Trojan coach Paul Patterson announced on Tuesday that he would retire at the end of this academic year, and though he's been on the job for 34 seasons in Upland, his leaving the bench sent shockwaves reverberating through college basketball around the country.
“I'm a big fan,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said of Patterson. “I haven't met very many people that spend more time working to be great at their craft than him.”
Stevens was first influenced by Patterson – as were over 65,000 other youngsters – while attending the Taylor University Basketball Camp during the summers of his youth.
“Here's a guy that has been at one place for 34 years,” Stevens explained, “and he's always trying to grow and always trying to get better. He's about as good of an example for a young coach as there ever could be.”
Jeff Rekeweg can relate to that comment.
Like Stevens, the longtime Saint Francis coach, and current head coach at NCAA Division II Northwood (Mich.) University, not only learned as a camper from Patterson, as Stevens had, but also as a competitor, as the Cougars and Trojans battled on an annual basis.
“We've had a lot of good coaches in the (Mid-Central College Conference, now the Crossroads League),” Rekeweg said, “but I didn't think that there was anyone better, not only preparing for a game, but teaching the fundamentals of the game.”
Rekeweg was a young, inexperienced coach when he took over the Saint Francis program, but he was astute enough to realize who a good mentor would be within the league.
“I don't know if I was intimidated by (Patterson),” Rekeweg said. “When you're young and dumb, you think you can beat anybody. But I will tell you that I respected coach Patterson for what he had done and what he was about. He was always very, very good to me, even though we competed against each other. And he didn't have to be that way to some snot-nosed kid coming into the league.”
Patterson took over for Don Odle in 1979, following Odle's 32-year stint with the Trojans. And his career numbers could cause a computer to overheat.
He's won – not just coached in, but won - 734 games (66.2 percent winning percentage). That total makes Patterson the all-time wins leader of any collegiate head coach in the state of Indiana.
Patterson has guided the Trojans to 15 conference championships and 14 appearances into the NAIA National Tournament, which led to a pair of trips to the Sweet 16 and one Final Four bid for the Trojans.
He has a dozen Coach-of-the-Year plaques hanging on his wall, including being named the NAIA National Coach of the Year in 1991.
A season in which a team has won 20 games is often the barometer for great success. Patterson achieved that total 23 different times.
A program winning 25 games is often commemorated with banners being hung in gymnasiums. Patterson's teams had a stretch (1984-1985 through 1993-1994) where they accomplished that 10 consecutive years.
“When you study his career and accomplishments, it is amazing how many lives he has touched at Taylor,” Illinois coach John Groce, who played and coached for Patterson, said in a release. “I feel so fortunate to have played for him and coached with him. He was my first mentor who had a major role in shaping the coach and person that I am today.”
Like Groce, Stevens finds himself coaching at the highest level of college basketball, yet the advice that he receives from his regular conversations and visits with Patterson “are gold,” and are vary applicable to his situation according to the highly-successful Butler coach.
“There's not a monopoly at any one level for good coaches,” Stevens said. “He's one of the best that I've ever been around. I've relied on him quite a bit and I'll continue to do so as long as he'll take my calls.”