His sleep patterns haven’t improved much, but as his team closes in on its season opener against No. 20 Mississippi State on Sept. 1, University of Memphis coach Larry Porter said Monday the difference in the Tigers’ approach from last year to now is palpable.
“I don’t sleep any better, but I feel a lot better,” Porter said. “It’s a night-and-day difference with this team as opposed to last year, because one, the work ethic, the discipline, the attitude — the overall spirit of this team is tremendously better.”
Despite his Tigers ranking close to dead last in the FBS in almost every statistical category last season, Porter said there’s reason for optimism in the near future.
“The guys feel it. They see it, they know it, they believe it,” Porter said. “That’s something you’ve got to have. You’ve got to be able to see growth in your program. They’re more of a team, more of a family.
“As a whole, I truly, truly enjoy this team in every aspect. If you look at our program as a whole, it is in every aspect better than it was a year ago.”
Still, there are plenty of nights Porter spends wide awake.
“There’s a comfort there now, but there’s a lot of sleepless nights,” Porter said. “Your mind never stops going so therefore you can’t sleep.”
A lot of which is due to last season, Porter’s first as the head coach at Memphis, being a complete nightmare.
The Tigers opened with a deflating 49-7 loss at Mississippi State and never recovered; they finished the season 1-11, their worst record since 1986.
And the bleeding didn’t stop there.
In the spring, the Tigers lost would-be key returners in quarterback Ryan Williams and Mohammed Seisay to transfer; Williams to Miami (Fla.), and Seisay to Eastern Arizona, a junior college in Thatcher, Ariz. Todd Washington, who showed glimpses of potential as a freshman cornerback, elected to return home to Louisiana, citing personal reasons.
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Fred Harvey, expected to be an anchor for the front six this season, hasn’t practiced with the Tigers since they put on full pads on Aug. 9 due to what Porter called “personal reasons.” Redshirt junior linebacker DeRon Furr, who has battled migraines throughout his career, is no longer listed on the roster.
Attrition is a necessary evil in any revolution. The Tigers’ case is no different. But there are things going on in the Memphis program — tangible, physical things — that are conducive to an epic turnaround, Porter said.
“In order to survive, you’re going to have to conform,” Porter said. “(The guys) have also seen the results of them doing all the right things, putting them in position to be successful. So it’s a lot easier to follow protocol when you see the results.”
This time last year, Porter said only 20 players on his roster were able to bench press 300 pounds. That number has since tripled.
“They see the fruits of their labor coming to fruition and growing,” Porter said. “We don’t have many issues in terms of guys not understanding what’s expected of them.”
Porter said his players are now putting stock into his philosophy and beliefs, something that was perhaps missing last season.
Whether or not that translates into more wins or sleep for Porter, of course, remains a mystery.
But in the midst of a massive rebuilding effort, Porter has made it clear that his way is the only way — a notion his players have now entirely subscribed to, he said.
“I love every kid on my team as if they were my own,” Porter said. “I’m going to continue to ask them to pursue excellence on and off the field. That’s just what we’re going to do in this program, and so right, wrong and different, we’re going to make the best of the situation.”