Inside quarterback Max Duggan’s decision to stay at TCU

You’ve probably seen the video clip by now of TCU head coach Sonny Dykes fighting back his emotions when talking about Max Duggan after last week’s win at SMU.

Dykes is a pretty calm, mellow person around the media and his players. It was a surprise to see that type of reaction, but it was also likely one of the most emotional weeks of Dykes’ coaching career.

Facing his former team as the leader of their most-hated rival, Dykes relied upon Duggan’s experience and leadership as he threw three touchdowns in the 42-34 victory.

“I’m as proud of Max as any player I’ve been around. He has a coaching change, he loses his job which is really hard, he’s about to be a senior. And he never blinks. He never had a bad practice, never pouted. Never thought of himself one time,” Dykes said. “How many people can you say that about that you know in your life? You can say it about Max Duggan, that’s for sure.”

Dykes pauses for a moment, trying to catch a quick breath before continuing his praise of the senior.

“I’m incredibly indebted, incredibly proud. I’m kind of emotional about it because, he’s (acted) the way you would want your son to handle that situation. That’s about as good a compliment as you can give someone,” Dykes said.

He’s right and it’s at this point, it’s clear Dykes appreciation for Duggan went far beyond what he did on the field.

Committed to TCU

To understand Dykes’ response you have to retrace his steps and go back to the spring. The battle between Duggan and Chandler Morris intensified then as both tried to use 15 practices to seize the job.

When Dykes didn’t name a starter, it would’ve been reasonable for Duggan to read the writing on the wall that the odds would be stacked against him to win it during training camp.

He could’ve joined the likes of transfer quarterbacks like Caleb Williams (USC), Michael Penix (Washington) and countless others that entered the portal to find a clearer path to playing time. The thought never crossed his mind though.

“I wanted to stay because I graduate in December. I wanted to graduate from TCU, I’m part of the business school and I love everything that I’ve gotten out of that,” Duggan said. “I just wanted to be here with the guys in the locker room. I think that was the biggest reason. Being here for four years and struggling on the field, not being able to win.

“Finishing my four years and what I said out of high school, when I committed, when I signed I said I wanted to be here for four years and graduate from TCU. I want to do what I can to help them win, leave it in a better spot and leave a legacy.”

Players should have the ability to move to better situations for them, but it’s refreshing to hear that type of mentality from a player.

As a quarterback with 29 starts at the time and solid production, there would’ve been plenty of teams across the Power Five that would’ve been interested in the dual-threat’s services. But none of them would’ve been TCU.

“I just thought this was my best situation, I love it here. My parents did a great job of talking to me about sticking through when things get rough. I’ve been fortunate to play the last three years as a starter and know that were guys that had to sit as backups,” Duggan said. “It just happened to be that it was my time going into my senior year.”

His father Jim played quarterback at South Dakota and his mother Deb was a Hall of Fame track athlete at South Dakota as well.

Jim was also Max’s high school football and remains one of his closet confidants. Duggan leaned on them while navigating the quarterback battle. While some on the outside may have been surprised Duggan didn’t hit the portal, his father wasn’t among them.

“He and his mom and I had some pretty good heart-to-heart discussions. I don’t think entering the portal ever entered his mind. He loves TCU, he loves Fort Worth, he’s just so loyal to his friends and his teammates. He was so proud about the idea of graduating from the Neeley School of Business, I think that was the driving force for him to not even think transferring,” Jim said.

Duggan’s time under his father as a player offered him insight into how hard the decision for Dykes and offensive coordinator Garrett Riley really he was.

Seeing his father in those situations helped him understand that it wasn’t personal.

“My dad was a high school coach for 30 years so I understood the tough decisions that come with being a coach. That’s what I told (Coach Dykes), I get it. I understand that’s what’s best for the team. Was I disappointed in myself? Yes. But I wasn’t ever going to argue or plead my case to the coaches because I knew that wasn’t what’s best for the team,” Duggan said.

His father relied upon an old-school style of coaching to deliver that message to his son and the rest of the teammates. It’s a credit to the type of young man Duggan was that he was able to receive that style of coaching.

“I grew up playing high school football in the ‘70s, playing college in the early ‘80s. I carried that over. He grew up getting coached under the tough love philosophy and I always told him, listen you’re probably going to get handled harder than the average guy because I don’t want anybody to every misconstrue that I’m being soft on you,” Jim Duggan said.

It also helped Duggan that the TCU coaches were upfront with him about the decision and the competition all the way through.

While the media and fans didn’t learn until the first snap against Colorado who won the job, Duggan found out much sooner which also helped with the transition.

“I found out a little after fall camp. They said ‘Chandler’s going to get more reps. You’ll still be in the game plan. You’re one play away from being the guy that has to go in. So stay involved, stay positive,’” Duggan said.

That one play occurred sooner than anybody could’ve thought.

Staying ready

The scene for TCU’s season opener was picturesque. The sun was setting just behind Folsom Field. The beautiful landscape gave way to a hostile environment as thousands upon thousands of Colorado students greeted TCU as one would expect.

“F*** TCU,” was shouted repeatedly before Colorado administrators eventually shut it down.

Was it enough to rattle the Horned Frogs? Maybe for the first half as the offense struggled, going scoreless. TCU still held a halftime lead thanks to Derius Davis’ punt return touchdown.

The second half started much better as Morris completed five of his first six passes and led two scoring drives.

Then adversity struck.

On a routine run Morris hurt his knee, the injury happened so fast those in the pressbox had to see it on the TV broadcast.

With their starter out, it was Duggan’s time to go in. It would’ve been a tough spot for the typical backup even with a 17-6 lead, but Duggan didn’t flinch and came in and did his job. Duggan and the run game powered the Horned Frogs the rest of the way.

Duggan already had the respect of his teammates, but the way he performed after things didn’t go his way only impressed them more.

“It’s amazing, none of us are surprised. Max stayed level-headed through everything and he stepped up. He didn’t get mad about anything, he was like ‘Let’s go. I’m back in it. We’re about to play our game,’” wide receiver Quentin Johnston said.

Since that Colorado game, Duggan has continued to flourish. He leads the country in passing efficiency and is third in completion percentage. He’s gotten the ball to just about every receiver that’s played and he credits the offensive approach of Dykes for his performance.

“Confidence is the biggest thing, going out there in believing in yourself and the guys around me,” Duggan said. “Everyone has confidence in what we’re doing now. Everyone knows what our identity is.”

Being consistent in how they gameplan on offense was something Dykes believed could help Duggan and the rest of the offense. The staff has identified what the team does well and is leaning into it.

“I think he’s just comfortable and confident and believes in the guys he’s throwing the ball to. I think we’ve worked hard to create some confidence from the scheme standpoint and I think he enjoys it,” Dykes said. “There’s probably a little more carryover with scheme week-to-week than there was in the past. We’re not putting in as much new things and he has an opportunity to get better at the things we’re doing.”

The newfound confidence hasn’t changed Duggan’s day-to-day approach. He still leads by example and puts his head down and comes to work no matter how good his stats are.

The way he carries himself draws admiration from teammates like Josh Newton, who just arrived in the summer from Louisiana-Monroe.

“I love Max, he don’t talk. He doesn’t come in with all the yada, yada. He’s like a lion. The lion doesn’t roar like the Hyena, but when he roars everybody gets big eyes,” Newton said. “I love playing with him, he’s a pure dog.”

Newton’s colorful euphemisms paint the picture of a man that just wants to come in and help his team improve and win.

It remains unclear how long Duggan will be the starter with Morris returning from a knee injury this week. Regardless if Saturday’s game vs. No. 18 Oklahoma is his last as the starter, shifting back to a backup won’t be a difficult transition for him because he believes in Dykes’ vision for the team.

“Come hell or high water, he wants the team to have success no matter what the cost is,” Jim Dugan said.