Paul Patterson, who left for Taylor University after winning four 16th Region boys basketball championships at Ashland in 1979, is retiring after winning 734 collegiate basketball games.
Those are some amazing numbers, but Patterson’s impact on the 16th Region was enormous, too. He was 44-0 against region competition, a mark that may never be duplicated. Patterson’s trademark man-to-man defense became the model for others and soon became this region’s calling card.
The Tomcats’ best season under Patterson was in 1976-77, when Ashland posted a 30-2 record that ended with a loss in the state semifinals. Jeff Kovach, Jim Harkins and Mark Swift were key players on a team that simply made opponents sometimes looked helpless.
His well-disciplined teams were feared because of the tenacity that he instilled in them.
Patterson left after the 1979 season even though the roster was loaded with size and talent, a team that seemed perfectly suited for his style of play. Ernie Simpson took the baton from Patterson and won the regional championship for a fifth consecutive year, although the run of regional victories ended with a loss to Holy Family in the 64th District finals.
As unimaginable as it seems today, the fanbase wasn’t always happy with Patterson even though he won four regional championships in a row and never lost to a region foe. The style of play was thought to be too methodical for fans who were used to three decades of running and gunning.
There was none of that with Patterson’s style of basketball. His teams worked for the highest percentage shot possible, most of the time a layup or short jumper, on every grinding possession. The recipe for success included limiting opponents to under 50 points a game. His ’76-’77 team did just that, limiting foes to 48.3 per game.
Patterson went 91-35 in his four seasons as the Tomcats’ head coach. His teams were always prepared and fundamentally solid at every position.
He took that same coaching philosophy to Taylor University, where he has retired after becoming the second-winningest coach in Indiana college history behind you-know-who. He is one of the winningest coaches in basketball history period.
Patterson won 15 conference championships and made 14 appearances in the NAIA national tournament. He was a 12-time conference Coach of the Year and the NAIA national Coach of the Year in 1991 when he led Taylor to a school-record 34 victories and the program’s only Final Four berth.
Patterson, who is a member of the NAIA, Hanover College and Grant County (Ind.) halls of fame, leaves Taylor after amassing 28 winning seasons and 23 campaigns with 20-or-more victories. He also guided Taylor through one of the most successful 10-year stretches with 10 straight seasons of at least 25 victories from 1984 to 1994. That span put Taylor in the company of UCLA, UNLV and Lipscomb as the only men’s basketball programs to accomplish that feat.
Along the way, Patterson coached 24 NAIA All-Americans and now boasts an extensive coaching tree that includes collegiate and high school coaches around the nation.
“When I think about my time at Taylor University, one of the things that stands out is the number of outstanding educators that I have worked with,” said Patterson. “Most of all, however, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with so many tremendous young men on our teams.”
University of Illinois coach John Groce may be his best-known former player and he calls Pattersons a coaching legend.
“When you study his career and accomplishments, it is amazing how many lives he has touched at Taylor,” Groce said.
Groce played under Patterson from 1991 through 1993, before getting his coaching career started on Patterson’s staff from 1994 through 1996.
“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.”
It was also during Patterson’s tenure that Taylor started its Silent Night game.
Every year, the Friday before final exams, Taylor University has the Silent Night game where students remain quiet until the 10th point is scored and then erupt in wild and boisterous cheering. In the late moments of the game, “Silent Night” is sung by everyone in the gym. A former assistant coach came up with the idea in the late 1980s and it was a packed event by the mid-to-late 1990s.
But if anybody was born to coach, it was Paul Patterson both in Upland, Ind., and Ashland, Ky.
His imprint on 16th Region basketball history will remain with us. I congratulate him on his retirement and wish him success in whatever he takes on next.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2648.