Patterson led the Horned Frogs to a perfect regular season, their first Mountain West Conference title, their first BCS appearance and even had them vying for a spot in the national championship game.
"I'm really kind of humbled by the whole thing," Patterson said in a telephone interview. "The best way I know how to deal with it is to put my nose down and keep getting ready for Boise."
No. 3 TCU plays No. 6 Boise State (13-0) in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 4.
In a close vote released Wednesday, Patterson received 21 votes from the AP college football poll panel to edge Brian Kelly. The former Cincinnati coach, now with Notre Dame, received 19 votes and Alabama's Nick Saban, who won the award last season, got 14 votes.
Chip Kelly of Oregon received three votes and Boise State's Chris Petersen and Texas' Mack Brown each got one vote.
Patterson's ninth season with the Horned Frogs has been his best, but TCU's success this season is no great surprise. The Frogs have consistently been a threat to bust the BCS under Patterson, who was promoted from defensive coordinator after Dennis Franchione left Fort Worth for Alabama in 2000.
Patterson is 85-27 at TCU and has led the Horned Frogs to five seasons of at least 11 wins the past seven years. This season, the Horned Frogs went 12-0 for their first undefeated regular season since 1938, when TCU won its only AP national championship.
Patterson said he's become a more well-rounded coach during his time at TCU.
"I had to change my personality. I'm a passionate guy on game day. I'm all over the place," he said. "I'm better at helping kids with their lives. When you first become an assistant you're all about Xs and Os but I tried to become better at (helping players) after practice."
The Horned Frogs came into this season ranked No. 17 in the country, but Patterson needed to replace seven starters on a defense that was one of the best in the nation in 2008.
He and his staff quickly rebuilt another fast, swarming defense around All-American pass rusher Jerry Hughes. The Horned Frogs ranked No. 1 in the country in yards allowed and sixth in points allowed.
Hughes is the perfect example of TCU's ability to spot and develop talent.
He was a 210-pound running in high school, but Patterson switched him to defensive end where Hughes has blossomed into a future NFL draft pick.
This season's TCU team has developed into a dominant one. The Frogs have blown out most of their opposition -- nine victories by at least 25 points -- and come up big on the road with wins at Virginia, Clemson and Utah.
TCU's success has turned the 49-year-old Patterson into a rising star in coaching, a guy who's name frequently comes up when another job opens up.
This season, when Notre Dame was looking for a coach, Patterson was mentioned as a possible candidate.
But he agreed to a new contract earlier this month intended to keep him at TCU through 2016. Patterson said TCU has everything he needs and he doesn't think reaching the BCS means the job is done in Fort Worth.
AP COACH OF THE YEAR
COACH, TEAM VOTES
Gary Patterson, TCU 21
Brian Kelly, Cincinnati 19
Nick Saban, Alabama 14
Chip Kelly, Oregon 3
Chris Petersen, Boise State 1
Mack Brown, Texas 1