MIAMI — Having an impact on student-athletics has been more important to Dale Patterson than anything else.
Patterson ended a five-decade association with Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College June 30 when he retired.
“The wins and losses are great and the accomplishments are great, but when you think back, hopefully the impact that the you’ve had on kids’ lives was the main thing,” said Patterson, who compiled a 72-34 overall record in two stints (1996-2003 and 2011-2012) as NEO head coach.
Golden Norse wrestling coach Joe Renfro has taken on the additional duties as interim athletic director.
Patterson is the third winningest coach in NEO history behind S.A. “Red” Robertson (169-49-7) and Glen Wolfe (109-19-3).
“If I died tomorrow, I would have no regrets,” Patterson said. “You think of the wins or the losses, but if you really think about it, you just hope that you had an impact on the lives of kids. Especially in junior college athletics, you have a better chance of that than anywhere else because kids come in with no issues and kids with all kinds of issues, academic, discipline wise, attitude, work ethic — all those things.
“You aren’t ever going to help all of them, but you look back to the ones that bought in and improved, changed their attitude, changed their habits then went on to more success somewhere else,” he said. “You hear it all the time, ‘if it wasn’t for NEO, no telling where I would have been. NEO gave me the opportunity.’”
In eight seasons under Patterson, the Golden Norsemen won Southwest Junior College Football Conference championships in 2000, 2002 and 2003.
That run helped Patterson silence critics that NEO football couldn’t win with Oklahoma talent.
At the time, the SWJCFC allowed only five out-of-staters and transfers.
That meant the Norsemen had to load up on Sooner State talent.
A personal triumph for “We proved people wrong that we couldn’t win in that conference with five out-of-staters and win with the majority of Oklahoma kids,” Patterson said.
“It was sort of the same thing when I was at Oklahoma State. I heard NEO football couldn’t compete any more and they couldn’t win in that conference. I came back in 2011 and in 2012, we won the regular season championship down there again.”
NEO was 41-17 in Patterson’s first stint, finishing second nationally in 2002. Patterson received the Merv Johnson Integrity in College Football Award from the Oklahoma Chapter of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame in 2004.
He was inducted into the National Junior College Athletic Association Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
“Dale enjoyed a 50-year relationship with NEO A&M College. From a student-athlete in the mid-60s to a hall of fame coaching career with the Golden Norsemen, Coach Patterson truly represents what it means to be a Norsemen," NEO president Dr. Jeff Hale said.
"On behalf of the students, faculty, staff and alumni, we all wish Dale and Donna the very best as they write the next chapter of their journey together."
A 1965 graduate of Okmulgee High School, Patterson first came to NEO in ’66 as an offensive lineman.
That was Robertson’s last full season as the Norse coach: he suffered a major heart attack prior to the 1966 season opener against Oklahoma Military Academy.
“I remember we had all gotten dressed and were sitting around before the game,” Patterson said. “Red got sick and Jack Wallace took over. That was a rough year: Red got sick and on the way back, five players who hadn’t dressed were killed on the Will Rogers Turnpike outside of Claremore. We got beat at Tyler (39-12), then tied at Cameron (27-27).
“We were in the end zone with the winning touchdown and they (officials) said we didn’t make it,” Patterson said.
NEO bounced back and crushed the Aggies 66-0 in Chuck Bowman’s first season and the last time the Norse and Cameron played (it was transitioning to a four-year status).
“That was a rough year. We had a really good team,” Patterson said.
Bowman came on board for the 1967 season and led the Norse to a national championship.
Patterson was a high school coach for 12 years — winning a state title at Okmulgee in 1975 — before returning to NEO in 1981 as social science instructor and Wolfe’s defensive coordinator.
“I was considering going into administration at the public school level, then heard about the opening at NEO,” Patterson said.
He contacted Wolfe then had an interview the next day.
Patterson spent most of the day on the NEO campus and before he left, Wolfe offered him the job.
Wolfe resigned as Norse coach in 1990, moving to Milledgeville, Georgia, to start the football program at Georgia Military Academy — which is on NEO’s 2018 schedule.
At the same time, Patterson stepped out of football to accept an administrative role at the college, and then became the first former Norseman to be head coach when Mike Loyd resigned.
“When I became head coach in 1995, we had a press conference in the O Club room and on the wall was a picture of Red Robertson,” Patterson said. “At that time, I kinda looked at that and always felt that Coach Robertson was looking over my shoulder and that it was my job that we uphold the great Norse tradition, keep this program going. We believe once a Norseman, always a Norseman. I felt it was my obligation to do that.
“When we remodeled Red Robertson Field, I felt that Coach Robertson would be smiling, that we did something that he would be very proud of. It took the NEO tradition to the next level.”
Patterson spent seven years as director of football operations at Oklahoma State for Les Miles and then Mike Gundy.
Patterson and Hale discussed a possible return to Miami during dedication ceremonies for the Ivan Crossland Complex in 2010.
“I had told him that there were some reasons I would like to come back, one that Miami was kinda home and Donna was from here,” Patterson said. “I had never had thought about coming back and coaching, but if it was the right fit, administratively, I might be interested. During that time, he mentioned a couple things that might come down the pike. When he called me again, I thought it was about an administrative position.
“I had no idea Donnie (then head coach Don Bigby) was about to get out.”
Patterson said he thought about the opportunity for a couple days before making a decision.
“I was tired of hearing NEO couldn’t win,” he said. “I only wanted to coach two or three years and I thought we could get competitive.”
The Norse were 3-6 in 2012 then improved to 9-3 in 2013 and earned a trip to the Citizens Bank Bowl in Pittsburg, Kansas.
“The big thing about playing for Coach Robertson and coming back was understanding the tradition of NEO athletics and NEO football,” said Patterson.
Since his playing days, he has been a teacher, head of the social science department, served stints as registrar and dean of admissions, worked in recruitment, has handled discipline, worked in the maintenance department in the summer and finally, athletic director.
“I’ve run out of jobs to do, so it’s probably time to get out,” Patterson joked during a press conference to announce the promotion of Renfro.
The NEO athletic department has seen growth during Patterson’s time at NEO.
“We have a lot more sports and a lot more athletes,” he said. “We’d had football, basketball, baseball and softball and now we have soccer, volleyball and wrestling and are a lot more involved with the cheerleaders and those other type of things.
“That part has changed, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is community support. That is one thing that has made NEO what it is. The businesses downtown support us. Our fans come out and support us.”
Patterson said he and his wife, Donna, plan on doing some traveling. Retirement also gives him more time to be with his grandchildren.
“I felt it was time for Donna and I to do some of the things we want to do and enjoy life,” he said.
Jim Ellis is sports editor of the Miami News-Record. He can be reached by phone at 918-544-2307 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mnrsportsguy.