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New Coach in Town

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He's showing the flag here and there and getting good reviews for the most part. That's Justin Fuente, ex-quarterback coach of the TCU Horned Frogs, a formerly obscure college football team which, in recent years, has enjoyed success on par with that other up-from-nothing gridiron squad at Boise State. Fuente, of course, is the new head coach of the University of Memphis Tigers, and he suggests that the U of M can have success on the same order — so long as the players, the fans, and the city are willing to "buy in" to the program.

Lest we think we've been there before, we really haven't. There have been many new coaching regimes through the years, of course, and intimations from them of great things to come that didn't finally come. But this time really could be different. "It's a matter of timing," Fuente told members of the Memphis Rotary Club this week. The Liberty Bowl stadium is slated for significant improvements; the Big East Conference, with its faster competition and higher profile to attract recruits, has beckoned; and surely it's worth something to have a new coach here who's fresh from a winning program.

Fuente regaled the Rotarians with facts of all kinds — from highs ("Did you know the athletic department [presumably its personnel] has a collective grade-point average of over 3.0? I'm afraid I may have dropped it down!") to lows ("There were some players here who were skipping their weight program. I'd heard of skipping classes, but this is a new one!"). The point he was making is that he will insist that his players commit to both their coursework and the demands and expectations of the football program.  It's that matter of "buying in" and of seeing opportunities where others might see obstacles.

One example: There has historically been a lot of hand-wringing at the U of M about the school's misfortune in having to compete for players with all those nearby Southeastern Conference institutions. Fuente speaks of the school's location in the middle of the southeastern states almost as Fred Smith might, as a distinct geographical advantage.

Conscious of the fact that his immediate predecessor was regarded as something less than media-friendly, Fuente promised that he and his assistants will make themselves as available to the press as is possible without giving opposing teams the key aspects of a game plan. "I'm going to make it as easy for them [reporters] to get what they need and do their job as possible," he said. "And I'm going to ignore whatever they write," he concluded, to a roomful of applause and laughter.

We think Fuente was joking, but, even if he wasn't, whatever gets said or written, fair or foul, will get around to him soon enough. Meanwhile, we hope he reads this. It's our pledge to "buy in" to his program if he keeps the faith and does justice to all the standards he talked about — athletic and academic. And yes, we will keep close watch on the wins and losses, too.

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