University of Memphis football coach Larry Porter is flattered — truly — that he’s in the conversation as an all-time SEC recruiting great. The awards he’s won are fine and good, too.
But after an abysmal 1-11 season, Porter’s first at the U of M, he’s ready to be respected as something else: a football coach.
“We’ve got to get beyond that,” Porter said. “It’s good to be known for something, but at the end of the day, I am here for ball coaching at the University of Memphis and that’s kind of what I look forward to.”
Porter was essentially hired before last season on principle of the success he’d enjoyed in recruiting as an assistant at LSU. He hadn’t served as a coordinator on any level.
Now entering his second season, Porter, who has fared moderately well in recruiting during his tenure at the U of M, stressed recruiting is only a snippet of his job description.
“There’s only so much selling and yahooing you can do to win,” Porter said. “I have a genuine interest in the well-being of every young man I recruit. That’s just who I am, (but) I don’t want to come off as a salesman because I’m not.”
If anything, Porter’s ability to coach came under serious fire in his first season. The Tigers surrendered 40 or more points in seven games.
There was minimal improvement on the field throughout the season. On top of that, quarterback Ryan Williams and defensive back Mohammed Seisay, who both were expected to be bright spots this season, transferred out of the program.
“I was talking to (UCF coach) George O’Leary and (SMU coach) June Jones. O’Leary, in his first two years, lost almost 30 players. Jones lost 20,” Porter said. “That’s a natural thing when you talk about coming in and cleansing a program and building it from the bottom up. That’s what we did. You don’t compromise the things you believe in for the sake of a kid.”
In his one season at the U of M, Porter has been faced with attrition, lopsided losses, a lack of fan support and general cynicism around his team. So Porter recognizes that building up a reputation as a competent head coach will be just as difficult as establishing a semblance of tradition and respect at the program he currently resides over.
“If it was easy, you’d have a lot of people doing it,” Porter said. “This is a university that I love and give my heart and soul to. It’s a process and it takes time. That’s how I’ve always seen it and it’s how I always will.
“We’ll be more competitive. Our program, if we stay the course, is on tap for tremendous success in the future.”
Earlier this summer, the U of M athletic department announced a capital campaign to raise money for a $10 million indoor practice facility.
While a $10 million investment pales in comparison to what other Conference USA schools like Houston and East Carolina have ponied up for facilities, it was a positive step for an athletic department that, in the past, had shown little to no support for its football team and should go a long way in helping Porter improve his coaching image.
“Our (practice) building is fine, we just have to renovate it,” Porter said. “When all of that is completed, our facilities will be really good. Not just good, but really good. At the end of day, facilities don’t win championships, but they do win players.”
Not that Porter needs much help doing that. He’s already secured seven verbal commitments for the 2012 class, including ones from 4-star Melrose quarterback Will Gross and 3-star Ridgeway athlete Sheldon Dawson, and he’s beating high-profile schools in the process.
“I fought the SEC and other BCS schools for years (at LSU),” Porter said. “I’m in that mindset. I don’t look at, ‘This kid has certain offers so we can’t recruit him.’ I look at it like, ‘He has certain offers so we’re going to recruit him.’
“I’ve been doing this for years, why stop competing against these schools? I shouldn’t. I know just as much about them as they know about me. It’s not hard for me to go in and talk about what we have to offer versus someone else. I’ve been doing this for years.”
The arts of coaching and recruiting, of course, are entirely different. Success in recruiting doesn’t necessarily guarantee victories as a coach and vice versa.
But if Porter has it his way, his legacy at his alma mater will be much greater and long-lasting than just a coach who made a splash as a recruiter.
“I think in time I’ll become known as a program builder because that’s what we’re going to do here,” Porter said. “We’re going to build this program from the bottom up. It takes a little time, it’s a process, but we’re well on our way.”