The tornado that ripped through downtown Fort Worth on the evening of March 28, 2000, was on the ground for only 10 minutes, but it caused nearly $450 million in damages. 

The tempest blew out 80% of what was then the Bank One building’s windows. Dozens of people were injured, two killed. 

The damage would lead to a rebirth and reimagining of downtown Fort Worth.

Months later, in December 2000, Gary Patterson took over for Dennis Franchione as head coach for the Texas Christian University football team. 

In TCU professor and local historian Gene Allen Smith’s mind, the two events are linked: the beginning of a vibrant and transformative era for the city and the school.

“What we see happening both in Fort Worth and in TCU is a resurgence of the city and a resurgence of the university — and the resurgence of the football team,” Smith said about the year 2000. 

Smith came to the school as an assistant professor in ’94, and, as an historian and football fan, watched Patterson become the winningest coach in TCU history. 

“Texas is football crazy, and because it’s football crazy, people want to be associated with success,” Smith said. “Gary was very kind about using his success not only for his own benefit but also for the benefit of the team, the benefit of the school and the benefit of Fort Worth.”

It’s difficult to quantify the effect one person has on a community, but ask people about Patterson, and they speak not only about his coaching records — the 11 seasons in which he won at least 10 games, his team’s almost ubiquitous presence at bowl games, his ability to turn three-star recruits into five-star athletes — but the energy with which he worked to make the team, the town, like family.

“At the end of the day, he knows he’s the head football coach of a world-class university,” said Matt Rose, who recently stepped down after almost 20 years on TCU’s board of trustees. “But his shadow was much bigger than that.”

In the two decades since Patterson took over as head coach, TCU’s successes on the field have mirrored institutional victories on campus: Climbing enrollment, a diversifying student body, renovated facilities and stadiums, new dorms to promote on-campus living, a higher-than-average percentage of faculty with tenure. 

“TCU has grown in every respect nearly over the last two decades that Gary has been there,” said John Roach, former chairman of the board of trustees at TCU. “And while it takes a lot of people to make an institution of that type show excellence, Gary sure has had a major role in making TCU a national university.”

Rose remembers thinking, before Patterson took over, “Well, football can’t really make a school great.”

“That was my belief before seeing it,” he said.

For example, when Patterson took over as head coach in December 2000, only about 1 in 4 of the nearly 6,700 undergraduates enrolled that fall came from out of state, according to TCU’s Office of Institutional Research.

Twenty years later, that number has doubled. 

“Not only is the student enrollment growing, we’re becoming a more diverse campus — we’re getting kids from all parts of the country,” Smith said. He remembers when, in 2001, TCU football athlete LaDainian Tomlinson was drafted by the San Diego Chargers. 

“For the better part of the decade, we had an increasing number of students coming from San Diego,” he said. Ten years later, when the Cincinnati Bengals drafted TCU football athlete Andy Dalton, Smith remembers the school receiving an influx of students from Cincinnati.

“There’s a correlation: When we put good players out into the NFL and they do reasonably well,” he said, “then all of a sudden we start seeing kids from those locales coming to TCU.” 

The increasing out-of-state student population helps the campus become more diverse and more inclusive, he said: “It gives the university a different flavor — it’s not just Texas kids anymore.”

That influx also has a “significant economic benefit” for Fort Worth, said Roach, the former chairman of the board of trustees at TCU. When students and their families travel from elsewhere, he said, their presence “directly impacts the hospitality community, restaurants and hotels.”

The nationwide visibility garnered from Patterson’s victories on the field helped put not only TCU, but Fort Worth, on the map, former mayor Betsy Price said. Price raised her kids going back and forth to Amon G. Carter Stadium. 

“People before (Patterson) said, ‘We don’t know Fort Worth — that’s just that small city on the other side of Dallas,’ or ‘Oh, y’all are the city that has the longhorn drive.’”

But as much attention as Patterson drew from outside Fort Worth, he focused many of his own efforts on strengthening bonds close to home. 

Not long into his tenure as Fort Worth mayor, Mike Moncrief ran into Patterson and his wife, Kelsey, at Yogi’s Deli and Grill in Fort Worth. They didn’t know each other well back then, but Patterson beckoned him over, and the two started to talk shop — specifically, about how to put “butts in seats” at the Amon G. Carter Stadium, Moncrief remembers.

“He was trying to figure out what could be done to raise awareness of TCU’s presence,” Moncrief said. “And if he could do his part to put together a winning team, what could the city do to attract people from Fort Worth to be a part of that audience on game day?”

That run-in over breakfast spurred other conversations, which Moncrief held with his staff to brainstorm. “That’s where we hatched the idea of Purple Fridays,” Moncrief said. The city initiative encouraged people to wear purple on Fridays during football season and, in turn, receive discounts at partner businesses in town.

“Purple” became an identity, not only for the football team, but for TCU’s other athletics teams, Moncrief said. It became part of the city’s identity, too: The bridge on West 7th, Sundance Square, the new city hall and the Will Rogers Memorial Center light up purple for TCU. It even spurred an — unsuccessful — attempt by Moncrief and TCU to dye the Trinity River purple (“It was more symbolic, put it that way,” he said). 

Ultimately, he said, Purple Fridays offer people a sense of home. “​​Whether you’ve been to TCU as a student, or whether you just drive by it,” he said. “That’s your university home team.”

Beyond football, both Patterson and his wife have been “tremendous ambassadors” for Fort Worth, Moncrief said. 

The Gary Patterson Foundation, which became a nonprofit in 2002, funds programs and scholarships to help children thrive in reading and school. They’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the Fort Worth Independent School District. Kelsey Patterson serves on the board of Saving Hope Foundation, a nonprofit that works to prevent animal abuse. The Pattersons have invited hundreds of young football athletes into their home over the years to help prepare them for success beyond college, Moncrief said.

“They’re the kind of people that, when you call them, they never say no, they just step up and say, ‘What do you need, how soon?’” Price said.

Patterson himself brims with energy, Moncrief said. “He calls them the way he sees them,” Moncrief said of Patterson. “He’s mischievous. He’s a good listener. He really wants to hear what you have to say.”

Moncrief and his wife, Rosie, count what’s become a longtime friendship with the Pattersons as one of their most “prized possessions.” Patterson, he said, is part of the “heart and the soul of our city. And the city does have a heart and a soul, and it is about family. TCU family, Fort Worth family, family.”

Patterson’s legacy on the field came to an end Oct. 31 when the university and Patterson agreed to part ways. Moncrief said he and his wife hope and pray the Pattersons decide to remain in Fort Worth. 

“These are times of change in our community right now — a lot of moving parts,” Moncrief said. “This decision at TCU to change horses is difficult for everyone to try and get their arms around.”

Alexis Allison is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact her by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here

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