Following a successful spring and summer, new head coach Keith Patterson is focusing on the principles of character, discipline and toughness ahead of Fall Camp to make waves in the Western Athletic Conference in 2022.
How Patterson was hired
The first time head coach takes over a Wildcats team who faced their fair share of struggles in the 2021 season. Under former head coach Adam Dorrel, the Wildcats finished last season with a 5-6 overall record. After starting the season 3-1, the season took a turn for the worst, with the team finishing the season with a 2-5 record in the last seven games. The morning after the Wildcats’ last game of the season, the athletic department revealed Dorrel would not return to coach at ACU.
Two weeks later on Dec. 6, the 58-year old former defensive coordinator for Texas Tech was brought on as the new head coach for the Wildcats. This came after a long career that led Patterson to be a part of different coaching staffs across the country from Tempe to Pittsburgh to Utah to now Abilene.
During the WAC’s football Media Day, Patterson mentioned the overwhelming support he received from his loved ones, former co-workers and former players as well and the gratitude he had to become a head coach at his age.
“When you start young in your career, you’re ambitious and you set out on a track and I never really had a date or a time that I wanted to become a defensive coordinator or to become a head football coach.” Patterson said. “I just kind of moved through the system and to be able to be given this opportunity at age 58, it’s obviously a challenge. But on the same hand, it’s an honor, and I’m just going to be who I am and continue to do the things that help get me to where I am.”
What Patterson has done to this point
As soon as he was hired, Patterson got to work on rebuilding the Wildcats’ football program. This included talking to every single active player on the roster, hiring a brand new coaching staff and recruiting a strong freshman and transfer class to build up the roster in time for the rapidly approaching spring training.
At spring training, Patterson and his staff started to lay the foundations for a new chapter in Wildcat football. While this included developing strength and enhancing his players’ skills, it also included introducing Patterson coaching ideology.
Patterson’s ideology includes an emphasis on three principles he wants all of his players to have: character, discipline and toughness. Along with these principles, Patterson has made a point to have players strive to be the best they can be both on and off the field.
“The thing I continue to harp on and every time I get in front of our guys is I just want their best,” Patterson said. “Whether if you just bring out the best in people, whether it be in the classroom, whether it be in our community, whether it be as a teammate, whether you’re in the weight room, it doesn’t matter. We’ve really emphasized every single day that the standard is best and just give me that. Give me your very best every single day.”
What to expect from the offense
On offense, the Wildcats have a new coordinator in former Mary Hardin-Baylor offensive coordinator Stephen Lee. Lee’s offense led the Crusaders to a record of 87-4 with 26 of those wins in 2016 and 2017 being vacated due to NCAA infractions. The Crusaders won three national championships in his tenure.
Lee has 20 newcomers to his high-octane offense including 12 former FBS or FCS transfers. One of the key returners for Lee is former Texas State running back senior Anthony Smith. Smith was the leading rusher for the Wildcats last year with 393 yards, three touchdowns and caught 15 passes.
“It’s been a very great change,” Smith said. “We plan on coming in and winning a lot of ball games and just transitioning. We’ve been building a very winning culture in Abilene and we plan on entering this season and fall camp very hard and hitting the ground running.”
What to expect from the defense
On defense, Skyler Cassity is the new man in charge. Cassity spent the last two years coaching outside linebackers, nickels and safeties at Missouri State. Cassity led the Bears’ defense to sixth nationally in turnovers forced, 11th in interceptions and 11th in defensive touchdowns. He spent three years at Texas Tech with his final season spent under Coach Patterson as a defensive graduate assistant.
Despite losing players like cornerback Ryan Stapp to Minnesota and defensive tackle Quent Titre to Rice, Cassity added 15 to his defense, seven of which from FBS or FCS programs. One of the returners on defense is senior Tory Hargrove. Last season Hargrove totaled 50 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, two quarterback hurries and an interception.
“A lot of transfers came in and I feel like this is like a lot of new people,” Hargrove said. “You know when you get around new people it’s like it’s not really a bond, but everyone on this team is really bonding, like just bonding relationships with each other.”
What to expect from ACU football this year
ACU has not had a winning season since 2018 when they went 6-5. However, the first year under Keith Patterson and several quality transfers could see the Wildcats finish with a winning season, and other programs are starting to notice. In a recent WAC coaches poll, the Wildcats were ranked second in the race to earn a WAC conference title just under longtime Div. I rival Stephen F. Austin.
But right now, Patterson’s biggest point of emphasis is to get his coaches, support staff and all 105 of his players on the same page. Patterson said it has been a challenge, but he has seen massive signs of improvement and buy-in, which has made the start of Fall Camp and the 2022 season more promising.
“We just tried to get people to surrender to the way we do things and what’s best for the team,” Patterson said. “We just do that every single day and it just takes time. Now, you go out there on Saturday, it’s 105 degrees out on the turf, and you go up there and you’ll see guys throwing and catching. I mean, when I see things like that, I know we’re moving in the right direction.”
The Patterson era begins against the Lamar Cardinals on Sep. 1 at 7 p.m. at Wildcat Stadium.