5 things Memphis fans should know about Justin Fuente

Most Tiger fans have no clue who Justin Fuente is, nor do they know about any of his accomplishments in the realm of college football. Therefore, I have assembled ` 5 things you need to know about the new football coach at the University of Memphis.

1) He is young and hungry

Most coaches are well past their 30’s when they get their first head coaching  job, but Justin Fuente has achieved head coaching status at just 35 years of age. Fuente has been coaching college football for ten years. He started off at Illinois State as quarterbacks coach in 2001 before being promoted to offensive coordinator in 2004. Then Fuente went to TCU in 2007 where he served as their running backs coach for two seasons. In 2009 he was promoted to co-offensive coordinator for the Horn Frog’s, and now he is head coach at Memphis. Talk about somebody on the fast track to success.

2) Other schools wanted him

  While this is not the big name R.C. Johnson and Tiger supporters wanted initially, Fuente is still a catch. The offensive success that he had at TCU has led to several programs seeking his offensive genius. He interviewed for the LSU offensive coordinator position last year, and was rumored to be the next head coach at Kansas before taking the position at Memphis. He might not be Mike Leach or Bob Stoops, but he is an up and coming coach that will bring an exciting style of football to Memphis.

3) His offense is dominate

Fuente’s offense at TCU was amongst the most explosive and dynamic units in the nation during his tenure. Under his watch in 2009, the Horned Frog’s offense set single season records for points scored, touchdowns, and first downs. The following year Fuente saw those three records broke again. Since Fuente was made co-offensive coordinator, TCU has averaged over 40 points per game during the regular season. This should be an encouraging sign to Tiger’s fans whose offense has struggled to say the least the past two years, averaging only 13.8 points during that time span.

4) He has coached at two BCS bowls

With conference expansion passing Memphis by (again), the Tiger’s could use a coach who has helped guide a non AQ team to a BCS game. Fuente’s offense has helped take the Horned Frogs to two BCS games as a non AQ school. TCU is 1-1 in those games with an upset win over Wisconsin in last year’s Rose Bowl. If he could get the Tigers to a bowl game next year that will be an amazing feat, but if anybody can do it he can.

5) He has a 35-3 record while at TCU

The Horn Frogs amassed a 35-3 record during Fuente’s tenure as co-offensive coordinator. While the success that the Horned Frogs have had cannot be solely placed on the offense, it does help your chances to win tremendously when your team can score at will against the competition. In that same three year time span the Tigers have a record of 5-31. Fuente has seven times more wins and ten times fewer losses than Memphis, which is a welcome sign to all Tiger fans who are hungry for wins.

CJ Hurt covers football for MemphSport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweet from different games throughout the Midsouth.

What’s the better football job: Memphis or Ole Miss?

Memphis and Ole Miss are bitter rivals with a lot in common right now.  Both are coming of two football seasons which fans want to forget with athletic directors that are stepping down in the next year.  With all of these similarities between the two struggling programs the question becomes what is the better situation for an incoming coach?

Let’s start with Ole Miss, which because of unrealistic expectations and a tough division makes it easily the worst available job in all of college football.  The fans are so delusional that they do not realize the best they can hope for is third or fourth place in the SEC West and maybe a bowl appearance.  Every year they expect their Rebels to win the western half of the SEC, and when they do not it is time to fire the coach.  So why would a coach place himself under that type of scrutiny when history suggests he will not be successful? The next head coach at Ole Miss is destined for failure, and if you do not believe me, just take a look at the Rebel’s history since the SEC split into two divisions in 1992.

Since SEC football expanded in ’92 there have been 19 seasons, with each season concluding in an SEC championship game.  Ole Miss has played in none of those games.  That means that Ole Miss has never won the outright SEC West title (but they do have a SEC West co-championship in 2003).  In fact, the last time Ole Miss won the SEC title was nearly five decades ago in 1963. Also, the Rebels have finished in the top three of the SEC West just six times since ‘92, while finishing in last place four times with two winless years in conference (they have more seasons with no wins in conference than they do SEC West championships!).  During this time span Ole Miss has only seven seasons with a conference record of .500 or better, and four of those seasons are 4-4.  So the Rebels have only three seasons with five or more wins in conference, but fans expect Ole Miss to compete for SEC West championships.

As long as LSU, Auburn, and Alabama are in the SEC West the Rebels will never have a realistic shot at winning the division.  With Arkansas on the rise, the addition of Texas A&M to the SEC West, and the addition of Missouri to the conference, the future of Rebel football is beginning to look bleak.

On the other hand, Memphis football is so bad that the Tigers probably couldn’t win the OVC right now, making it easily the second worst available coaching job in all of college football.  Three pitiful years (one under West and the other two under Porter), combined with a leadership group that cannot run a football press conference correctly let alone a football program, and a frustrated fan base have severely crippled any incoming coach’s chances to be successful.

However, there are no national powerhouses in C-USA, whereas the SEC West alone has three.  In fact, all the good teams in C-USA are leaving for AQ conferences, which should serve as an encouraging sign for Tiger fans who want wins.  One would think that with Houston, UCF, and SMU leaving the Tigers will be able to win more games in conference.  Alas, remember when Louisville, Cincinnati, and USF left before the 2005 season, the Tigers were supposed to dominate, but sadly they have not.

Memphis has a conference record of 18-38 in the seven seasons since C-USA split into two divisions. The Tigers have never won a C-USA championship in the leagues 15 year history, and are routinely the worst team in the conference.  At least the fans know the program is bad and they only want a few wins every year, not a conference title.

The Tigers are so desperate for wins that if the next coach can average four or five wins over the next three seasons he might earn himself a contract extension.  Conversely, if the Rebel’s next coach averages four or five wins over the next three seasons he will be fired. Just ask Houston Nutt who averaged six wins in his four year tenure.

Really this argument all comes down to whether you want to be a bad team in a mediocre conference (Memphis) or a bad team in a good conference (Ole Miss).  However, Ole Miss is a job that pays much more than Memphis.  And since both programs’ next coach will be gone by 2015, it might be best to take the millions of dollars Ole Miss is willing to pay and make off like bandit.

Click here to read 5 Reasons Why Memphis Should and Should Not Hire Houston Nutt.

Click here  to read Who should replace Houston Nutt at Ole Miss?

Click here  to read The end of an era in University of Memphis athletics.

Click here to read All Shook Up: R.C. Johnson in his own words.

Click here to read Fantasy Shirley: A Real Interview with a Fake University President.

CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport.  Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from different college football games throughout the Mid-South.

 

The end of an era in University of Memphis athletics

Tiger fans have long been clamoring for R.C. Johnson to retire, and at Monday’s press conference, after 16 long years of ups and downs, he did just that.  Johnson was not the only member of the athletic department to bid farewell on Monday, as head football coach Larry Porter was fired after two seasons.

Memphis president Dr. Shirley Raines and Johnson fielded questions about the football team’s future with ease at the press conference, but finding a new coach and new AD will be anything but easy.  A hiring firm will be used to aid in this process, and the list of coaching possibilities range from first year coach Hugh Freeze to freshly fired Houston Nutt.

Mr. Johnson’s decision to retire was one that he has been thinking about for a while. “It was not really difficult. I love the university and enjoyed my time here. But I knew this was coming,” he said.  While there are plenty of R.C. detractors out there they had no effect on his decision to retire at the end of June.  In fact, he can not pin point one incident that made it clear that it was time for him to retire.  “It was just a process… my wife and I are not getting any younger, I have been doing it a long time. You know 33 years to be an athletic director is quite a while,” he said.

However, before he leaves his last task will be aiding in finding a new Tiger football coach to replace Coach Porter.

Mr. Johnson stated several times during the press conference that the 44-7 loss to Southern Miss in the Tiger’s finale had nothing to do with the decision to fire Coach Porter.  Rather, the decision was made because the program was not making the progress that it needed to make in Porter’s short two year tenure.  “It was not just the last game,” he said, “it is an ongoing process and we continued to evaluate the program.”

Since Larry Porter took over as head coach two years ago the program has struggled tremendously.  The Tigers have gone a woeful 3-21 in his tenure and have struggled to be competitive in their games, losing by an average margin of 27 points.

The decision to let Coach Porter go was made especially difficult because he was an alumni and cared deeply about the program, “Most of the time when you have to let a coach go it is generally pretty clear cut,” Johnson stated, “this time it was not. I do not know if there is a right or a wrong, but you have to do what you think is best.”

When asked about what type of qualities Memphis is looking for in a head coach, Johnson had no definite answer, but he made it clear that Memphis wants the best possible candidate.  “In the grand scheme of things you would love to bring in Vince Lombardi… it’s a matter of getting someone in here that can do it, maybe not a big name. In an ideal word you try to do that so you can get a big splash,” he said.

While we do not know who the head coach will be or the name of the next AD, we do know that it is going to be an interesting offseason for the Tiger football program.

Click here to read All Shook Up: R.C. Johnson in his own words. 

Click here to read Fantasy Shirley: A Real Interview with a Fake University President.

Click here to read 5 Reasons Why Memphis Should and Should Not Hire Houston Nutt.

CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport.  Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from different college football games throughout the Mid-South.

 

 

 

Memphis is the Worst Team in C-USA… Again

Memphis and UAB fought for bragging rights of a different variety when the two teams meet in an epically bad game on Saturday.  This contest was not about the best of the best, but rather the worst of the worst, as this year’s “Battle for the Bones” decided who would be crowned the worst team in C-USA (and possibly the nation).  Both teams lived up to their hype as two of the worst teams in the nation, but in the end it was Memphis that won the unique honor of being labeled the worst team in C-USA.

Memphis dominated the game through the third quarter and took a 17-35 lead going into the fourth.   Then the Tiger defense pulled a Lebron James and forgot there was one more quarter to play.  Maybe they were preoccupied with thoughts of grandeur at the possibility of winning their third game of the season, or maybe they were trying to figure out what they were going to wear to the Lady Tiger’s first round soccer match against UT Martin.  Whatever the case, the Tiger’s allowed UAB to gain 200 total yards in the fourth quarter, and the Blazer’s were able to score 24 unanswered fourth quarter points in route to a 41-35 victory.

Although UAB won the “Battle for the Bottom”, I mean “Battle for the Bones”; they have nothing to be proud of.  The Blazers gave up a staggering 217 rushing yards to a Memphis team that ranks 114th nationally in rushing, averaging about 93 yards per game before this contest.   Let me put this awe inspiring stat into perspective for you.  If you add up the Tiger’s rushing yards from their other five conference games Memphis has an amazing 221 total rushing yards.  UAB almost gave that many yards to Memphis in one game!

These two teams were on the outside looking in when the Big East pillaged C-USA a few years ago.  They both had solid football and good basketball teams, but were unfortunately left out of Big East expansion.  Now, thanks to a decline in the prestige of their respective football programs, no conference in America wants them, except maybe the OVC.

5 Reasons Why Memphis Should and Should Not Hire Houston Nutt

Five Reasons Not to Hire Coach Nutt: 

1.  It is too soon to give up on Coach Porter.

One of the most important reasons not to hire Coach Nutt if you are Memphis is because Coach Porter is still in the process of building a program.  While the Tigers have struggled in Porter’s two year tenure, they are showing signs of improvement.  Memphis has a lot of underclassmen contributing on this year’s team, and this year’s experience under Coach Porter’s guidance will prove invaluable and help the program out in the long run.  He still has not gotten the depth necessary yet to compete at a top level, but he is only a few recruits away from making Memphis a threat.

2.  Despite Coach Nutt’s success his conference record is not good.

Coach Nutt has an impressive resume, but he only has a 52-58 conference record spanning the last fourteen seasons with Arkansas and Ole Miss.  Since he has been at Ole Miss his conference record is a pathetic 10-20.  It certainly seems like teams that are familiar with Coach Nutt’s system have success against him, a fact that should concern every Tiger fan that wants Coach Nutt.

3.  Houston Nutt may use Memphis as a stepping stone to get back to a major program.

Should Memphis hire Coach Nutt there is a possibility that Coach Nutt will leave as soon as a vacancy at a bigger program becomes available.  He did it to Boise State in 1997 when he left the Broncos after only one season to go coach Arkansas.  If you are curious about the damage a coach who leaves after one year can cause, look across the state to a Tennessee team that is still trying to rebuild after Lane Kiffin left to coach USC.  Add to this issue the fact that the Tiger’s have recently been spurned by a certain basketball coach who left because of the money and prestige of another program and you have a leadership group who wants to make sure that does not happen again.

4.  Coach Nutt is too expensive.

Houston Nutt is making almost 2.5 million dollars this season, while Larry Porter is only making about $316,500.   When you compare their salaries, Houston Nutt is making almost eight times as much as Coach Porter, and thanks to Coach Nutt’s buyout clause Ole Miss has to pay him six million dollars next year to not coach.  There is no way Memphis can afford to keep Nutt satisfied financially when bigger programs are always lurking and can shell out millions of dollars at a time for a coach.

5.  Coach Porter is a better recruiter than Houston Nutt.

Let me remind everyone that Coach Porter is the 2007 and 2009 Rivals.com National Recruiter of the Year and he is bringing in talented players.  Coach Porter only has one full recruiting class under his belt and he is getting talented players to commit to Memphis.  On the other hand, Coach Nutt won early on at Ole Miss with Ed Orgeron’s players, but failed to bring in the talent necessary to continue to have success at Ole Miss.

Five Reasons to Hire Coach Nutt:

1.  Hiring Coach Nutt will bring some energy and enthusiasm to a dwindling fan base.

There is no doubt that the hiring of Coach Nutt will create a buzz that will permeate throughout the city. Season ticket sales will increase, people will begin to take Memphis football more seriously, and Tiger fans will have a reason to be excited about their football program.  It will also change the fans perspective of the Memphis football program, because right now the perception of most fans is that Memphis does not care about its football program.  Hiring Houston Nutt will show that Memphis is willing to pay top dollar for an elite coach.

2.  Coach Nutt has an impressive resume.

Coach Nutt has a notable resume that includes 19 years of head coaching experience; fourteen of those years are in the SEC, which is one of the best conferences in the nation.  He has three SEC West titles and he is a three time SEC Coach of the Year.  Also, Houston Nutt’s overall record as a head coach at the FBS level is 104-77 and he has four bowl wins too.

3.  Hiring Coach Nutt will make Memphis more appealing to major conferences.

With conference realignment taking place Memphis needs to do everything it can to make itself more appealing to major conferences.  Hiring Coach Nutt will show the nation that Memphis is committed to their football program and willing to pay top dollar for an elite coach.  Houston Nutt has extensive experience coaching in a major football conference, and he will add instant credibility to a program that is desperate for a spot in an AQ conference.

4.  Houston Nutt is undefeated against C-USA teams since becoming a head coach at the FBS level.

Since becoming a head FBS coach in 1996 Houston Nutt has dominated C-USA teams.  He is an impressive 7-0 against Conference USA foes, and Memphis needs somebody who will get them wins inside their conference.  The last time Memphis had a winning record in conference was  in 2008 when the Tigers went 4-4 in conference play.  In fact, Memphis is a staggering 2-19 in conference since 2009, and the Tigers are in desperate need of somebody who can led them to more conference victories.  With his undefeated record against C-USA opponents Houston Nutt can bring a swagger to the Memphis program and make them belive that they can win games against conference foes.

5.  If you cannot bet him, join him.

Memphis knows first hand how good a football coach Houston Nutt is after taking some severe beatings from him in the past.   No Memphis football team has ever defeated Coach Nutt since he became head coach of Arkansas or while he was at Ole Miss.  Houston Nutt’s Rebel teams have all but eradicated the once intense rivalry between Memphis and Ole Miss. In the two contests since Houston Nutt became the Rebel’s head coach he has beaten Memphis by a combined score of 86-38.

CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from games.

Photos by JD Meredith and Joe Murphy.

Larry Porter emails U of M students inviting them to Saturday’s game vs. ECU

MemphiSport has obtained the mass email sent out to all University of Memphis students featuring a letter from Coach Larry Porter, inviting everyone to Saturday’s home game vs. East Carolina.

Here is the email in its entirety…

A message from our Head Football Coach:

Calling All Tigers,

We really appreciate all of your support this year and we are excited to begin the second half of our season this weekend against East Carolina. I realize that you are entering Fall Break this week, so let’s celebrate together at this weekend’s football game at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6 PM on Saturday and I know that I speak for each player when I say, we need you there to serve as the 12th man in order to bolster the enthusiasm of our players. Your support is vital to our success. Go Tigers!

Larry Porter

Head Football Coach

University of Memphis

 

Another Woeful Tiger Performance

A dejected coach Porter sat in front of the media after Saturday’s homecoming loss to SMU, a game in which the Tiger offense could never get in a rhythm. The team rushed 24 times for a net of -14 yards and the passing game could not get going either thanks in large part to the pressure SMU put on Taylor Reed.

 “We had a horrible day offensively and there are no excuses. We have to play better” coach Porter said after the game.

The Tigers were an abysmal 2-15 onthird downs and could only muster seven first downs. Tom Hornsey punted the ball twelve times, one shy of tying the school record for punts in a game.

Although nothing seemed to work for Memphis offensively the Tiger D did make some significant strides against a very potent Mustang offensive attack and coach Porter recognized the improvements, “The defense did some solid things in spite of us not being able to do anything offensively.” Memphis was able to force four turnovers including two in the red zone that prevented SMU touchdowns. Also, for the second time this year the defense for Memphis held an FBS foe scoreless for an entire quarter.

Senior linebacker Terrence Thomas lead the way for the Tiger defense with 13 tackles and a forced fumble and teammate Akeem Davis chipped in by recovering two fumbles and grabbing an interception.

The next Tiger opponent is MTSU who will be looking for their first win of the year. MTSU wants to avenge last year’s defeat which was the only win for Memphis.

This is going to be another tough matchup for the Tiger defense as MTSU comes into this contest with the No. 17 ranked passing attack in the nation. Quarterback Logan Kilgore is coming off of an amazing 415 passing yard and 5 touchdown performance against Troy State and is looking forward to playing a struggling Tiger defense.

The Blue Raiders have won nine of the last eleven games against Memphis and if Tigers do not find a way to run the football and slow down the high powered MTSU offense this game could get out of hand quickly.

Pictures by Chase Gustafson.

CJ Hurt covers Tiger Football for Memphis Sport. Follow CJ him on twitter @churtj09 for live tweets from the Tiger game.

Can Memphis Football Save Their Season?

The Memphis Tiger football team is already at a cross roads this young season after another blowout loss. It is gut check time and they are going to need to find some sort of inspiration after being outscored in their first two games by a combined score of 106-17.  The offense appears inept and the defense is giving out big plays like we give out candy to trick-or-treaters.

If Memphis is going to right the ship the defense is going to have to improve tremendously.  In the two games Memphis has played the defense has given up 1256 total yards and has yet to hold an opponent under 600 yards.  Big plays (plays of more than 20 yards) have killed the Tigers this season, they gave up eight big plays to Mississippi State and five to Arkansas State.  Memphis needs to have more gap discipline at the line of scrimmage to prevent rushers from getting to the second level and the secondary needs to get deeper in coverage to stop opposing quarterbacks from throwing over their heads.

The offense also needs to improve drastically if the Tigers are going to have any chance of winning games this season.  Averaging 8.5 points per game is not going to cut it offensively and they need to find a way to get their playmakers going.  It does not help that starting tailback Jerrell Rhodes is still injured and will not be back until next week at the earliest.  Rhodes’ injury means that Billy Foster and Artaves Gibson need to step up and carry the load on the ground.

Also, no receiver has emerged as a guy that defenses should fear.  Marcus Rucker can be that guy, he leads the team in receptions and touchdowns this year and if the offensive line can find a way to give the quarterbacks (Reed or Summerlin) more time in the pocket his numbers should improve drastically.

So can this team gain some form of respect and find the courage it takes to save this season and finish with a decent record? Yes they can and starts with a home game this week against FCS foe Austin Peay State University.  Memphis cannot afford to take any opponent for granted, even one like Austin Peay who staggers in with a 9 game losing streak. Coach Porter knows this saying at his Monday luncheon, “We will respect them…they are a good team.”

Conference play begins next Saturday with Southern Methodist coming to town and hopefully the Tigers will be ready.

When asked about realistic goals for the rest of the season Coach Porter said, “We still got ten games left.  We are still in a position to compete for a conference championship, still in position to go to a bowl, but right now we are out of the National Championship picture.”

Coach Porter is right in his assessment of the young season, but Memphis has a lot of work to do if they expect to compete for a C-USA championship.

CJ Hurt covers Memphis Tiger football for Memphis Sport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from the football games this season.

Photo by JD Meredith 

Big Jack’s Rhymes: Tigers and Red Wolves

When the Tigers play in Jonesboro it’s always the same,
A knock-down drag out type of a game.

And it’ll be more intense this time for the simple reason,
Both teams will be looking for their first win of the season.

The odds makers think the U of M will be in a bind
With the Mississippi State loss in the back of their mind.

I don’t think so, in fact I have a hunch
The Tigers will land a sucker punch.

Many Memphis fans will make the case
That losing to the Red Wolves would be a disgrace.

The players feel the same so here’s what’s in store,
Arkansas State you had better bar the door.

Because the Tigers are in a combative mode
The word in simple: lock and load.

I’m so sure of a Tigers win it can now be said,
I won’t go to the game, I’ll take a nap instead.

P.S. My prediction for the game is Memphis 24, Arkansas State 17

 

Written by Jack Eaton on 9/4/11. “Big” Jack can be heard every Friday at 8am on KWAM 990 alongside former County Commissioner John Willingham. He was recently inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.

Big Jack’s Rhymes: Mississippi State 59, Memphis 14

As I watched the game I said, “Great Caesar’s ghost,
The Tigers football program is toast.”

The offense spent it’s time sputtering and stewing.
I’m not really sure they knew what they were doing.

The defense was worse because, all the while,
The Bulldogs gained about a third of a mile.

Mississippi State, simply put, just had their way
And I’m glad I wasn’t doin’ the play-by-play.

There is an answer out there somewhere, golly gee.
But for heavens sake don’t look at me .

R.C. and the coach are of one accord.
It’s back to that well known drawing board.

There have been a lot of foul ups along the way
So here and now let me say,

Disaster is imminent it’s looming large
So why not try someone else in charge.

If that doesn’t work-from where I sit
The only thing left to do is quit.

 

Written by Jack Eaton on 9/2/11.  “Big” Jack can be heard every Friday at 8am on KWAM 990 alongside former County Commissioner John Willingham. He was recently inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.

Photo by JD Meredith.