Ashland once upon a time had a coach who knew a little bit about the subject of perfect records.
Paul Patterson, who left for Taylor University after winning four consecutive 16th Region boys basketball championships at Ashland in 1979, retired in 2013 after winning 734 collegiate basketball games. He died on Sept. 21, 2021 after an extended illness.
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. It’s not much of a stretch to say he changed the way basketball was played here.
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 look 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 in the regular season. 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 1976-77 team did just that, limiting foes to 48.3 per game.
Here’s an interesting tournament fact. In the four years that Patterson coached the Tomcats to the regional title, only once was an Ashland played named tournament MVP – Harkins in 1976. The other years the MVPs went to David Rowe of Fairview (1977), Mark Dingess of Boyd County (1978) and Dave Layne of Holy Family (1979).
Patterson went 91-35 in his four seasons as the Tomcats’ head coach. His teams were always prepared and fundamentally solid at every position. Their lockdown man-to-man defense was, in a word, vicious.
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 boasts an extensive coaching tree that includes collegiate and high school coaches around the nation.
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 ever born to coach, it was Paul Patterson, and he proved it both in Upland, Ind., and Ashland, Ky.
His imprint on 16th Region basketball history will remain with us forever.