For Fuente, battle begins

On the surface, nothing about the University of Memphis football program sparkles. Nothing jumps out about a team that's gone 5-31 in the last three seasons.. But, if new U of M coach Justin Fuente looks a little deeper, he sees a situation not much different than the one he came from at TCU — well, at least, a decade or so ago.

On the surface, nothing about the University of Memphis football program sparkles.

Nothing jumps out about a team that's gone 5-31 in the last three seasons..

But, if new U of M coach Justin Fuente looks a little deeper, he sees a situation not much different than the one he came from at TCU — well, at least, a decade or so ago.

I really think the way they do things there — there are a lot of things I want to take exactly from them," Fuente said. "Some things will change, but I just think being a part of that program and seeing how it's run and, quite honestly, taking the things you like and putting your own stamp on it, I think, has been invaluable.

"I really do see some parallels to TCU 10 or 15 years ago and Memphis now."

Up until this season when TCU arranged its joining the Big 12 conference, the Horned Frogs, like Memphis, played in a non-automatic qualifier league. Even so, TCU established itself as a respectable, BCS-busting program with the likes of LaDainian Tomlinson bursting from the backfield.

While Fuente didn't join TCU until 2007, he followed the program's ascent closely and said he envisions Memphis somewhat emulating what the Horned Frogs have been able to accomplish despite their non-BCS affiliation.

"I think we have an opportunity to do that," Fuente said. "There are some similarities from years. I think you have that opportunity."

Among the similarities: The in-state and surrounding area recruiting battles.

TCU's roster is almost exclusively made up of Texas natives, even though the Horned Frogs are competing with in-state schools like Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech.

The city of Memphis, which fields dozens of skilled athletes every year, is consistently poached by surrounding SEC schools, including but not limited to Ole Miss and Tennessee.

Fuente is familiar with those challenges. He said last Thursday he has the blueprint of what worked at a non-BCS program and he plans to implement it at Memphis.

"I think that the blueprint comes down to the way you practice, the way your offseason is run, the way you're organized in your recruiting, the way you're organized in recruiting during the season, the way you handle official visits, the way you handle unofficial visits and the way you develop your players, both when you're finding them and once they're here," Fuente said.

"Those are the main factors that go in that. You have to do it the right way. It's not always the easy way; sometimes it's the long way. But that's what we're ready to take on."

Another bullet point in the blueprint is not hampering the quarterback's playmaking abilities, and if anyone should know about that, it's Fuente.

He was instrumental in the development of Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, who set several passing records for the Horned Frogs.

"College football now is quarterback-driven," Fuente said. "We designed our offense around the quarterback's abilities and tried not to highlight his limits. I'm excited about that. We will tailor our offense to our skillset. We've got four good receivers, we'll chuck them out there."

Of course, in reality, Memphis' standing as a program couldn't be further from that of TCU's. But the climb to get to that point, as always, starts in recruiting, and winning those in-state battles could be more difficult than winning the games on the field.

Fuente said he'll sell the possibility of competing for Conference USA championships and the opportunity to be some of the first pieces in what could prove to be an extraordinary rebuilding effort.

"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," Fuente 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."


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