Two days after an 18-point loss to East Carolina, University of Memphis coach Larry Porter said Monday that when he took the job in 2010, he envisioned a three-year plan for the Tigers to be competing for C-USA championships.
And despite the justified questions about his own future at Memphis, Porter said his team is still on pace to do just that.
“I had in my mind three years — we’d be well in position, not just to be winning but truly on the verge of competing for championships,” Porter said. “I still think we’re on course to do that, because we are a young team, but in my mind, a talented young team. We’re just inexperienced.
“A year from now, when they’re still young but experienced, I think you position yourself for some really good things.”
On the surface, however, Porter and the Tigers (1-6, 0-3 C-USA) couldn’t be further from competing in the C-USA title game.
The Tigers’ 35-17 loss last weekend dropped Porter to 0-11 overall in the league. Under Porter, the U of M has been outscored 411-151 in C-USA games.
Porter said that although his team has the same record it did this time last year, he can see a day very soon where the Tigers are representing Conference USA in the Liberty Bowl.
“We’ve just got to continue to grow our quarterback and solidify our offensive line, but I think the core of this team, of this program, is solid in terms of building for the future,” Porter said.
When the second-year head coach accepted the football coaching job at Memphis, it was with the understanding that he’d be responsible for reversing a longstanding stigma about an apathetic administration and a program without much, if any, modern tradition.
Porter said he isn’t focused on the obstacles he’s up against so much as figuring out how to overcome them.
“Life is about adversity,” Porter said. “You can’t get so consumed with your problems as opposed to consuming yourself with how to solve them. … We understand the issues that we’re faced with.
“The only thing that helps you with inexperience and youth is time. That’s what we’re battling.”
How much more time Porter is afforded as the coach of Memphis, though, is undoubtedly up for debate. In Porter’s 19 games, the Tigers are 2-17 and have been mostly uncompetitive in the majority of those contests.
This season, the Tigers’ offense ranks in the bottom ten of the 120 schools in the FBS (113th). The defense, which is currently allowing 36.4 points per game this season, ranks in the bottom five (116th).
Porter admitted that the uncertainty at quarterback has been tough to deal with but said the stats and his team’s current record are misleading.
“Same record, but a better team,” Porter said. “In this league, the one thing that you’ve got to be able to do is score points, regardless of how well your defense is playing. For us, for two consecutive seasons, the majority of our snaps have been taken by true freshmen at quarterback. Then you look at the injuries that we’re battling within our offensive line. We probably struggle at those places the most.”
Porter said he senses progress at the wide receiver position, which includes upperclassmen Tannar Rehrer and Marcus Rucker with freshmen Kevin Wright and Reggie Travis sprinkled in the depth chart.
“We do have a real young wide receiving core, but they’ve grown,” Porter said. “They’re starting to grow some. You can see that. That’s a good thing taking place right there.”
On-field results notwithstanding, Porter has set himself up well for immediate success next season. He’s bagged commitments from heralded local-area recruits in Will Gross and Sheldon Dawson, among others, who figure to be major contributors early.
“If we stay strong with our recruiting, we’re probably in position to have one of the best classes ever in our program,” Porter said. “You fuse that into the program, there’s nothing but great days ahead.”
Whether his three-year plan comes to fruition or not, Porter said a win this Saturday against Tulane would go a long way in stabilizing his program‘s future.
“We just want a win versus whoever,” Porter said. “That’s big. We need that. Our kids deserve it. Our fans deserve it. We’re focusing on just playing a great game, and knowing that if we do that, we’ll have a great chance at coming out with the win.”