Wednesday, January 08, 2014

UConn's new quarterbacks coach has quite the story to tell

UConn decided to make all the assistant coaches available in one shot rather than setting up conference calls with each and every one of them so today was that day.

Spread around the cafeteria on the second floor of the Burton Family Football Complex, each coach sat at a designated table and then the media was unleashed on them.

I was one of four reporters who headed to quarterbacks coach Don Patterson's table and part of me wanted to go nowhere else. Patterson had already held court for 25 minutes by the time I reluctantly got up to speak to the other coaches.

Where do I start with telling Patterson's story?

Perhaps that he gave new UConn football coach Bob Diaco his first full-time job at Western Illnois? Or Patterson's tremendous run at Western Illinois. Then there was his fight with cancer and then battle with the Western Illinois administration who fired him after telling him that they did not want to deal with another coach with cancer. Did I forget something? Oh yeah, he was a candidate for the UConn head coaching job which went to Randy Edsall back in 1999.

Patterson, who gave new UConn football coach Bob Diaco his first full-time coaching job, was among the first assistants hired by Diaco was credited for the development of Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata. Licata threw for three touchdowns in a 41-12 win over UConn in the game which marked the end of Paul Pasqualoni’s tenure with the Huskies and put into play circumstances for Patterson to join Diaco at UConn where he will work with returning quarterbacks Casey Cochran, Tim Boyle, Chandler Whitmer and Kivon Taylor.

“Honestly, I wasn’t looking for another job I was happy at Buffalo and made good progress at Buffalo. I told (Buffalo head coach) Jeff Quinn that Bobby needs me more than you do. Bobby is new to the head coaching profession and honestly I might not have been hired at Buffalo if it were not for Bobby because Bobby picked up the phone, called Jeff Quinn and said if you don’t hire Coach Patterson you are crazy, I don’t care how old he is, I don’t care how much cancer he has had, if you can hire the man you should’ and thankfully Jeff did.”

Following his dismissal at Western Illinois, prospective employers weren’t lining up to hire a veteran coach with an uncertain medical prognosis. But even as he endured 35 grueling radiation treatments which purged the cancer from his body, there was never a question that Patterson wanted to return to coaching.

“I left for 11 months and about nine of those months you can’t do anything and you are literally sustaining your life through a feeding tube but it is all good because the doctors told me ‘we are not going to let you die but the bad news is the treatment is almost going to kill you but we are not going to let you die,’” Patterson said. “I went through the treatment and it takes three months to see if you are OK or not because you are radioactive by the time you finish the treatments. Dec 16, 2008 found out I had no cancer in my body at that time."

I had to leave much of the stuff about how he was diagnosed with cancer out of the story I filed for tomorrow's paper but here it is.

"Back in the summer of ’08 as I explained it to my wife, I feel like I had a piece of popcorn stuck in my throat and a month or two earlier I had an earache and I went to my family doctor, he gave me something and I kind of forgot about it. I know what it is I missed my six-month checkup and had a tooth issue. I went to the dentist and he said ‘Coach, your teeth are fine.’ I could tell by the way he looked at me that I have a problem, He said 'I think you better go back to your family doctor' and he kind of scared me the way he said that. When I got in my car I looked in the rear-view mirror one side of my face is a healthy pink and the other side is purple in the back of my mouth and it is because I had Stage IV tonsil cancer and same thing Michael Douglas went through.

"I went back to my doctor. He said 'you have Four stage cancer and we need to treat you immediately or you may not be around. 51 days they can only give you 35 radiation treatments and that is what I did.

“I wasn’t in any position to coach and barely in position to get out of bed and recovered over time. They named an interim coach at Western and this is what I didn’t realize. I was pretty sure what I wanted to do, I wanted to come back to work and he said ‘Coach, you don’t realize this but most people don’t want to go back to work, they are done and are grateful that you do want to work again, you are going to be the right kind of role model for the other cancer survivors out there.’ I never really dreamed about not going back to work, I want to go out on my terms and somebody else’s terms.”

However, according to Patterson, Western Illinois athletic director Tim VanAlstine had other ideas.

“He called me and we lost a baseball coach to leukemia and he said ‘Coach I can’t let you coach anymore,’” Patterson said. “He said ‘I’ve already lost one coach and I can’t deal with it.’ It angered me because I fought hard to come back and Coach some of your players came in and told me we need to make a coaching change.”

Patterson has fought back against cancer and he was not giving up his job without a fight.

“I called the captains because who knows better than the coaches and they didn’t know anything. I called them in and I called them in and it was an off week so we had a little bit of time to talk,” Patterson said. “I want you guys to be brutally honest with me and I want you to tell me honestly how you feel about me as a coach and they said we wouldn’t be interested in playing the game if you couldn’t be our coach. It was a very emotional meeting because they knew that I might or might not live, when they finish the conversation Tim VanAlstine lied to me, he told me that you wanted a coaching change and they said that was absolutely untrue. I am not going to quit, I am going to tell him ‘hell no, I am not going to resign because I talked to my players and you lied to me.’ He said ‘I am still not going to let you coach anymore, you are done.’”

In January of 2010 Western Illinois settled with Patterson. The money was not the primary priority for Patterson but righting a wrong was incredibly important to him.

So was accomplishing four things on his “things to do before I die” bucket list he came up with. He was able to go the first three as he went back to see a football game at Army where he played, saw a Late Night with David Letterman show live and not only got to see Neil Diamond (whose music he had played for each of his 35 radiation treatments) play in Las Vegas but also got the meet the singer backstage in large part because Diamond’s mother survived the same type of cancer. All that is left is for Patterson to play a round of golf at Pebble Beach to accomplish all the things on his bucket list.

There will be plenty more in the coming days from the other assistant coaches but I decided to start off with the best stuff.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home