Chris Patrick is in his 44th season with the UF football program.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Chris Patrick had no idea he was about to take center stage.
Patrick was standing in back of the room last month at Florida’s preseason coaches’ party when UF athletic director Jeremy Foley grabbed a microphone and started to honor some of the UF coaches for their accomplishments during the 2012-13 season.
Foley got serious for a moment as he began to honor one of the athletic department’s longest-tenured employees for more than 40 years of service.
As Patrick chatted with Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin he heard his name called. Foley unveiled a plaque that has since been placed by the door entering what is now called The Patrick South End Zone Athletic Training Room.
The room inside the Gators’ locker room is where players get their ankles taped and shoulders iced and treated for all sorts of ailments from playing the game Patrick has been a part of his entire adult life.
“It was quite surprising, quite a shock and quite an honor,” the 75-year-old Patrick said this week at one of Florida’s practices. “I don’t know if we deserve it but I’m not going to take the plaque down. I just very much appreciate the recognition and that I got to see something like that before I bellied up.”
Patrick arrived at UF in early 1970 as a trainer and has been here ever since, climbing to the top of UF’s athletic training staff where he remains involved daily with the football program.
The Tennessee native, who turns 76 next month, always gets a little extra pep in his step during Gators-Vols week.
Patrick was born in Fayetteville, Tenn., a short drive from Lynchburg, home of the famous Jack Daniel’s Distillery and where former Tennessee coach and Heisman runner-up Johnny Majors grew up. The two got to know each – Patrick’s sister dated one of Majors’ brothers for a while – and Majors helped land Patrick a job in Tennessee’s training room in the mid-1950s.
Patrick joined Tennessee’s training staff full-time in 1956 – the year Majors finished second to Notre Dame’s Paul Hornung for the Heisman – and stayed through the 1960 season.
Patrick then bounced around like a ping-pong ball with stops in the military, graduate school at Eastern Kentucky, a year as an assistant coach at a high school in Kentucky, a year at Furman, a pit stop at Florida State, three years at Mississippi State and two years at Kentucky.
And finally, he found home with the Gators.
“At that point and time in my life, everything that I was doing I was trying to direct it to the NFL,’’ Patrick said. “That was my goal and ambition. Really and truly, when I came to Gainesville, I figured I would come and use this in some way to get on the NFL. And then strangely enough, as time went on, I had the opportunity to go to some NFL clubs and didn’t want to go.
“I decided I had found my place right here, and that was it.”
Patrick still speaks in that Southern twang he brought with him to Gainesville 43 years ago. He is simply called “CP” by players, coaches, UAA staff and the countless graduate students and assistants who have worked for him over the years.
When Florida coach Ray Graves retired after the 1969 season, a rival SEC coach called Patrick to gauge his interest in leaving Kentucky for Florida. Patrick told him he was on board.
However, he never expected to come to Florida with another rival SEC coach, Tennessee’s Doug Dickey. Patrick made a favorable impression on Dickey during their visits in the 1960s and when Dickey left the Vols to replace Graves – shortly after the two teams met in the 1969 Gator Bowl – Patrick landed at UF but not the way he expected.
The Gators lost to the Vols in Patrick’s first two years with the program in 1970 and ’71. But when the schools met again in 1976, the Gators won 20-18 in Knoxville. They started playing annually in 1990 and Patrick has enjoyed a lot of success against his alma mater.
“This is more or less ‘my game’ in some ways,’’ he said. “There’s a lot of people on our schedule I maybe don’t really care for or consider rivals, but this week this is the rival of the year. It’s extra special to play Tennessee and beat Tennessee with the ties I had there.”
Patrick has worked under seven Florida head coaches (Dickey, Charley Pell, Galen Hall, Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook, Urban Meyer and Will Muschamp), plus interim coaches Gary Darnell and Charlie Strong.
These days, he often works in a room named in his honor.
Not bad for a small-town kid born in Tennessee.
“It means I’m very blessed and fortunate to have been here at the University of Florida and to have the support and guidance and leadership we’ve had,’’ he said. “They have supported some of my ideas and thoughts and let me do some things and given me the resources to build the athletic training program.
“I’ve got the greatest of all worlds right now. I get to come and be around the program, be around these kids and this coaching staff, and I don’t have to be the bearer of bad news and going to the head coach or athletic director with this and that. It’s truly all fun and games.”