Fuente introduced as Memphis coach

Justin Fuente got to work earlier than usual Wednesday.

Justin Fuente got to work earlier than usual Wednesday.

He had interviewed with the University of Memphis on Tuesday in New York City. In his TCU office in Fort Worth, he filed away his presentation. Good experience at least, he thought.

"I wrote my little thank-you notes to everybody," Fuente said. "They're actually in the mail right now. Then I started my day, and my phone started ringing off the hook."

Just a few hours later, Fuente, the Horned Frogs' co-offensive coordinator and Memphis, agreed on a five-year deal that made him Memphis' next head football coach.

Fuente, 35, will start at Memphis immediately. He will not coach TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl later this month.

"I gotta tell you, this is a big challenge, and I am so ready for this challenge," Fuente said. "I've been dreaming of this moment for a long, long time."

As he was introduced Thursday in a crowded assembly room at the Penny Hardaway Hall of Fame building, Fuente‘s first point of emphasis was regaining what the Memphis football program has very clearly lost — the largest portion of its fan base.

Fan attendance at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium has dwindled in the last three seasons, much of which is due to a 5-31 record in that span.

Only an estimated 2,500 fans were in attendance for the Tigers' final home game against Marshall.

"We're gonna reach out to the community," Fuente said. "This is going to be Memphis' team. This is University of Memphis football, but this is the city of Memphis. I don't care what school you went to. You live in this city, I want this to be your team."

Fan support is just one of several challenges the former Murray State quarterback will be up against as the coach at Memphis, but he seemed to understand the odds at Thursday's press conference.

"I can recruit. I'm organized. I've been a part of a great program. I've seen how it's done," Fuente said. "At the last place, we didn't always have the biggest stick. But we got it done. I've seen the blueprint. I have the blueprint of how it was done in what I would consider to be a similar situation 10 or 12 years ago."

For a program that has so desperately lacked a consistent source of offense in the last three season, Fuente said he plans to renovate from the bottom up, and he certainly has the credentials to do so.

Before taking over at Memphis, Fuente spent four seasons with the Horned Frogs, the last two as co-offensive coordinator. Under Fuente's watch, TCU set school records for points scored, touchdowns, and first downs.

He's also largely responsible for the development of now-Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who led the Horned Frogs to a victory in last season's Rose Bowl.

He said he plans to institute some of those same principles he gathered from his time at TCU.

"We're going to play fast, fast, fast offensive football," he said. "We're going to recruit fast, fast, fast defensive players."

One of Fuente's immediate tasks will be to hire a full staff and keep the 2012 class intact, which is one member shorter after Columbia Central (Tenn.) athlete Eric Belew de-committed earlier this week.

"I'm gonna get out and beat pots and pans in the streets if I have to," Fuente said. "If I have to speak at every boy scout meeting — whatever we have to do (to improve the program)."

While he said he realizes why some fans have turned their backs on the program, he said he feels like there are several reasons they should give him — and Memphis football — another chance.

"(One reason) is location -- there are good athletes in this city, in this region and part of the country," Fuente said. "You play in a league in which you can be competitive. … We have facilities that are competitive. I just think this has some tangible things that excite me. I really, really believe this community is ready to get behind this team."

FUENTE FACTS:
Age: 35
Alma mater: Murray State
Coaching experience: Illinois State (2001-2006), TCU (2007-2011)


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