This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of MemphiSport.
Looking for a winning season in his second year as head coach of the University of Memphis football program, Coach Larry Porter’s enthusiasm for the game and his hometown shine through.
Sporting a gray sweatshirt, blue shorts, and white cap, University of Memphis football coach Larry Porter crept up on the assembled media that awaited him in the athletic hall at the Murphy Sports Complex following a recent practice.
Several reporters, many of whom were scattered throughout the facility, never witnessed Porter enter the building and make his way to the designated area to answer questions about a floundering program many anticipate will erase the memory of last year’s 1-11 freefall.
Nevertheless, Porter, to his credit, seemed unfazed that media pundits were preoccupied and caught off guard by his appearance for the brief interview session.
Though he may never publically admit it, catching the local press, boosters, and the rest of the Bluff City off guard could essentially emerge as a common theme, of sorts, for the 39-year-old Porter, especially if he can manage to help steer the Tigers to their first winning season in four years.
Heading into only his second full season as a Division 1 head coach, Porter sounds like a man who is destined to quickly resurrect a program and make U of M football relevant in this city once again.
“The enthusiasm is there,” Porter said a little more than a week into the Tigers’ training camp. “The spirit is still high and that’s something we have got to have to become a better football team.”
But whether Porter’s Tigers can win early and often this year is anybody’s guess. So far, all signs point toward them duplicating last year’s one-win season, a tumultuous campaign that included the Tigers going winless in Conference USA.
Despite Porter’s ability to land a number of stellar recruits during the 2011 signing period, coupled with the team’s plan of implementing a spread offense this year, the Tigers are predicted once again to finish last in the C-USA Eastern Division by most writers who cover the league.
“Obviously, there were some growing pains (last year),” said Phil Stukenborg, the Tigers beat reporter for The Commercial Appeal. “But he got through it.”
This year, however, Porter believes he and his staff will make strides toward shifting the program in the right direction. Surely, it won’t be easy, especially with the tough early non-conference schedule.
Add to that a brutal conference schedule that features six bowl teams from last year, and it becomes increasingly evident why Porter, a former U of M running back who starred for the Tigers in the early 90’s, hopes this year would be one in which he can sneak up on everyone.
If nothing else, his track record as one of the top recruiters in the country while serving under LSU coach Les Miles from 2005-2009 is among the reasons U of M athletic director RC Johnson and the Tiger faithful believe Porter is the right choice to revive a program that, for years, has been a revolving door, of sorts, for head coaches.
During a news conference after learning of his abrupt firing, then-U of M coach Tommy West emphatically said with regards to his successor, “Just give him a fair chance or get rid of it (the football program).”
So far, Porter believes school administrators have given him the necessities and leverage to help shift the program in the right direction. After all, coaching the Tigers have been what Porter said deemed “A dream of mine” ever since the U of M basketball team’s dramatic NCAA tournament run ended in a disappointing loss to the Kansas in the 2008 national championship game.
“It’s liking waking up and seeing your kids,” Porter said. “You are always happy and thrilled to see them. Coming home was the same way.”
Only, this time, he hopes coming home will be just as memorable and enjoyable as not only his rookie campaign as a head coach, but his predecessor.
That, after all, will certainly catch the local media by surprise. Once again.
Photo by Joe Murphy.