If Rip Scherer thought University of Memphis fans would praise his teams effort in a 24-3 loss at number-21 Southern Mississippi on Saturday he was mistaken. Almost every caller to The Point After, the U of M post-game radio show on WMC (AM-790) was critical of Scherer. It seems the fans are fed up with an offense that has been AWOL for seven seasons.
Not since Steve Matthews was playing catch with Isaac Bruce has Memphis had anything remotely resembling a high-powered offense. In 1994, a lack of points cost Chuck Stobart his job, despite three consecutive 6-5 seasons. When a small crowd showed up for an important game to close out the 1994 season, former president Lane Rawlins made a change. He brought in Scherer who had been an offensive coach his entire career.
Ironically that last game Stobart coached came against East Carolina, Memphis opponent Saturday at the Liberty Bowl. If the Tigers draw more than the 23,000 that came out to see Memphis and East Carolina play for an invitation to the Liberty Bowl in 1994 it will be the biggest upset since UAB beat LSU in Baton Rouge.
For all the positive work Scherer has accomplished in Memphis, and he has done a lot of good things, he has not been able to build an offense. And that is inexcusable after five-and-a-half years on the job.
The Tiger offense currently ranks 104th out of 115 Division I teams. The statistics do not lie: Memphis is 100th in passing, 98th in scoring, and 75th in rushing. And only two of the first five opponents on the schedule played any defense at all.
This is familiar territory for the Tiger offense. Memphis has finishing near the bottom of the NCAA offensive statistics every year since Scherer arrived. The quarterbacks can change, the offensive coordinator can change but the bottom-line has not changed in five plus seasons: the Memphis offense cannot run and cannot throw. In a word it sucks.
And that is what the callers to the post-game show were saying. Forrest Goodman and Matt Dillon, the shows hosts, did their best to defend Scherer, but how could they? There is not one excuse for the offensive ineptitude that does not involve Scherer. He is the reason that there is not speed at wide receiver. He is the reason that Memphis doesnt have a quarterback who can throw the ball consistently. He is the reason that every opponent the Tigers face knows what play Memphis is going to run when they come out of the huddle. The offense is boring and predictable and it is Scherers fault. After five-and-a-half seasons, this is his program. The blame stops at his desk.
A 3-1 start did not fool anyone. The wins came against three of the sorriest football teams in the country. With a loss to Richmond Saturday, Arkansas State is 0-5. Louisiana-Monroe gave up 70 points to Tennessee and was shutout by Southwest Texas. Army is winless and going nowhere fast. The three teams Memphis has beaten are a combined 1-13.
Yet Memphis still has a chance to win seven games and go to a bowl. They have to get four wins in their final six games to finish with seven victories for the first time since 1976. If one counts East Carolina and Tennessee as losses, there is no room for error. UAB, Houston, Cincinnati, and Tulane are must wins. If the Tigers stub their toes once against that crew, they can still finish with a winning season. Anything less will put athletic director R.C. Johnson in the tough spot of having to fire Scherer just one year after granting him a contract extension.
Tiger fans have grown impatient with their head coach. Playing Southern Miss close for 57 minutes is not good enough. If Scherer thought it was, he should have heard the post-game show. Tiger fans are sick of losing. More than that they are sick of being unable to score points. They will cast their votes with their feet, staying away in droves Saturday. Poor attendance cost Stobart and basketball coach Larry Finch their jobs. Whether it will do the same for Scherer remains to be seen.
(You can write Dennis Freeland at firstname.lastname@example.org