VOL. 126 | NO. 232 | Tuesday, November 29, 2011
U of M Seeks Football Coach, AD
By Bill Dries
The University of Memphis finds itself searching for not only a new football coach but a new athletic director as well now that the Tigers football season is over.
University president Dr. Shirley Raines said the school’s goal is to hire a replacement for fired Tigers football coach Larry Porter “as soon as possible” and begin the process of picking a replacement for retiring athletic director R.C. Johnson by the spring semester.
Raines said the school will hire a search firm to recruit and come up with a list of finalists for both positions. The same search firm could be hired by the university for both tasks. And the university will have a search committee of alumni and other supporters as well to aid the firm.
Porter was fired over the long Thanksgiving weekend following the final game of a 2-10 football season. His two-year win-loss record was 3-21 and 1-15 in Conference USA.
When the university’s statement announcing Porter’s firing also said Raines would talk Monday, Nov. 28, about the future of Tiger athletics, speculation began that Johnson would step down. There had been calls among some Tiger supporters for Johnson’s resignation as the football season quickly went bad.
But Johnson said his decision to retire at the end of June had nothing to do with the criticism.
“None – I say in all honest, none,” he said citing his age, 70, and ongoing discussions with his family about retiring after three decades in college sports, 16 of those years at the University of Memphis. “Thirty-three years to be an athletic director is quite a while. … There’s never a good time.”
Raines, however, acknowledged the criticism of Johnson as well as the broader criticism of the football program’s place on a campus where basketball is the marquee sport.
“I think it is an interesting time,” she told reporters at the Monday press conference. “It’s important for people to have a chance to say whatever they want to say. But it’s also important for all of us people who care about Tiger athletics and care about football, as soon as we get a new coach to have all of those people who are so concerned about things get on board. It’s also an opportunity for us to say, ‘Come on back.’”
The announcement was two years to the month that Porter’s predecessor, Tommy West, was also shown the door.
“I’m the seventh straight coach that’s standing here saying the same thing to you,” West said at a memorable 2009 press conference in which he said the university should put more resources behind the football team or consider not fielding one.
“History will continue to repeat itself, folks, if they don’t do anything about it,” West said. “Whoever they hire – they’ll hire a good guy and I’ll pull for him. But our fans have got to demand … that you give him an equal stick to fight with within our conference. You’ve got to give him a level playing field.”
This time, the departing coach didn’t participate in the press conference.
Asked specifically about West’s comments of 2009, Johnson again defended the university’s commitment to the football program.
“All along we’ve tried to do what we think is the right thing for the football program,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for football. My dad was a coach. I coached. I played. … I think what we’ve done with our football program all the way from Tiger Lane to the locker room to the weight room … I think we’ve really tried hard to make this thing go and we’re not done.”
Johnson said his goal is to complete the football indoor practice facility before he leaves at the end of June.
He also said the decision to let Porter go wasn’t as clear-cut as other coaching changes have been in the past on his watch.
“It wasn’t just the last game. It’s on ongoing process,” Johnson said after the press conference. “Most of the time when you have to let a coach go, it’s generally pretty clear-cut. This time it was not. It was really difficult. I don’t know if there was a right or a wrong. But you have to do what you think is best.”
Johnson also acknowledged the decision involved discussions with financial supporters of the football program and other alumni.
“It’s never a vote, but it’s always a discussion,” he said.