Gary Patterson barks. He knows that, and won’t apologize for it. That’s who he is.
Nevertheless, the TCU coach occasionally regrets that he barks too fiercely, as in the recent case of Kenny Hill.
“For me, I think I’ve got to do a better job of helping him with his swagger,” Patterson said of his senior quarterback.
Asked to expound, Patterson said, “What I mean by that, sometimes you’ve just got to let people play. … So I was tough on him early. You’ve got to call it as it is. So for me, it’s all about how do you approach things? You can’t just blame the kid.”
In his first year as TCU’s starting QB following a transfer from Texas A&M, Hill vacillated between moments of pure brilliance and complete lapses in judgment. Hill completed 269 of 444 passes for 17 touchdowns and 3,208 yards, the third-highest yardage total in school history. He also rushed for 609 yards and 10 TDs, leading all Big 12 quarterbacks.
That’s the good. On the bad side, Hill also tossed 13 interceptions, more than any other QB in the league. He ranked ninth in the conference in passing efficiency.
“Probably say a C-plus, if I had to give myself a grade,” Hill said. “I thought that there was stuff I did well, but then I just didn’t play good at times.”
Hill has seldom lacked for confidence. The son of former big league pitcher Ken Hill, Kenny bamboozled defenses as a high school standout at Southlake Carroll. Hill passed for 20 touchdowns and ran for 22 his senior year for the Dragons, winning Class 5A Player of the Year and Texas Gatorade Player of the Year honors.
The swagger followed him to Texas A&M, where he christened himself “Kenny Trill” as a first-year starter, trill being a millennial mashup of “true” and “real.”
But the honeymoon faded after two seasons with the Aggies, prompting Hill to depart for the Horned Frogs. He sat out the 2015 season to comply with NCAA transfer rules, then came out slinging in TCU’s 2016 season opener against South Dakota State, eager to show off for his new team. And it was a rather impressive debut, as he passed for 439 yards and two touchdowns while running for three more.
Consistency, however, proved elusive. Hill said he had moments – in games against Arkansas, Oklahoma and Baylor – where he thought to himself, ‘This is how I’m supposed to play.’ But then he’d backslide. He might slip into the bad habit of throwing off his back foot, or Face-Time with his downfield receiver and tip off the defense to where he was throwing.
It probably didn’t help that Patterson was steadily yapping in his ear that he needed to play better, though Hill would never admit as much.
“He’s hard on everybody. You see how he yells on the sideline,” Hill said. “It’s whatever to me, I know how he is as a coach. He yells, he’s intense, he gets into the games. So it’s not anything where he was too hard on me, I didn’t really think of it like that.”
For all his fits of stomping and screaming, Patterson realizes that there is a time for patience with players. He recalled the evolution of Andy Dalton, now the starting quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals, with the Frogs. Dalton checked off a running play late in a game against Air Force and threw a costly interception, and TCU eventually lost the game in overtime.
But Dalton grew – and developed into one of TCU’s all-time best QBs. Patterson said he thinks Hill has the same kind of potential. What’s more, his teammates recognize it, too.
“I would say that he’s more comfortable with the offense,” linebacker Travin Howard said. “Coach P says it all the time, when Trevone Boykin first came into that offense at TCU, they struggled in the springtime. Then by the time the season rolled around, they were ready to go. Now you see the receivers and Kenny, they’re always in the turf room, they’re throwing, they’ve got a good connection, a relationship. They’re building bonds. It’s important for our quarterback.”
Hill also has been trying to become more vocal with his offensive teammates, which he admits goes against his laid-back personality. As a quarterback, though, it kind of comes with the territory.
“Here’s the thing – if your quarterback is not (a leader), then your football team is probably going to struggle,” Patterson said.
So Hill speaks up. He corrects his receivers when necessary. He examines his footwork with offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie. And he throws – over and over and over again.
Naturally, Patterson still barks into the earhole of his helmet. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. But if you think that Hill ever for a moment lost his chutzpah, think again, he said.
“One hundred percent, I still have it,” Hill said. “It comes with confidence in what we’re doing, being out there with all the guys and throwing every day. Just really working like we have. That’s one of the things that gives you that confidence and that swagger. So I think I’m where I need to be going into this fall.”