Growing up in Oklahoma, Clay Patterson had visions of what he could do if he was running an offense for the college football teams he watched.
Now, he is running an offense for one of those teams, as he was elevated to the coordinator role at Colorado earlier this week.
“My dream was to be a Big 12 offensive coordinator at Colorado or (Oklahoma), and I wanted to run the wishbone,” he said. “So we’ll see you guys next Saturday!”
Patterson certainly knows his CU history and his comedic timing was on point, but he’s not likely to resurrect the wishbone offense when the Buffaloes (0-5, 0-2 Pac-12) return from their bye week to face California (3-2, 1-1) on Oct. 15 at Folsom Field.
How much changes with CU’s offense before Oct. 15 remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt Patterson hopes to make his mark with a new opportunity.
CU fired head coach Karl Dorrell on Sunday, while naming offensive coordinator Mike Sanford as the interim head coach. Sanford then promoted Patterson, the tight ends coach, to the coordinator role.
Sanford hasn’t said who will call plays, but he will remain heavily involved with the decision-making and game-planning on offense – just not as much as he was before this week, as he tends to head coaching duties.
“I have a great trust and respect for (Patterson),” Sanford said. “He hasn’t done it the easy way – Division II, NAIA, JC football – but the one thing that was constant with coach Patterson was his team scored points; scored a lot of points.
“We obviously know that we have a long ways to go and I own that.”
While Sanford has a chance to prove himself as a head coach the rest of this season, Patterson also has a golden opportunity.
The 41-year-old spent the previous four seasons coaching tight ends at Minnesota, including working with Sanford the last two seasons. His career also includes experience as an offensive coordinator (Texas A&M-Kingsville from 2007-12 and Trinity Valley Community College from 2013-15) and two seasons (2016-17) as the head coach at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.
Patterson has had highly productive and record-setting offenses, but he’s never been a coordinator in Division I, let alone with a Power 5 school.
“I left Minnesota wanting more responsibility and wanting to have a little more input in the offense,” he said. “I got that here with coach Sanford. Somebody told me one time, ‘It’s still your dream, even though your dream doesn’t happen exactly like you wanted it to.’ This isn’t exactly how I envisioned it, but my dream has always been to be a Division I offensive coordinator and to have the opportunity that coach Sanford has given me to do that is a privilege.”
Patterson won’t be running the wishbone and the Buffs aren’t likely to match the 656.1 yards per game that Trinity Valley posted in 2015. Patterson, however, hopes to restore some confidence and production in a group that has struggled mightily.
The Buffs are 128th nationally in scoring (13.4 points per game) and 124th in yards per game (277.0). They scored a season-high in points during Saturday’s 43-20 loss at Arizona.
“I told my guys today, I’ve never called an offense and been a part of an offense that we didn’t talk about three things and that’s effort, attitude and toughness,” Patterson said. “The situation we’re in offensively is we have to have all our kids step up and make plays.
“We’re gonna run our offense; this is our offense.”
It hasn’t been a good offense to this point, but Patterson thinks that can change.
“Football sometimes becomes not fun,” he said. “We want these kids to have fun playing football again. These guys have been through a lot of stuff, man. … Our job as coaches is to make sure these guys have fun and enjoy this experience. If they’ll do that and they’ll find some joy in playing football again, then I think that you’ll see good results from them. But we have to empower these young kids to go out and feel like they can make plays.”
Patterson said CU has to eliminate self-inflicted wounds – penalties, dropped passes and missed assignments – and he suggested that reducing the amount of plays in the game plan could help. The staff could also call plays that are already in the playbook but haven’t been used.
The top priority, however, is building the confidence.
“We have to be confident in what we’re doing,” he said. “Sometimes less is more and being able to execute our base offense, no matter what anybody does to us, and to go have confidence that we’re going to do it is important. We’re going to start with the details and coach them hard. You’ve got to teach them, you’ve got to love them, and you’ve got to care about them. That’s the approach we took.”