank the good Lord every day that he’s allowed me to continue doing what I love both personally and professionally – coaching and spending time with my family. I nearly lost all of that over a bad habit. If one person hears my story and quits, then what I’ve been through is worth it.

Why did you want to schedule this TCU game?
Pat Sullivan: Playing a school as high-profile as TCU is a tremendous opportunity for our program. It provides national visibility for Samford football and gives our players and coaches a chance to see how we match up against a much bigger school. Coach Patterson has done an incredible job elevating the TCU program and we look forward to the challenge.
At Samford we are always talking to various schools about non-conference matchups and I was ecstatic when I learned that a matchup with TCU was a possibility. I see a lot of similarities between the TCU football program of the mid-nineties and the Samford program today. My family and I have great memories of our time in Fort Worth and TCU will always hold a special place in our hearts.

What are your lasting memories of your time at TCU?
Pat Sullivan: The people. I always say that what you get out of athletics when all is said and done is the relationships. We were a really close group at TCU, the players, coaches and the TCU people. I still stay in close contact with a lot of those folks and my wife, Jean, and I treasure them dearly.

What are your thoughts about your final game, the win against SMU?
Pat Sullivan: We won the game and any win as a head coach is special. It was a very emotional day, all of us went into the game knowing that was it. Once the game started we all got caught up in the moving parts but I’ll never forget looking around and seeing the tears and the smiling faces after we won the game. That’s when it really hit me, it was tough.

LT tcuAre any of your former players coming to the game?
Pat Sullivan: I’m happy to say yes. When the game was announced a year or so ago I had a lot of former players reach out to me and tell me how excited they were about the game. I’m honored that there will be some events recognizing their contributions to the program and our conference championship.
But this weekend isn’t about me. It’s about the players, our Samford team is going on the road to face a TCU program that won the Rose Bowl a few years ago. It’s nice that my former players at TCU will get to see each other and catch up on old times but the real focus is the guys out on the field.

When you elected to resign, were you aware that the school was nearly on the verge of making a major financial commitment to athletics, and specifically the football program?
Pat Sullivan: Obviously there have been a lot of changes from the TCU that I knew and the TCU that today’s college football fans know. That’s a testament to the alumni, administration, players and coaches. I always knew that TCU would be a special place because of its people and potential.
Once they began tapping into their resources, they were able to realize their potential. College football has changed dramatically over the last 25 years and TCU has improved as much as any program I know. I’m certainly proud of the foundation that we built at TCU and like to think we played a small part in that transformation. Our win-loss record may not have shown it every year, but we knew we were building for the future. I think the TCU team that we left in place ended up having 17 players selected in the NFL draft.

Pat_sullivan_2011_11_19Did you ever regret resigning, or do you think it was the right decision for you at that point in your life?
Pat Sullivan: I only know one way to live life and that’s looking forward. My family and I have always trusted in the plan that God has for us and I truly believe his plan was for me to be the head coach at Samford. I don’t know that that ever happens without my time at Auburn, TCU and UAB.

How much longer do you think you want to do this?
Pat Sullivan: Spending time with our players and coaches gets me as excited today as it did at any point in my career. I don’t ever think about in terms of 2 more years or 10 more years, I’ll know when it’s time to walk away. As long as I’m making a positive impact on our program and helping to develop young men, then I’ll keep at it.

If you would like to add anything else, fire away ...
Pat Sullivan: Every former TCU player and coach has helped contribute to the success that TCU has experienced over the last several seasons and is experiencing now. They should take pride in that. The years that Jean and I spent at TCU were some of the most enjoyable years I have had as a coach.
I’m very disappointed that I won’t be able to make the trip with my Samford team. This group of players gives it their all every single day and it pains me not to be able to lead them into battle.I also hate that I won’t be able to see my former TCU players and coaches. Jean, my children and my grandchildren will be there in my place. 
Tell the TCU family that I miss them and I love them.

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tengel@star-telegram.com

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Comments

Rob Tentoy

Not a fan of Sullivan by any means, but he should always be included in the rebirth because he recruited Ladainian Tomlinson. Without LT, I'm not sure Francione could have done what he did.

Jason

1994 was my freshman year and I was in the group of students that rushed the field after that 1997 SMU win. Thanks to Coach Sullivan for laying the foundation and recruiting the players that helped TCU turn the program around. I wish him the best in his recovery and hope he's coaching for a long time to come.

Mourer

When Coach Sullivan arrived, we went from playing on worn out Berber carpet to real grass, adopted the arched TCU logo we're still using today, dumped some triple-threat scheme for a pro-style offense - and absorbed the recruiting pains associated with a system change, had SWC sack leaders, beat Texas for the first time in ever, and went to a bowl game for the first time in 10 years. It was harder to get to a bowl game in '94, too. He was always accessible to Skiff reporters, which didn't hurt aspiring sportswriters. I appreciate the wins and progress he brought to TCU, and was glad to be very active with the campus and team during those times. I think a lot of us wish him continued health and success.

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