Don Patterson
of Blooming Grove, Navarro County, Texas


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Don Patterson - Head football coach
Western Illinois University

The quickest head coach in Western Illinois history to 50 victories, Don Patterson has guided the Leathernecks to three playoff berths, a pair of Gateway Football Conference titles and a No. 1 national ranking, elevating the program to the level of a national I-AA powerhouse. Entering his eighth season riding a three-game winning streak, Patterson’s 50 career wins (50-31, .617) rank third among the 25 all-time Leatherneck head coaches, just six shy of Ray Hanson’s second-place total. His .617 winning percentage ranks sixth in school history and among the top 20 active I-AA coaches.

No other active Gateway coach has more league victories at his current institution, and no league team has produced more player of the year awards than Western Illinois. Patterson, the longest-tenured active coach in the Gateway, has led the Leathernecks to 27 conference wins and coached five Gateway players of the year since 1999.

In his seven seasons, he has produced 76 all-conference honorees, 22 academic all-conference selections, 56 all-Americans, including two consensus all-Americans, and two academic all-Americans (Justin Langan, Perry Cox - 2004 and 2005).

Last season saw the Leathernecks average 267.3 passing yards and 418.2 total yards of offense per game, both of which rank third in the Western Illinois record books, while their 32.0 points per game is the eighth-highest average in school history.

Reaching No. 1
In 2003, Patterson guided the Leathernecks to their second straight quarterfinal appearance in the I-AA playoffs, finishing with a 9-4 record. After a 34-12 win at I-A Eastern Michigan, the Leathernecks earned the school’s first No. 1 ranking in the I-AA national polls. It took a 35-7 loss at eventual I-A national-champion LSU (a game in which the Leathernecks were down only 13-7 late in the third quarter) to knock Western out of the top spot, but the Leathernecks remained in the top three throughout the majority of the season. A 43-40 overtime win at Montana in the first round of the playoffs propelled the Leathernecks into a quarterfinal round matchup at Colgate. Played in 10 inches of snow, Western fell 28-27. Quarterback Russ Michna earned his second straight Gateway Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year honor and finished sixth in the Walter Payton Award voting, and linebacker Lee Russell finished fifth on the Buck Buchanan Award ballot.

A large factor in Western’s rise to national prominence has been its performance against I-A opponents. Patterson is the nation’s only active I-AA coach with four I-A wins over the last seven years, having led the Leathernecks to a 4-5 record against I-A teams. He defeated Northern Illinois in his very first game in 1999, defeated Ball State in 2000, Northern Illinois again in 2002 and Eastern Michigan in 2003. The Leathernecks have played at least one I-A team each season since 1993.

A Second Gateway Conference Crown
In 2002 Patterson earned his second set of Coach of the Year awards from both the Gateway Football Conference and the American Football Coaches Association (regional winner) after leading Western to an 11-2 record. Picked fourth in the Gateway preseason poll and 40th in the national rankings, the 2002 Leathernecks flirted with perfection as both losses were suffered on the final play from scrimmage. Patterson’s squad became just the third team in 99 years of Leatherneck football to win 11 games as Western captured its fourth Gateway crown in the last six years. Key victories over I-A Northern Illinois and nationally-ranked Western Kentucky and Youngstown State helped the Leathernecks climb as high as No. 2 in the national polls. Northern Illinois boasted the highest Sagarin rating of the eight I-A teams that fell to I-AA opponents, and was the only I-A team from that list with a winning record. Shutouts over No. 14 Western Kentucky and No. 23 Youngstown State marked the first time Western had shut out two nationally-ranked teams in the same season.

Establishing Top Scoring and Top Passing Teams
Patterson has put together five of the top eight scoring teams in Leatherneck history, including the 2003 squad which averaged 36.3 points per game, the highest average in more than 50 years. The 2003 offense ranks second in the all-time record books, behind only the 37.4 points per game scored by the 1951 squad. The 1999 (34.8 ppg), 2000 (32.5 ppg), 2002 (36.2 ppg) and 2005 (32.0 ppg) teams also rank among the top eight Leatherneck scoring teams of all-time. Over Patterson’s seven seasons, the Leathernecks have averaged 32.5 points per game - more than any other Gateway team during that span.

Promptly establishing the best record for a first-year Leatherneck coach in over 20 years, Patterson guided his 1999 squad to a 7-4 record, winning the first three games in which he coached. He also became the first Leatherneck I-AA coach to record a winning season in each of his first two campaigns, earning a 9-3 record in 2000.

In his third year, Patterson established the top passing team in school history, averaging 285.5 yards per game and surpassing the previous record, set in 1988, by nearly 15 yards per outing. The 2001 squad also ranks seventh in the history books in total offense per game, averaging 393.9 yards. Patterson has led five of the top eight offensive teams in school history and four of the top seven passing teams.

Promptly establishing the best record for a first-year Leatherneck coach in over 20 years, Patterson guided his 1999 squad to a 7-4 record, winning the first three games in which he coached. He also became the first Leatherneck I-AA coach to record a winning season in each of his first two campaigns, earning a 9-3 record in 2000.

In his third year, Patterson established the top passing team in school history, averaging 285.5 yards per game and surpassing the previous record, set in 1988, by nearly 15 yards per outing. The 2001 squad also ranks seventh in the history books in total offense per game, averaging 393.9 yards. Patterson has led five of the top eight offensive teams in school history and four of the top 10 passing teams.

His First Gateway Title
In his second year, Patterson was able to lead the Leathernecks to an undisputed 2000 Gateway title. As a result, he was a finalist for the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year Award, and was named the Gateway Conference and American Football Coaches Association Region 4 Coach of the Year. Patterson guided the Leathernecks to the league crown after the team was picked fifth in the Gateway preseason poll, becoming the lowest-picked team to ever win an outright title. Picked No. 23 in the national preseason poll, the Leathernecks rose as high as No. 3 with an eight-game winning streak which marked the fourth-longest streak in school history.

In his first two seasons, Patterson coached three Leathernecks to five Gateway players of the year awards and one national honor. Edgerton Hartwell earned back-to-back Gateway Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1999 and 2000, and capped his career with the Buck Buchanan Award as the nation’s best I-AA defensive player. Patterson also coached Charles Tharp to a pair of Gateway honors - 1999 Newcomer and the 2000 Offensive Player of the Year.

The Leathernecks swept the Gateway’s postseason awards in 2000, as Patterson was named Coach of the Year, joining Tharp and Hartwell on the honors list, and Lee Russell was named Freshman of the Year. The Leathernecks became the first team in Gateway history to win four of the conference’s five postseason awards in a single season.

Patterson also kept the Western Illinois tradition of sending players to the National Football League intact when two Leathernecks were not only drafted, but were the first two I-AA players taken in the draft. Will Peterson became Western’s third-highest draft pick when he was selected by the New York Giants in the third round, and Edgerton Hartwell was taken in the fourth round by the Baltimore Ravens.

Patterson became a member of the I-AA Football Board of Directors in July 2001, representing the Gateway Conference on the panel. He currently serves as President of the Board.

One of Seven Division I Head Coaches Produced by Hayden Fry
Patterson came to Western Illinois from the University of Iowa where he was a member of Hayden Fry’s original staff. Patterson served for 20 years under Fry, working as the offensive coordinator for the last seven years after serving in a variety of assistant coaching positions. He is currently one of sevn Division I head coaches to have worked under Fry (Bret Bielema - Wisconsin; Bob Stoops - Oklahoma; Mike Stoops - Arizona; Kirk Ferentz - Iowa; Dan McCarney - Iowa State; Chuck Long - San Diego State)

During his tenure at Iowa, the Hawkeyes appeared in 14 bowl games, including three Rose Bowls. The 1985 Iowa team was ranked No. 1 in the nation for five weeks, en route to a school-record 10 wins.

Under Patterson’s guidance, the Iowa offense was explosive, leading the Big Ten in rushing (217.0 yards/game) and scoring (34.3 points/game) while finishing second in pass efficiency in 1997. Iowa finished the 1997 campaign ranked eighth in the nation in rushing offense and ninth in scoring, and had its highest pass efficiency ranking of any Iowa team since 1985.

Patterson was instrumental in Iowa’s success, making the Hawkeyes one of only three Big Ten teams (also Ohio State and Michigan) to play in 14 bowl games during his tenure. Iowa appeared in the Rose Bowl after the 1981, 1985 and 1990 seasons, and made eight consecutive bowl appearances from 1981-88. The success of the Hawkeyes was immediate upon Patterson’s arrival with Fry, evidenced by a Rose Bowl berth in their third season (1981), which was Iowa’s first Rose Bowl appearance since 1958.

Iowa ranked third among Big Ten teams in victories from 1979-98, and was one of three Big Ten teams to win more than 100 games between 1984-98.

From 1979-98 the Hawkeyes produced 38 first-team all-Big Ten selections, as well as six special teams first-teamers. Six Hawkeyes were first round NFL draft picks while five others went in the second round and seven more in the third. Patterson directly coached five of Iowa’s top seven career receivers, with the other two playing during his time. Prior to being named offensive coordinator, Patterson coached the Iowa tight ends - two of which, Marv Cook and Jonathan Hayes, enjoyed lengthy NFL careers.

Patterson was the last member of Fry’s original Hawkeye staff. His association with Fry began in 1978 as an assistant at North Texas State coaching the defensive secondary. He joined Fry, serving in the same capacity, at Iowa in 1979. He served as recruiting coordinator in 1980 before coaching tight ends in 1981, a segment he coached until he began instructing quarterbacks and receivers in 1989.

From Texas to the U.S. Military
Patterson was born December 10, 1950 in Corsicana, Texas. He graduated as valedictorian from Blooming Grove High School in 1969 and earned a Congressional appointment to the U. S. Military Academy. The 1973 West Point graduate served on the cadet honor committee and was named to the highest-ranking cadet staff while at the Academy. He and his wife, Lisa, have a daughter, Brooke, who earned her doctorate in pharmacy from Purdue University in May 2004.

Western Illinois University Athletics
1 University Circle - Macomb, IL 61455
Phone: 309/298-1190 * Fax: 309/298-2009
Direct comments to SID@wiu.edu
© 2004 Western Illinois Athletics Media Services

 


 


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Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox