Justin Fuente is Memphis' new coach
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Justin Fuente filed away his notes from his interview for the Memphis coaching position and, thinking he probably didn't get the job, wrote thank you notes to the university's search committee. Then the phone started ringing off the hook.
That was Wednesday morning. By the end of the day, TCU's co-offensive coordinator had accepted an offer to take over the Tigers' struggling football program.
"Had a good practice, and then got home and sprinted to the car, then jumped on the plane and came here," Fuente told fans and university officials who attended a Thursday news conference announcing him as the next Memphis coach. "I didn't sleep but about 10 or 15 minutes, woke up, started the day. A lot of fun."
That was Fuente's last TCU practice. He will not be on the sidelines when TCU meets Louisiana Tech in the Dec. 21 Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego.
Fuente is replacing Larry Porter, who was fired after the Tigers' season-ending 44-7 to eventual Conference USA champion Southern Mississippi on Nov. 26. Porter was 3-21 in two seasons as head coach of his alma mater.
Fuente also joins an athletic department that's looking for a new director after R.C. Johnson announced his retirement two days after Porter was fired.
The new coach faces major challenges, including adding better talent on offense and defense and rebuilding local interest in a football program that saw just 2,500 people attend this past season's home finale against Marshall.
"We're going to run this program as a family," said Fuente, whose wife and two daughters, ages 3 and 2 months, attended the news conference. "Families are honest. Families work hard. Families get results together."
Fuente said he plans to make practices accessible to the media -- something Porter did not do -- and speak at any Boy Scout or Kiwanis Club event that he is invited to as he tries to bring fans back to the program.
"I'm going to go out and beat pots and pans in the street if I have to," Fuente said.
Fuente, who has spent the past three seasons leading the Horned Frogs' high-powered offense and tutored standout NFL rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, will be paid $900,000 in 2012 as part of a five-year contract.
"We're going to play fast, fast, fast offensive football and we're going to recruit fast, fast, fast defensive players," he said.
Fuente played two seasons at Oklahoma as a quarterback before transferring to Murray State, where he was the 1999 Ohio Valley Conference offensive player of the year. He worked at Illinois State for six seasons before joining TCU in 2007 as running backs coach.
Fuente said the success TCU's program has had under coach Gary Patterson has given him a blueprint for building a winning program from the ground up.
"At the last place, we didn't always have the biggest stick, but we got it done," Fuente said.
The hiring of a football coach was the main priority for university president Shirley Raines, who formed a search committee and hired a search firm to help find the next coach. Now, the school must find a replacement for Johnson, who said Nov. 28 that he plans to retire sometime in June of next year.
Johnson announced in June a capital campaign to raise $10 million for a 74,000-square foot indoor practice facility and other improvements for the football program.
But the football team plays in the aging Liberty Bowl, which is near campus but not on it. Raines said the school has increased the football program travel budget for recruitment, but questions still remain about whether football team will improve its facilities and cease playing second-string to the successful basketball program.
Fuente issued a challenge to fans in Memphis, many of whom hold close loyalties to their alma maters from the Southeastern Conference or elsewhere.
"I don't care what school you went to," Fuente said. "If you live in this city, I want this to be your team."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press