Getting the swag back

Chris Del Conte has a vision for TCU programs

It's been a long two years in the Big 12 for TCU, but Alex Apple breaks down why TCU is destined to reclaim the mojo it possessed when it entered the conference.

Two years ago as TCU was slated to enter the Big 12 after two BCS bowl berths and three straight 10+ win seasons, one TCU fan sat next to a Texas or Baylor fan in his cubicle.

The TCU fan told the Texas fan that when the Frogs enter the Big 12, they will experience the same type of success, and that Frogs fan discounted the argument that TCU's success was due to a weak schedule.

At the same time, the Texas fan taunted the Frog fan by saying that the Frogs would struggle when they come play with the "big boys."

Now two years into their life as Big 12 neophytes, TCU fans are quietly licking their wounds after football, basketball and baseball teams have failed to meet the lofty expectations set for them by their fans.

The football team has struggled with injuries and inconsistent play, and they have won just 11 games in two seasons. Frustrations boiled over in 2013 when the Frogs finished just 4-8.

I need not elaborate on the struggles of the TCU basketball team. Many point to Trent Johnson's recruiting and unfortunate injury circumstances as a reason for optimism, but in the cubicle, the Texas fan laughs at the plight of the basketball-playing Frogs.

Even the TCU baseball team has struggled to meet expectations through a year and a half in Big 12 play. With hitters that need a compass to find a hit, Jim Schlossnagle's Frogs have delivered little relief for Frog fans needing some good news after football and basketball struggles.

So was the TCU fan in the cubicle wrong?

Texas and Baylor fans would say that the Frog fan was wrong.

In a culture that values instant satisfaction and instant results, asking for patience is difficult. Fans want to win, now. That's what makes them fans. But both the TCU fan and the other in the cubicle must realize that patience is required in judging the success of TCU in the Big 12.

Unlike the Frogs' counterparts who entered the Big 12 immediately after the Southwest Conference disbanded, TCU has not reaped the benefits of playing major college football for the past 18 years. Instead, the Frogs spent 16 years in conference purgatory, fighting to be relevant again.

Thanks to the leadership of athletics director Chris Del Conte and the coaching of Gary Patterson, TCU was ready to reenter "the big time" in 2012, but many of their facilities and much of their support system was not yet ready.

For example, Trent Johnson was asked to recruit the top players in the country with a 200 square foot locker room that pales in comparison to the two-story mansions that schools like Oklahoma State call locker rooms.

Thanks to generous donors, TCU is now committing to equipping its student-athletes with all the support that they need to compete at the highest level. But just as building a new stadium takes time, so too does creating a foundation that can carry the weight of success.

Therefore in examining the Frogs first two years in the Big 12, one must consider that success cannot be defined entirely by wins and losses but rather by the small steps taken to lay a foundation for sustained success in athletics, and in that department, the Frogs first two years in the Big 12 have been an overwhelming success.

TCU has hired two proven winners to captain their basketball programs. TCU has made a 60 million dollar commitment to upgrading the basketball facilities. From locker rooms to team offices to a new athletics hall of fame, renovating Daniel-Meyer Coliseum will help not only the basketball programs but secondary sports as well.

TCU has made a similar commitment to upgrading the baseball facilities. New instructional areas will give the players the space and technology needed to analyze the game and improve.

The Frogs have increased their season ticket holder base in nearly every sport. They have increased support staff for nearly every program. They have invested in new rehab technology to keep the athletes healthy. They have expanded the number of varsity sports for women by creating a sand volleyball team (softball is also on the way).

And most importantly, they have graduated their athletes at a higher rate than any other Big 12 school.

Listing these accomplishments is not analogous to making excuses for a lack of winning, rather it is an example at the kind of critical analysis that a savvy fan does while grading TCU's first two years in the Big 12.

Of course, programs must win, and they must win often. When that Texas Tech fan in the cubicle points out that TCU's football and men's basketball teams are 8-46 in the Big 12 in the last two years, he is correct.

The problem he speaks to is a swagger problem.

Coming into the Big 12, TCU had rebranded itself as the new sexy team in Texas. They had five years of immense success and a Rose Bowl berth to point to.

TCU had beaten Baylor in three of their last four meetings, and Texas Tech was yesterday's news. Meanwhile, TCU fans salivated at the chance to play Texas.

Now fast-forward back to the present. TCU has lost that swagger, but they can get it back.

Baylor and A&M now hold the moniker of hottest teams in Texas, and such a label helps them in recruiting. I spoke with a defensive end prospect in the class of 2015, and he did not list TCU amongst his favorites. He listed Baylor, Texas A&M, Houston and Texas as his favorites. He even listed Texas as a favorite because they play in the Big 12. No TCU, but go Cougars.

To get its swagger back, TCU must show that they have built a strong foundation to sustain success. The athletes, coaches and administration now know the level of commitment it takes to win in the Big 12.

After winning the Rose Bowl, TCU had climbed the mountaintop. They had reached heights that the athletics department not seen in decades. When experiencing a new level of success, an organization often realizes that it is just as hard to stay atop the mountain as it was to climb it.

Many people at TCU are still recovering Andy Dalton addicts, and there is no shame in admitting it. But when you are in the clutches of such an addiction, that addiction leads to expectations that just do not make sense. Dare I say, even a few Frog fans remain...Kurt Thomas addicts...maybe.

To get its swagger back, TCU must have new players carve out a legacy for themselves. Someone has to step up and ensure that again TCU will be a winner. Maybe that someone is Grayson Muehlstein...maybe it's Tyler Matthews. Maybe it's Karviar Shepherd. No one knows.

Regardless of who it is, TCU needs a new leader. Someone that will have the three and four star recruits in Texas talking about the Frogs again. When that happens, TCU will have its swag back.

In conclusion, yes, TCU has come up short in its first two years of Big 12 play, and yes, all Frog fans are getting weary of rehearsing the reasons why. Eventually the habitual discussion of who to blame will dissipate. For even the most negative Frog fan, detach yourself from your sorrow and think about the foundation for winning that the Frogs have laid over the last two years.

TCU will be back. There are too many reasons why that is inevitable. TCU offers the best education in the Big 12; they are in a destination city, and their facilities are soon-to-be state of the art.

So tell the annoying Baylor fan in the adjacent cubicle to come talk to you about TCU in two years. My bet is in two years, he'd rather just stay in his own cubicle.

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