About 120 miles of rural Kansas landscape separated Jerry Kill and Gary Patterson as children.
The two grew up in the Sunflower State – Kill in Cheney, Patterson in Rozel – and even played college football there at different schools. But despite their similar paths, they didn't meet for decades.
On Saturday, Kill and Patterson – now longtime friends thanks to a shared coaching mentor – will be separated by 160 feet of natural Texas grass at Amon G. Carter Stadium. It's a slightly larger space than when Kill stood as Patterson's best man less than a decade ago, the Pioneer Press reports.
Said Patterson, now in his 15th season as head coach of TCU, acccording to the Minnesota Daily: “Both of us are highly competitive, so this week’s probably difficult. We had long conversations about whether to have this series. ... I don’t think friends like to play friends any time.”
Whether they like it or not, Kill and his 2-0 Golden Gophers squad will try to upset Patterson's 1-0 Horned Frogs Saturday afternoon in Fort Worth.
So how'd the two small-town boys from Kansas-turned-NCAA head coaches get to be such good friends? Dennis Franchione.
A mutual mentor
Kill began coaching under Franchione at Kansas' Pittsburg State in 1985, FOX Sports reports, serving as defensive coordinator through 1987. When he left to take the head coaching job at Webb City High School in Missouri, Patterson was brought in by Franchione to be linebackers coach.
But despite not crossing paths on the staff, the two began talking, the Minnesota Daily say, sharing ideas and quickly becoming good friends.
"They're what America's all about," Franchione told ESPN of the two coaches he helped bring up. "They've done it the right way, they've done it with class, they're appreciative of everything. I don't think there's any part of them that doesn't remember being a [graduate assistant] and eating peanut butter and jelly."
Before the 2000 season, Franchione left his head coaching gig at TCU for Alabama. His defensive coordinator, Patterson, was promoted to that spot and has been there since.
Patterson tried to recruit Kill the next year, wanted his fellow Kansan to serve as offensive coordinator. But Kill wanted to remain a head coach, even if it was a smaller school, and after speaking with Franchione opted to go to Southern Illinois, ESPN reports.
Now in his fourth year with Minnesota, Kill will try to propel his Gophers to a road victory over 14-point favorite TCU – then the two teams will do it again at TCF Bank Stadium next fall.
"He didn't want to do it. Neither did we," Kill said of the home-and-home series, according to the Pioneer Press. "I don't think any of us had any say-so in the situation. It's difficult because we shared a lot of ideas throughout the years."
A lot of ideas, and a lot of friendly memories.