Want to know the first thing that went through new Tiger football coach Larry Porter’s head when he was introduced to 15,689 adoring fans at FedExForum tonight? “How can I get this many people in the Liberty Bowl?” (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
After the pregame lovefest, the Tiger basketball team continued its welcome of rookie coach Josh Pastner by beating Oakland University, 77-46, for the home team’s third consecutive win. Elliot Williams led the Tigers in scoring — as he has all five games this season — with 20 points, while center Will Coleman scored 12 points, grabbed six rebounds, and blocked four shots. An Oakland team expected to compete for the Summit League championship was made to look like more early-season fodder for a Tiger team looking less and less like one in transition, and more like one on a mission.
“We did a good job of getting after it offensively,” said Williams after the game. “And defensively, the scouting report was great. Throughout the week, Coach Pastner told us this was an NCAA tournament team, that they had great players. Our team starts defensively, and that leads to good offense.”
• Anyone looking for Raider jerseys in the Oakland cheering section tonight would be astray. Oakland University is located in Rochester, Michigan. (Probably won't see any Lion jerseys either.)
• The Tigers and Golden Grizzlies — members of the Summit League — have only played once before. The U of M beat Oakland on December 29, 2003, in The Pyramid.
• Oakland will start three players averaging at least 12 points per game: guard Johnathan Jones, guard Derick Nelson, and forward Keith Benson. Benson leads the team with 18.2 points per game and 10.8 rebounds.
• Oakland coach Greg Kampe has been in charge of the program for 25 years. His career record: 422-317.
• This from Tiger coach Josh Pastner after his team beat Central Arkansas last Tuesday: "I don't want the guys to think we can show up against Oakland and play like we played today. [Oakland's] best offense is their offensive rebounding, their inside presence. Allowing 55 percent shooting [in a half] and 14 turnovers, that'll bite you in the rear."
U of M alum Larry Porter is coming home. The former Memphis Tiger tailback — and running backs coach at LSU the last five years — was named the new head coach of the Tiger football program Sunday afternoon at a public press conference in the Mike Rose Theatre on the university’s campus. The 37-year-old Porter will take his first head-coaching job as the successor to Tommy West, whose nine-year stint as Tiger coach ended with a loss in Tulsa last Friday.
Porter opened by thanking God and his family for what he called a “blessing.” He then went on to share some of the conviction that clearly sold the U of M administration on his candidacy. “The Memphis job is the perfect job, in the perfect place for me,” he said. “I understand the Memphis brand, and I believe in it unconditionally. I have a passion and a vision that allows me to walk into homes, and to talk to faculty and the student body and get them to believe in that vision. I’m motivated to get this program to the next level.
“We’re all in this together,” stressed Porter. “I don’t want you to follow me; I want you to join me in taking Memphis football to a championship level. This job is a diamond in the rough that’s waiting to sparkle.”
“What we’re all about these days is the recruiting business.”
— University of Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson, November 9th
LSU running backs coach Larry Porter will be named the new head football coach for the U of M Sunday at a public press conference, to be held at 3:00 in the Mike Rose Theatre on campus.
The search for Tommy West’s successor came down to a pair of candidates: Porter and Washington Redskins defensive assistant Jerry Gray. If the top qualification for the new boss is recruiting, as R.C. Johnson suggested three weeks ago, the choice simply had to be Porter, the former U of M tailback. Porter has built his reputation on the hunting down and capturing of top prep talent (though Louisiana happens to be as fertile with football talent as any territory this side of Florida). Whatever skills Gray has developed in more than a decade as a pro coach . . . recruiting is not among them.
Beyond this obvious distinction between Porter and Gray, there’s another — maybe just as obvious — that would seem to give Porter an edge: he’s familiar with what he’s getting into. Gray played in college for Texas and in Los Angeles with the Rams as a pro. He’s been in the nation’s capital most recently, and has seen some dysfunction under Redskin owner Dan Snyder. But he doesn’t know University of Memphis football, or the love/hate/apathy the enterprise has come to embody among Mid-South sports fans.
Brittany Carter established a new single-game scoring record Friday night in the women's 98-83 win over Sacramento State in Seattle. But the sophomore forward's new mark — 49 points — actually represents a U of M standard for women's or men's basketball. The men's record remains the 48 points Larry Finch scored against St. Joseph's on January 20, 1973. (Among women, Tamika Whitmore held the record of 45 points since 1999.)
Tommy West coaches his final game for Memphis this afternoon (2:30) in Tulsa. I thought a fitting send-off for him would be a look at the 14 players who earned first-team all-conference honors during his tenure.
• Artis Hicks (OL), 2001
• Glenn Sumter (DB), 2001
• Jimond Pugh (C), 2002
• Wesley Smith (S), 2003-05
• DeAngelo Williams (RB), 2003-05
• Stephen Gostkowski (K), 2004-05
• Gene Frederic (C), 2004
• Andrew Handy (OL), 2005
• Marcus West (DL), 2005
• Rusty Clayton (DS), 2006
• Michael Gibson (P), 2006
• Andy Smith (OL), 2007
• Brandon Pearce (OL), 2008
• Clinton McDonald (DL), 2008
It’s easy to consider 2009 a downer if you’re a Tiger fan and choose to grind your teeth over an NCAA investigation into the men’s basketball program or a dreadful season for the football team. But if you look at the university’s athletic programs with a wider lens, there’s plenty to be grateful for as you carve this year's turkey.
• Brooks Monaghan. The women’s soccer coach is building the kind of resume that will capture national attention . . . if it can just catch enough local eyes first. In Monaghan’s 10th season at the helm, the Tigers won their third straight Conference USA championship and reached the NCAA tournament a third consecutive year. And next season may be the year the U of M finally advances in soccer’s version of the Big Dance. Returning will be junior Ashley Berra (Conference USA’s 2009 Offensive Player of the Year), junior Kelsey Bakker (C-USA’s 2009 Defensive POY), and Vendula Strnadova (a three-time all-conference selection).
• Mike Rose Soccer Complex. On the subject of soccer, I can’t imagine a better place to watch a match than the just-the-right-size stadium off Bill Morris Parkway. It’s a shining example of what the football program needs. A stadium doesn’t necessarily have to be on campus . . . but size matters, and a lot.
The Tigers are expected to announce the hiring of Washington Redskins' assistant coach Jerry Gray as their new head coach.
Gray interviewed this week and was a finalist for the position along with LSU running backs coach Larry Porter.
The announcement, assuming there are no unforeseen developments, is not expected to come until after Memphis has played its final game under outgoing coach Tommy West.
The Tigers play their final game of the season at Tulsa on Friday.
Thirty-two point blowouts are confidence-builders in the world of college basketball, as long as you’re on the right side of the score. (On the wrong side, and they’re lucrative public spankings.) The Tigers’ dismantling of UCA tonight should help in a few areas.
Memphis hit 12 of 24 three-point shots, including three of five from sharpshooter Roburt Sallie, who had missed 13 of his first 14 long-distance attempts of the season. “I knew it would come,” he said after the game. “I got some lucky bounces today, and that may help me get out of [the slump]. I’m grateful.” Elliot Williams drained four treys and led the Tigers in scoring for the fourth straight game with 20 points. He also dished out eight assists with but a single turnover.
“We’re gaining confidence,” said center Pierre Henderson-Niles. “It just takes time. We’ve got to get on the same page. If we come together, and can stay together, we’re gonna be a helluva team to beat.” Henderson-Niles had the biggest smile of the night after making a free throw late in the second half (he’s three for eight for the season), but with a single rebound — to match his point total — the big senior’s impact could best be described as intangible.
Alert, Tiger Nation: the U of M has never beaten tonight's opponent. Of course, in 1924, UCA was known as Arkansas Normal when they beat West Tennessee State Normal School, 25-11. Then in 1940 it was Arkansas Teachers College 38, West Tennessee State Teachers College 29.
Well you can throw those losses out, Tiger fans! And count on considerably more offense tonight when Memphis looks to build its first winning streak of the young season. The Bears, it should be noted, lost to Tennessee Tech (last Friday's Tiger opponent), 71-67, on November 16th. They lost to Kansas on November 19th by the tidy score of 94-44. Members of the Southland Conference, Central Arkansas went 10-19 last season.
• After the win over Tennessee Tech, I asked Tiger center Will Coleman about the secret to staying out of foul trouble. "Getting extra time with the coaching staff helps a lot," he said. "It's important to stay sound and disciplined. I have to time shots as it leaves a player's hand, and be quick enough to get to the ball. It's about being sound and watching the ball."
Few college basketball players would voluntarily follow the career arc Willie Kemp has at the University of Memphis. (Actually, you’d need to turn an arc upside down to track Kemp’s three-plus years as a Tiger.) If there’s a metaphorical roar to this first season of the Josh Pastner Era, it’s source is likely the senior point guard — starting point guard — from Bolivar, Tennessee.
As a freshman, Kemp started 36 games for the 2006-07 Tigers. He averaged 21 minutes of playing time for a team that won 33 games, a Conference USA championship, and reached the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight. But with the arrival of Derrick Rose the next season and Tyreke Evans for 2008-09, Kemp’s role diminished significantly. He played in 76 games over the last two seasons, but only started two and averaged 13 minutes of playing time. The most telling reflections of Kemp’s decline are his shooting percentages as a junior: 28 percent from the field, 26 percent from three-point range. Gone with his shooting touch, apparently, was any semblance of confidence.
Our series continues.
Coach Pastner reached legal drinking age during President Bill Clinton’s second term. (But he doesn’t drink alcohol.)
Over the last 20 years, the Tiger football program has sent its share of defensive backs to the NFL. Ken Irvin, Jerome Woods, Reggie Howard, Mike McKenzie, Michael Stone, Idrees Bashir, and Brandon McDonald all disrupted passes in the Liberty Bowl before playing on Sundays. Certain followers of the program haved dubbed it “DBU.”
So what’s happened? Here’s a look at the yardage total accumulated by a few of the Tigers’ opposing quarterbacks this season.
• Dwight Dasher (MTSU): 231 yards
• Brett Hodges (UCF): 214
• Trevor Vittatoe (UTEP): 319
• Pat Pinkney (East Carolina): 216
• Jonathan Crompton (Tennessee): 331
• Joe Webb (UAB): 378
Things could get ugly this afternoon in Houston, where the Tigers’ secondary will be facing Cougar quarterback Case Keenum, the likely Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year. Through ten games, Keenum has averaged 419 yards through the air and thrown 31 touchdown passes with only six interceptions. DB-ugh.
With just under 10 minutes to play in Friday night's game between the Tigers and Tennessee Tech at FedExForum, Memphis sophomore Wesley Witherspoon went sprawling out of bounds near midcourt, saved a loose ball by slinging it backward over his head, and slammed into the scorer's table. The hustle play gained the U of M a possession in a game they were leading at the time . . . by 26 points.
"Our identity is scrap," said Tiger coach Josh Pastner after the victory, which leaves Memphis with a record of 2-1. "Get after it, stay after it. For us to be able to have a chance, we have to be scrappy."
Any possibility that the Tigers would suffer a letdown after Tuesday night's narrow loss to top-ranked Kansas was erased with the sight of Hall of Famer Lute Olson sitting across the court from the Tiger bench. With Pastner's mentor from his days as a player and assistant coach at Arizona merely 60 feet away, this was a night for the apprentice to show the master that The Right Way was alive and well.
"We weren't concerned [about a letdown]," said Tiger guard Elliot Williams, who led Memphis with 23 points. "Coach Pastner stressed that that's what everyone expected, for us to have a letdown. We came out strong defensively. Every game is big for us. It's not hard to get up for this." A soaring, two-handed dunk by Williams late in the first half lifted the crowd of 16,707 out of their seats. When he followed on the next possession with a 30-foot lob to Will Coleman for another dunk, the affair was settled.
"Keeping the same intensity was important," said Coleman, "to show people that the Kansas game wasn't a fluke. Defense, defense, defense . . . and hustle plays. Every loose ball, we're sacrificing. Coach preaches that a lot."
The Tigers found their long-range shooting touch for the first time this season, Willie Kemp draining three treys and Doneal Mack four. (Roburt Sallie continued to slump, missing all three of his long-distance attempts tonight.) Kemp is regaining control of his team's offensive flow, his six assists and one turnover calling to mind performances from his freshman season of 2006-07.
"In the second half," added Pastner, "the reason we were able to make shots is that we penetrated, kicked, and made the extra pass. When that happened, we were able to get better looks. The disappointing thing — and we have really good guards — is that we made 14 turnovers. We have to be better than that. But overall toughness, I was proud of our guys."
The Tigers will host Central Arkansas next Tuesday night at FedExForum.
The Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles don't exactly roll off the tongue when you consider the Tigers' historical rivals. But for 30 years (starting with the 1931-32 season and ending in 1960-61), these teams typically played twice each winter. The most significant Tiger win came on March 4, 1952, a victory that earned Memphis the NAIB state championship (and qualified them to play in the NAIB national tournament, where they lost in the second round).
When the annual series was discontinued after the 1960-61 season, each team had won 24 games. Memphis has won the only two meetings since, in January 1993 and in the third round of the 2002 NIT.
• November 20th has been good to the Tigers of late, with wins each of the last three seasons. The U of M beat Oklahoma in 2006 (in Maui), Arkansas State in 2007, and Chattanooga last year (in Puerto Rico).