John Klein: Fuente's task at Memphis similar to Kragthorpe at Tulsa
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Monday, July 30, 2012
7/30/12 at 4:46 AM
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: Memphis situation very similar to Tulsa
Justin Fuente steps into a situation almost identical to what Steve Kragthorpe faced when he arrived at Tulsa in 2003.
The string of losing seasons stretched back more than a decade for the Golden Hurricane.
TU was a basketball school. While the Golden Hurricane faded from college football, Tubby Smith and Bill Self were leading Tulsa to a glorious decade of basketball that included an Elite Eight and three Sweet 16s.
Fuente, a former star at Union High School and Oklahoma, will inherit pretty much the same situation at Memphis.
Fuente is the new football coach at Memphis, a school known for basketball excellence in a city known for fabulous high school football athletes. It has an aging football stadium, much like Skelly (now Chapman) Stadium was in the 1990s.
Memphis football looks a lot like Tulsa football in the mid-1990s to early 2000s.
"I hadn't really thought about it but there are a lot of similarities," said Fuente. "When I think about it, it reminds me of what a great job Steve and his staff did at TU.
"I know basketball was really big at TU during that era. And, certainly, basketball is very big at our school and has been for a very long time."
Being good at basketball does not prevent greatness in football.
If anything, basketball can help spark a revival in football.
"People already know the school," said Fuente. "They are drawn to our basketball program and that is a great thing for us. They are watching our athletes and our athletic program.
"When you have a good basketball program, with the kind of support our basketball program gets, then you've already got a large fan base of people on board."
Good basketball energizes a fan base, gets people involved in the program. It makes them aware of the overall sports program.
Memphis has sports fans. What they need is a football program to cheer for.
So, rather than wait, Memphis started to revive the football program before it made a change in coaching.
Many believe that commitment led to an invitation for Memphis to join the Big East Conference. The Tigers are among four C-USA schools leaving for the Big East next year.
Many felt Memphis needed to prove it was serious about football. So, the Tigers built deluxe practice facilities to give the sport a base to operate.
Then, it proceeded with a plan to completely renovate the Liberty Bowl.
Millions were being poured into Memphis football before the Tigers found the guy they wanted to lead the program.
Now, Fuente steps into a program that is already reaping the benefits of a new-found commitment before he has ever coached a game for Memphis.
That proven commitment, through not only improved facilities but also far more resources, lured Fuente away from TCU, where he was an accomplished offensive coordinator.
"That's why I'm here," said Fuente. "That commitment to football is why I wanted to do this.
"I do not have one insecurity about the basketball program at this school. They've won in football before at Memphis. They've shown it can be done. I know if we do the same things I know the city will support us."
Fuente should feel fairly confident because Memphis' drought of the past three years was preceded by a period of stability and success.
The Tigers have won just five games in the last three years.
However, Memphis did go to five bowls in six years (2003-08).
That all came crashing down in 2009. Tommy West was pushed out as coach after a 2-9 season, including a 33-30 overtime loss at Tulsa in his final game.
Larry Porter won just three games in his two years as coach.
So, Fuente comes in to revive a program that has enjoyed some success in recent memory.
"There are a lot of good athletes in Memphis," said Fuente. "It is our job to do a good job evaluating those players and find the ones that will fit into our program.
"Those kids are the ones that can help us turn this program around. Then, we send those kids out into the community and talk to a new generation of kids. It is a process."