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Patton Shows His Move to Boise State Not Half-Baked : Tennis: He enjoys building a program in the same manner he did at UC Irvine.

March 30, 1995|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT BEACH — It's still a wonderful life for Greg Patton. He has found the fountain of youth, and it's in Boise, Ida.--somewhere between his hillside home and the tennis courts at Boise State.

"I felt like I left 'Beverly Hills 90210' and now it's more like Mayberry," said Patton, the former UC Irvine coach. "But that's OK. One of my heroes is Don Knotts."

College basketball has Dick Vitale. College tennis has Greg Patton, 42. Listen to either one for five minutes and you wonder when they come up for air. The difference is you don't feel like Patton is trying to sell you a '74 Olds with 500,000 miles on it. Patton is Bud Collins without the plaid slacks.

He has been gone from Orange County three years, but he's the same rapid-fire guy.

"I felt like a maintenance worker, but I'm now a carpenter again. . . . I'm more nervous than in years. . . . There's a lot of national implications riding on this. . . . I'm a gourmet working in meat-and-potatoes country," Patton said.

The folks in Boise love him, love what he's done with the program, but "they kind of think I'm nuts," said Patton, who has returned with the Broncos for the UC Irvine-Marriott Tennis Classic this week.

In 13 seasons at Irvine, Patton defined the men's tennis team more than any of the standout players he coached. And there were quite a few good players. Patton made the program successful, ripping it from its humble Division II roots and turning it into a national Division I power.

In the end, he said he got stale at Irvine. No longer was he building a program, simply maintaining one. He also looked at the Southland in the early 1990s, saw riots and floods and fires and earthquakes and didn't like it a bit.

Boise State came calling at just the right time and Patton jumped at the chance. The surroundings changed, but the man did not.

"All right," Patton screamed at what was presumably a good shot by a Bronco on a distant court during a first-round match against the University of the Pacific. As he talked, old friends walking by got a familiar dose of Patton.

"All our matches are like Freddy Krueger movies," he told one friend.

"I scheduled an eight-team tournament while the first round of the (NCAA basketball tournament games) were being played at Boise," he said, launching into a new subject with someone else.

"They all thought I was nuts (in Boise). When the games let out, our crowds went from 150 to 5,000."

He smiled.

Irvine's loss has been Boise State's gain. Last season, the Broncos were 18-10, won the Big Sky Conference title for the first time and advanced to the NCAA regionals. This season, they were 13-3, going in what Patton called his "Stairway to Heaven" trip. In other words, sun and fun in Orange County.

No hotels on this trip. The Broncos stayed at the home of doubles standout Rick Leach Tuesday night. Tonight they will move to former Anteater Trevor Kronemann's place.

"The guys are just loving it," Patton said. And we suspect, he is too.

"I love coming back," he said. "I've got the best of both worlds. I don't miss Irvine until I'm back here with the sun and the beach and the palm trees."

Back home in Boise, Patton has had an easy time adjusting to the slower pace. He still rides his bike to work, just as he did in Irvine. The trip home takes a big longer because it's uphill all the way. Sometimes he gets snowed on, but wife Christa, daughter Chelsea, 4, and son Garrett, 2, are waiting when he gets home.

Carving a niche in a city dominated by the Bronco football and basketball teams has been a pleasing chore for Patton.

"It's kind of a football, basketball and potatoes kind of town," he said. "I'm trying to bring a gourmet salad to the table for Boise."

The school is trying to build a tennis stadium for Patton's team. The Broncos already have an indoor facility. Next fall, Boise State joins the Big West, which Patton views as another step toward the big time.

"It's like 'Poltergeist,' " he said. "I'm baaaack.

"I've spent my whole life in the conference. I played and coached at UC Santa Barbara and at UCI. I love the Big West. It's a great tennis conference."

By next season, the Big West could be ripe for Boise State's taking. Although he still has many friends here, it's clear Patton's home is Boise and the Broncos are his guys.

"It's a great place to raise kids," he said. "I'm into Barney and children's books now. The team has gotten me feeling like I'm back in my 20s again. It's a wonderful . . . "

Typical Patton. Something caught his eye on another court and he never finished his sentence. But you know what he meant.

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