Ryne E. Hancock
Special to the Tri-State Defender
Justin Fuente was sailing through the press conference where he was introduced him as the University of Memphis 23rd head football coach when “it” surfaced – the time question.
|New Tigers Football Coach Justin Fuente said the U of M head coaching position is a big challenge that he is “so ready for.” (Photo by Ryne E. Hancock)|
“I don’t know,” said Fuente when asked the timetable on getting the Tigers’ losing football program back on track. “You can get steered in the right direction immediately. You can start to steer and get everything lined up and going the right way immediately. How long will it take results to show? I don’t know.”
Fuente, former TCU co-offensive coordinator and a Tulsa, Okla., native, does know this: no excuses will be the order of the day.
“We’re going to do this the right way. We’re going to go out there and play the guys on our schedule and go give it our best shot. I don’t want to put a timeframe on anything other than we’re going to get this thing straightened out, pointed in the right direction and run correctly and let the chips fall where they may,” said Fuente.
“ I think you can measure it and see it immediately if things are going in the right direction.”
A packed house greeted Fuente last Thursday (Dec. 8) afternoon at the Anfernee Hardaway U of M Hall of Fame.
“This is a big challenge, and I am so ready for this challenge. I’ve been dreaming of 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. I’m honored to be a member of your community. I’m honored to have my family here. I’m honored to wear blue and be a Tiger,” Fuente said before a crowd of assembled media and Tiger supporters.
The main goal for him as head coach would be to make the Memphis football program “Memphis’ team,” he said.
“This is the University of Memphis football, but it’s the city of Memphis. I don’t care what school you went to; if you live in this city, I want this to be your team. I don’t care where you’re from; if you live in this city, I want this to be your team. I want you to embrace athletics. That is one of the great things about athletics. It brings people from all walks of life together. It brings young, old, rich, poor, from the north side, from the south side, different racial barriers, all of that is broken down through athletics because nobody cares,” he said.
TCU earned a trip to the Poinsettia Bowl, but Fuente will not coaching in the bowl game.
“There’s just no way I can get back there and do an adequate job. It wouldn’t be fair to those kids and the staff. They have more-than-competent people to step in there and do a great job. I know they’ll play well in the bowl game. So I’m full-time at Memphis. I’m not going to split duties,” he said.
Fuente promised the crowd that the Tigers would play, “Fast, fast, fast.”
As for recruiting, Fuente said that being able to build a foundation in Memphis would be a selling point to potential recruits.
“Do you want to build something? Do you want to build a program? Do you want to get in on the ground floor and build this thing with us? This is what we’re going to do, and this is how we’re going to do it. Do you want to compete for and win conference championships for years to come? I think that’s what you have to sell,” he said.
“Other places have things to sell as well, but here, you’re going to get a chance to build this with your own hands and be a part of it. I think obviously you hit on the past successes we’ve had and how that’s going to fit in here and talk about all the great things that there are in this city.”
Fuente reserved any detailed comment on recruits who already have committed to the Tigers, most notably Melrose quarterback Will Gross.
“It’s a little bit remiss for me to talk about people that I have no idea who they are. I haven’t been here long enough to even really address that. I’m looking forward to meeting those people,” he said.
“But it’s a little unfair for me to make any comment on it just because I don’t know anything about those people. I’m looking forward to finding out about them.”