- Larry Kuzniewski
- Justin Fuente
Early voting has begun, and I've made my choice for the next mayor of Memphis.
My pick for mayor is an up-and-comer who loves a challenge. What some might call "the worst job in the country," he calls an opportunity. He balances a lot of responsibilities at his current high-pressure job. But he manages and delegates effectively. He and a few assistants oversee a team of about 90 people, most of whom are only high school-educated.
He hasn't been in Memphis long, but his outsider perspective means he's not cynical and defeatist.
He's not above working on weekends – in fact, he lives for a Saturday at the office.
Sorry A C, Jim, Mike, and Harold. Maybe next time, Mongo. There's one man who has shown he has the guts, vision, and leadership to tackle seemingly insurmountable odds and effect real, positive change.
His name is Justin Fuente. He coaches the University of Memphis football team.
I know what you're probably thinking, and, at first, I didn't believe in him either. I even called him "another 'who' hire instead of a 'wow'" the day it was announced he'd been selected to coach my alma mater's embarrassment of a football team. I don't remember whom I preferred at the time, or why I even thought anyone else would be crazy enough to take the job, but I will happily admit I was wrong. With the success Fuente has had here, I'm more inclined to call him a genius or a wizard than a coach. If he can fix Memphis football, let's see what else he can do.
If Coach Fuente can transform the Memphis football program from trolley fire to conference champion in just three seasons, I'd like to see what he can do for Memphis Animal Services. Did you see that reverse flea-flicker Paxton Lynch threw Saturday at Bowling Green? That demonstrates that Fuente's not scared to get creative and make bold decisions, a strength I would like to see him apply in addressing the city's issues with blight.
We talk about attracting and retaining talent to the city, and so far he seems to have done a pretty good job with that. Just imagine the positive attention the city will get if Memphis beats Ole Miss this season. If that happens, we should bypass the mayor thing and crown him King of Memphis for life eternal so he never moves on to a "bigger" job. What better gig is there than king?
I'm sure he'd decline, deflecting the praise onto his players and assistant coaches. But it would backfire, because that kind of humility is another leadership quality that would make him a perfect mayor and/or king of the city. Shoot, bring the staff along too. City Council, start packing your things. I'd offer the players something too, but I'd hate for some NCAA violations to interfere with these good-time feelings in Tiger Nation.
Former U of M athletic director R.C. Johnson used to say "It's a great day to be a Tiger," and it made me cringe every time. But we can finally say without irony that these are halcyon days indeed for Your Memphis Tigers, who have started the season 3-0 for the first time since 2004. That means they're already halfway to bowl eligibility for the second year in a row, with a fairly friendly schedule ahead. They've won 10 straight games for the first time since Kennedy was president. That's good for one of the longest winning streaks in the country. In football! Can you believe it? It still feels a little like Bizarro World to me.
For others, it feels too good to be true. Every postgame show, at least one caller asks: "How long before somebody snatches him up?" "What happens when he's gone?" "What do we have to do to keep him here?" How typically and hilariously Memphis is that? "Things are going great, so we should probably start preparing ourselves for when it all inevitably goes to hell."
I understand. Sports fans in this town have been burned before. But I promise it's OK. If I had a dollar for every time a fellow alum told me "I love Tiger basketball, but I root for (insert SEC school here) in football 'cause ... you know ..." I could upgrade my season tickets. Now? They're complaining about having to work in the morning after attending Thursday night's Cincinnati game. The train's on the tracks (literally, it's on Southern just south of the stadium), and it's moving in the right direction. Enjoy it.
Jen Clarke is an unapologetic Memphian and a digital marketing strategist.