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.”
Porter framed his priorities around four elements he considers key to a successful program. “The first and foremost is discipline, on the field and off the field,” he said. “We all know recruiting is the lifeblood of a program. But just recruiting talent isn’t enough; we have to recruit character. The one thing I’m very, very excited about is that academically, we’re solid here. I have a plan in place to enhance that. As head coach, I will challenge my players on a daily basis to be the best they can be. We have a great academic institution. Then you have the strength and conditioning program.
“I’ve been given a great responsibility,” Porter added. “I look forward to upholding this responsibility and giving you something you can be very proud of. This football program deserves to be champions, so let’s march forward.”
Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson — before introducing Porter — said he had followed his script for hiring a new coach, finding the best candidate and as quickly as possible. “When you get down to it, the final criteria is energy and enthusiasm,” said Johnson. “Would you want this young man to come into your house and talk to your son about playing football for him? Melba and I would be honored to have had one of our sons play for Larry.”
Among the crowd of approximately 300 supporters who packed the theatre was Tiger basketball legend Penny Hardaway, a friend of Porter’s during their undergrad days at the U of M. And it didn’t take much to sell Hardaway on Porter’s qualifications. “We were really good friends,” said Hardaway. “He was really quiet, but competitive. We hung out at the dorm together, played ping-pong together, and just talked at the dining halls. He’s going to get a huge amount of support, because all of the guys who were here [when he played] are still here. He’s taken some really good talent to LSU, so hopefully he’ll be able to tell kids here, hey, Memphis can be there too.”
Longtime Tiger booster Harold Byrd sees the return of Porter as a natural fit, and one that will benefit both parties. “Larry Porter is dedicated, thoughtful, and outgoing without being overpowering,” says Byrd. “He’s a supreme recruiter, passionate and loyal about his family, friends, and the University of Memphis. He would always express his desire to come home at basketball games, bowl games, and social occasions. Larry is the same person, no matter where he happens to be.”
After his remarks, Porter was asked when he’ll be starting his new gig, if he’ll be sticking with LSU through the bowl season. The new coach’s answer drew the biggest cheer of the afternoon: “I’ll be hitting Memphis high schools tomorrow morning.”