UM Introduces Football Coach Justin Fuente

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Former TCU co-offensive coordinator Justin Fuente (along with his wife, Jenny, and two young daughters) was introduced today as the 23rd head football coach at the University of Memphis. Fuente succeeds Larry Porter, who was dismissed last month after two seasons and a 3-21 record.

Among Fuente’s attributes that impressed U of M president Shirley Raines the most was his role as playcaller for the high-octane offense that has helped the Horned Frogs gain national prominence over the last four seasons. Fuente is leaving the only program to appear in the final top 10 for both major polls from 2008 to 2010. TCU is currently 10-2 and ranked 15th in the country. The Horned Frogs will play in the Poinsettia Bowl, but Fuente will not coach in the game.

A native of Tulsa, Fuente is 35 years old (a year older than Tiger basketball coach Josh Pastner) and has signed a five-year contract that will pay him $900,000 in 2012. He joined TCU’s staff in 2007 as running backs coach and was promoted to co-offensive coordinator before the 2009 season. He was tasked primarily with coaching quarterbacks, including Andy Dalton, now a star rookie with the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals.

Some highlights from his press conference at the Hardaway Hall of Fame:

Fuente: “I know [athletic director] R.C. [Johnson] is going to step down in a few months. I look forward to working with him and the new athletic director, and making the transition seamless.”

“I’ve been looking forward to this moment for a long, long time. This is the place I want to be for as long as you’ll have me. I’m so honored today to be your football coach, and a member of your community. I’m honored to wear blue and be a Tiger.”

“We’re gonna run this like a family. Families are honest, families work hard, and families get results. This is going to be Memphis’ team. The city of Memphis. If you live in this city, I want this to be your team. That is one of the great things about athletics. It brings people from all walks of life together: young, old, rich, poor, north side, south side. Racial barriers are broken down by athletics, because nobody cares. Everyone just wants something to cheer.”

“I’m going to put my heart and soul into this program. I’m going to make sure our kids act right. I believe this community is hungry, hungry, hungry for success. This job is 24 hours a day, and seven days a week. I can’t wait to get started.”

“We’re going to play fast, fast, fast offensive football, and we’re going to recruit fast, fast, fast defensive players. We’re going to be well-coached and we’re going to be disciplined.”

What are the biggest challenges in building this program?

“We’ve got several. We’ve got to engage this community. I want people to feel invested in the program. Because they will support you. On the field, I haven’t been around, so I don’t know where we are. I’m looking forward to finding out. We’re a little short on guys, so we have to build that up. We have to hit the ground running with recruiting.”

How open do you plan to be with the media?

“We’ll have a much more liberal policy than what I understand they’ve had in the past. I’m not going to lay out the exact guidelines right now. Our players will be more accessible. Our coaches will be more accessible.”

What’s your message to the current team, coming off a 2-10 season?

“Part of that is between the team and me, and I’ll keep it there. I played for several different coaches, and that’s an odd feeling: playing for a different coach than the one who recruited you. I’m just going to tell them a little about myself. I’ll lay out some guidelines.”

What made this job a fit for you?

“There are a lot of great things about Memphis football. Location. There are great athletes in this city. We play in a league where we can be competitive. We have facilities. There are some tangible things that excite me, and some intangibles.”

What makes you feel like you have the unique gifts to handle this job?

“It just happened. I can recruit. I’m organized. I’ve been part of a great program. I’ve seen how it was done [at TCU]. X’s and O’s, I have a background in all that.”

How did the hiring process unfold over the last 48 hours?

“I had actually put all my stuff from my interview in a file, and wrote my thank-you notes . . . which are probably in the mail to you right now. I even went to practice [at TCU] yesterday. I got a phone call and, after practice, sprinted to the car and jumped on a plane. It’s been a lot of fun.

How will you ensure the community is backing you?

“I’m going to get out and beat pots and pans in the street if I have to. My staff is going to be involved in it. It’s important for them professionally. We’re going to display our kids, put them out there. You get into coaching to teach. Being around young people is a thrill.”

Will you schedule SEC teams to generate excitement and draw recruits?

“Scheduling is very important, and the timing of your scheduling is very important. You have to understand where you are. Down the road, I’m open to playing those types of games. I’m not afraid of anyone. You’ve got to schedule smart, and the right way.”

What are some of the points on your blueprint for success?

“It starts with relationships. With your boss, your staff, your players. Our assistant coaches have to be close to our players. The blueprint comes down to the way you practice, the way your offseason is run, how organized you are with recruiting, the way you handle business . . . official and unofficial. You have to do it the right way. It’s not easy. Sometimes it’s the long way.”

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