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NEW COACH MEETS THE PRESS

NEW COACH MEETS THE PRESS

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Tommy West was named the new head football coach at the University of Memphis at a press conference Thursday. West was hired as defensive coordinator before the 2000 season by former head coach Rip Scherer. Scherer endorsed West for the head job. “I don’t care what names are bantered around, there is no better candidate for this job than Tommy West,” Scherer said after his firing. “The players believe in him. He is a heck of a football coach.” West opened his remarks by thanking his former boss. “I don’t know if I could have done that,” West said. “That took a big man.” Under West the Tiger defense finished the season first in the country in rushing defense. Overall, Memphis ranked sixth in total defense. From 1993 to 1998, West was the head coach at Clemson. During that time he had only one losing season. It came in 1998 and it cost him his job. He took Clemson to four bowl games (becoming only the second coach at the school to go to three consecutive bowl games). Twenty players at Clemson went into the NFL under West and 29 were named to the All-ACC team. Sixty-one of his players made the ACC academic honor roll. West said his feelings for the Tiger players -- many of whom actively lobbied for him to get the job -- made the day special. “I had a strong attachment to the players I left a couple of years ago [at Clemson]. I promised myself it wouldn’t happen again,” said West who is know as a players' coach. “I was not going to let myself become attached. But I couldn’t help it.” Memphis has ranked in the bottom quartile of Division I offenses for the past seven years, so naturally West’s offensive philosophy was a key component of the press conference. “Productive.” Was the new coach’s answer to what type of offense he wanted. “I know the popular thing is to stand here and say that we are going to throw it 70 times a game. But I don’t want to throw it 70 times a game and lose,” he said. “On the other hand, I don’t want to run it 70 times and lose. We have to be able to take advantage of what the defense gives us. We have to be effective doing both. I don’t want to stand here and say that we are going to throw the ball more than anybody else in the country. But we are certainly going to be good at throwing the ball. “I’m not going to run from the question: We have to improve our offense. We have to. We’ve got to score more points. That’s easy to say, but we’ve got to find a way to do it.” West said his first priority is to hire a staff and he had some people in mind, but wouldn’t mention any names. He said he would hire both an offensive and defensive coordinator and would not micro-manage either side. He joked about the new defensive coordinator: “He has got some pretty big shoes to fill.” His experience at Clemson taught him several lessons. “You’ve got to have a plan and you better be willing to stick to it because there are going to be some bumps in the road. You can’t be wishy-washy and start second-guessing,” he said. “The second thing I learned there is make good hires and get out of their way. I was a head coach for one year at UT Chattanooga. I wasn’t ready for the head coaching job at Clemson. No way, no how was I ready for that job. I told them, ‘You just fired a lot better head coach than you hired five years ago.’ “As a young head coach, I wanted to do everything myself. I didn’t know how to delegate. I wasn’t very good at it,” West said. “I am comfortable with it now.” In many ways the new coach is old-school. He has coached under Bill Battle, Johnny Majors, and Danny Ford. You could hear any of the three in some of the things West said. “I like to start a program by building the interior lines,” he said. “If you’re good there, you’ve got a chance to be a pretty good football team.” The offensive line has been a particular weakness at the University of Memphis. West admits it might take some time to build the line the way he wants it. “We want big nasty human beings. We want some guys who can go out there and can take a game over physically,” he continued. “A lot of people think you have to run the ball to be physical, you don’t have to run it. I want to be physical everywhere. I think that is the heart of your team -- the offensive and defensive line.” After coaching for one year in Conference USA, West said he was surprised at how good the young league is. “What do I expect from our program? I expect us to be at the top of it,” West said. “I wouldn’t be standing here if I didn’t have those kinds of goals.” HIring a coach from within the staff provides some advantages in recruiting. “I know the needs of this team right now. So we won’t have to go through a signing period and go through Spring ball and say ‘Gee I wish we would have signed two more of this position and two less at that position,” the new coach said. “I think I know the needs of this team right now. Where we need depth, where we need the majority of our players.” In Conference USA, only Army and Tulane do not recruit heavily from the junior college ranks. Under Scherer, Memphis was in that category but that will change under West. “Sometimes I think there is a stereotype of junior college players. Just because a guy goes to junior college does not mean he’s not a class or character guy,” West said. “We’re going to recruit the junior colleges. We are not going to sign a whole class of junior-college players, but I think that’s the direction we will go to fill some of the immediate needs.” He promised the school’s fans that he would operate the football team in a manner that would make them proud. “This program will be run in the right way. It will be a very hard-nosed physical football team,” he said. “I can promise all of our people we will put a team on the field that will play with the kind of effort and play the game the way it should be played.” There is only one answer to the problems at the U of M. “We need to win. Seriously that’s what we need to do. R.C. can build all the facilities he wants to build, I can stand up here and talk all I want to talk, and I can go speak to every civic club fifteen times a year and do every seventh grade football banquet but we need to win. Winning will fill the stadium.” West is from Carrolton, Georgia. He played tight end for Bill Battle in the mid ‘70s at Tennessee. He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant to Battle in 1977. Most of his career has been spent in East Tennessee and the Carolinas (at Appalachian State, South Carolina, and Clemson). He has been both an offensive and defensive coordinator during his career. (You can write Dennis Freeland at freeland@memphisflyer.com)

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