Jan. 14, 2014
Over the next few weeks, UConnHuskies.com will take an in-depth look at the new football coaching staff head coach Bob Diaco has assembled. The series will include feature stories along with special edition episodes of “The Blitz” for each coach. First up, Assistant Head Coach/Quarterbacks Coach Don Patterson.
By Steve Lewis
No one on the newly hired UConn football coaching staff is as familiar with head coach Bob Diaco’s character and personality as longtime football man and recently named assistant head coach Don Patterson.
Patterson, who has known Diaco since he was a senior in high school in Cedar Grove, N.J., was on the Iowa coaching staff during Diaco’s playing days with the Hawkeyes under legendary coach Hayden Fry. Even then, Patterson could see the energy and enthusiasm that the undersized linebacker Diaco brought to the table.
“I always would describe him as an overachiever,” said Patterson. “Based on his physical skills, he shouldn’t have been able to play that well but he did, he always played above and beyond his abilities. Coach Fry would refer to him as the extra heartbeat. He’s a guy that has a passion for the game.”
Over his 30-plus year career in college football, Patterson had his lengthiest and most well-known tenure at Iowa, coaching just about every position imaginable throughout his 20 seasons as a Hawkeye, which included three Rose Bowl appearances.
After Diaco served two seasons as a graduate assistant at Iowa, Patterson remembers Diaco approaching him and saying: “Coach, I know you’re going to get a head coaching opportunity and I would like you to please consider me for your staff.”
When Patterson got a head coaching job at Western Illinois in 1999, he immediately called Diaco and asked him to be on his staff. “I think he was headed for Illinois within a couple hours of getting that phone call,” said Patterson.
A lifelong friendship bloomed from there.
Though Diaco moved on to other coaching opportunities after two seasons at Western Illinois, Patterson stood at the helm there between 1999 and 2009 with a 62-45 overall record. He led the team to three NCAA playoff berths, a pair of Gateway Football Conference titles and a No. 1 FCS national ranking in 2003.
In 2011, he joined Buffalo and served as the quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator for three seasons before joining the UConn staff last week.
Patterson doesn’t believe being Associate Head Coach at UConn will be that different from what he has grown accustomed to in his past experience, but did cite one thing that will be altered some.
“Having a closer working relationship with the head coach than I did at Iowa will be the biggest difference. Hayden was even an icon back then and so even though I was offensive coordinator, he didn’t come to me very often for my opinion on what he should do,” joked Patterson. “I don’t think he needed to hear from me and that was back when I had dark hair.”
Patterson graduated from Army in 1973, serving time in the military before getting his first coaching job in 1978 as the defensive secondary coach at North Texas State, which is where his association with Fry began.
Patterson coached defense during his first year at Iowa before switching to the offensive side of the ball. During his career, he has coached tight ends, quarterbacks, and wide receivers, making offense his main specialty.
In preparations that will lead up to UConn’s 2014 kickoff, Patterson will help to re-energize an offense that many times last year was stagnant. The Huskies used three different quarterbacks over 12 games, tallying three wins at the end of the year with redshirt freshman Casey Cochran under center.
“I’m familiar with the quarterback situation from last year. I know the first four games belonged to (Chandler) Whitmer, then the middle four belonged to (Tim) Boyle and then the last four were Casey. I’ve been talking to all these guys and they’re all enthused about being part of the program,” said Patterson.
“They’re all excited about what might happen in the future and they recognize that we can play better than what they did last fall. That’s our goal and their goal too, to max-out on their abilities and get back on the right side of that win-loss ledger.”
As far as the other offensive challenges, Patterson admits he is not yet the expert on UConn’s offense, but believes from his view as an outsider that the offense was not as “wide-open” as it could have been last season.
“It’s hard for me to say exactly where they went wrong, but I don’t think it’s nearly as important to look backward as it is to look ahead,” said Pattesron. “When we came to Iowa, they had 17 consecutive non-winning seasons. We inherited a bunch of really motivated players that had been knocked around a little bit. That gave them motivation.”
Patterson is very optimistic that the offense will find a groove in 2014 under new leadership, but realizes it will take some time to work out. “It doesn’t happen overnight. We don’t have a timetable, but we’ll get this done as soon as we can.”
Patterson has a wife, Lisa, and a daughter, Brooke. According to him, his wife thinks football is all her husband knows.
“My wife says I don’t know anything but football and she’s pretty much right,” said Patterson. “It’s funny because when we travel, sometimes somebody will recognize you and want to talk football. Sooner or later, they realize you might not want to talk football all the time. Then my wife steps in and says, ‘No, go ahead, it’s all he really knows’.”