Patrick shaping his legacy, one piece at a time

April 10, 2008 

Joe Patrick probably had no idea, but little James was paying attention all those summers in the mountains.

James was fascinated with his father's approach to teaching Spanish at Sierra High.

"On August 1, he'd go into the classroom to begin preparing his lessons," James says some 40 years later. "And he'd spend the entire month preparing every lesson for the entire school year."

The father would retire in the late '70s, contract Parkinson's disease soon after and die.

"He was the one who fostered the idea you've got to work hard," says James, who, in two years at Memorial and 21 at Clovis has compiled a 499-158 record without a losing season entering today's Tri-River Athletic Conference game at 6:30 p.m. at Clovis East.

Only four coaches in section history have won more -- Mike Noakes (708, Bullard/Central), Ray Fredericks (512, Delano), Ken Papi (509, Fresno) and Allen Cropsey (502, Selma).

But no one can match Patrick's winning percentage (.760) or his seven section championships.

He's also had two teams finish No. 1 ranked nationally.

"He's the complete package as a high school baseball coach," Noakes says. "He knows how to coach from being a leader, motivator, instructor and strategist. Whenever you play Clovis, you know you're going to play a well-prepared and motivated team."

That was Joe's way.

Fate found him

James Patrick, 49, has always recognized his own competitiveness: "As kids, if we rode bikes, I had to be in front."

While he'll tell you he's 5 feet, 7 inches, he doesn't know what that represents: "I'm not that tall, but I've never thought I was that short, either."

Consequently, he played fairly big in athletics.

His family eventually came down the hill to Fresno, where Patrick competed in football, basketball and baseball at Memorial.

He was OK in baseball, good as a three-year point guard in basketball and best in football, where he received All-Metro honors as a quarterback in 1975.

And it was in that sport that he attached his claws and heart: "I really wanted to coach football. I just loved the strategy and preparation involved in it."

Gus Short gave him his first coaching job assisting football at Kerman.

Patrick moved to Memorial, where he was assisting football and baseball, when the break came that would launch his career.

Panthers varsity baseball coach Kevin Johns asked Patrick to take his job so he could concentrate as athletic director.

"I didn't have to think about it," Patrick says. "Sometimes, something calls you; you don't have to call something."

He went 10-10 his first year at Memorial, 24-4 with a section title and a state No. 1 ranking in Division II his second and final season, and then went to Clovis, where a dynasty would soon follow.

Historical reversal

By the time Patrick was elevated from Clovis assistant coach and took over the varsity from Mike Paustian in 1988, he had absorbed a lot.

As a kid, Patrick enjoyed watching the tenacity of Sierra basketball coach Merritt Gilbert.

He learned toughness playing football for Duane Jenkins at Auberry Elementary and Scott Barcus on Sierra's junior varsity.

Then there was the education of playing football and baseball under Buddy Vickers and basketball under Tom Cleary at Memorial and, finally, baseball under Len Bourdet at Fresno City.

Patrick learned strategy, fundamentals and humor.

But, above all, he's instilled this at Clovis: "I want to make sure our kids feel like nobody's outworked us."

And it's working.

The Cougars hadn't won a baseball league championship since 1953 when they went 27-6 with a North Yosemite League title and first section crown in 1995.

That launched an unprecedented run of six section championships in nine years, including the consecutive national titles and 33-2 records of 1997 and '98.

Was talent involved? Certainly.

After the '98 season, as the best example, Clovis had outfielder Cody Nowlin (second), third baseman Greg Donato (eighth) and pitcher Mike Bumatay (ninth) taken in the first day of the major league amateur draft.

The 169 career hits of four-year starting shortstop Chris Patrick, the coach's youngest son, are a section record.

Shawn Hannah and Brandon Miller were impact pitchers who went on to college.

But for every gifted player there's been an overachiever -- perhaps none greater than Evan Bayless, a 5-5 lefty who beat Buchanan for the section championship in 2001 and '02.

"It's just been a great model of consistency regardless of what kind of talent was on the field," says Kevin Patrick, the oldest son, who's 16-4 in his first year as Clovis West coach.

Not far away, Chris has taken over Clovis North's new program. And it's there that he'll attempt follow this model from his father: "A quiet, confident cockiness where you know you're prepared because work was done in practice."

James Patrick hinted that the work is nearing completion, a job made possible by the family "head coach," his wife of 31 years, Cecilia.

"We'll see," says Patrick, making it clear he'd like to watch his sons coach. "I want to coach as long as it's fun and I feel I'm effective. At the end of the year, I'll probably take a look. It's been an enjoyable run, it really has."

The columnist can be reached at aboogaard@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6336.

The Fresno Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service