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Memphis Football vs UConn at the Liberty Bowl on November 29, 2014. Photos by Joe Murphy
Memphis Football vs USF on November 22, 2014 at the Liberty Bowl. Photos by Joe Murphy
Memphis takes on USF
Football vs. Tulsa; photos by Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
Memphis goes on the road to take on SMU
While laying the groundwork for the University of Memphis football program during his first two seasons as head coach, Justin Fuente has overseen the Tigers' step up in competition including the move to the American Athletic Conference in Year Two.
Fuente knew the challenges the program would face as the team headed into The American. In his second season as head coach, the Tigers may have finished in the bottom half of the league standings in the new conference but it has been well apparent the program is heading in the right direction.
In 2013, Memphis faced the third-toughest schedule among American Athletic Conference programs, playing seven opponents who advanced to bowl games. Games lost to bowl-bound opponents were decided by just eight points per game.
Memphis Football continued to make major strides in Year Two under Fuente.
Defensively, the Tigers were ranked No. 39 in total defense (370.7 ypg allowed) and No. 12 against the run (116.3 ypg allowed). Offensively, Memphis freshman quarterback Paxton Lynch passed for over 2,000 yards, becoming just the second rookie in program history to do so. It was just the 10th time overall a quarterback has passed for over 2,000 yards in a season.
Memphis' special teams featured the Ray Guy Award winner, annually presented to collegiate football's top punter, and a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, which is presented to the nation's top place kicker, as well as one of the nation's top kick returner.
Memphis had three players named to the All-American Athletic Conference Team - place kicker Jake Elliott, punter Tom Hornsey and defensive end Martin Ifedi.
In Fuente's first season in 2012, the Tigers posted their best finish since 2008 and won more conference games than the previous three seasons combined but Memphis' then new head coach began building a foundation months prior to his rookie season.
One of the first items Fuente put in place upon being named the head football coach at the University of Memphis was "The Tiger Code." The code consists of three elements - 1) Fundamentally Sound, 2) Physically Fit and 3) Mentally Tough. In addition to "The Tiger Code," the University of Memphis football program under Fuente is being built on four pillars - 1) Academic Integrity, 2) Social Responsibility, 3) Individual Accountability and 4) Competitive Excellence.
In addition to instilling the Tiger Code and installing a new off-season conditioning program, Fuente selected 10 student-athletes to form his first leadership council. The group best exemplified being student-athletes and living by the Tiger Code. During Fuente's first season, the group of leaders served as a conduit between the coaching staff and the team.
While breeding a new culture within the program, Fuente shared his vision for Memphis Football as a speaker for a variety of civic groups while also making the rounds on television morning shows and the area's talk radio circuit. He and his staff conducted the school's first Women's Clinic in an effort to educate female fans as well as further build the program's fan base.
Memphis posted a 4-8 overall record and was 4-4 in league play in its final season as a member of Conference USA in 2012. The Tigers' efforts did not go unrecognized. Athlon Sports' College Football Preview Magazine had Fuente No. 5 in the publication's ranking of new coaches from 2012, and in 2013 Athlon ranked him No. 6 among coaches under 40.
The Tigers averaged 318.33 yards of total offense during the 2012 season. The season total represented a 44-yard improvement from the 2011 season. Memphis came close to doubling its rushing average, improving its rushing total to 151.75 yards per game in 2012. Memphis' fourth-down efficiency percentage ranked among the Top 10 in FBS Football.
Defensively, Memphis led Conference USA in total defense in league games played in 2012, giving up just 331.6 yards per game. UM lowered its total yardage allowed in conference games from the previous season by 30 percent.
For the year, Memphis ranked 48th nationally in defense (383.58 yards per game). The Tigers made a 69-position improvement from the 2011 season. The UM defense ranked 36th nationally in quarterback sacks, more than doubling the number of sacks it had in 2012 (29) from the 2011 season (14).
The Tigers' special teams also made striking improvements during Fuente's first season.
Memphis ranked among the nation's Top 20 in kickoff return yardage defense and punt return average. UM punter Tom Hornsey ranked 19th nationally in punting.
Six UM student-athletes were recognized as first or second-team All-Conference USA selections or named to the C-USA All-Freshman team. It was the most all-conference selections for the program since 2005 (eight).
Fuente was named the 23rd head coach of the Tigers program on Dec. 8, 2011. He previously served five seasons on Gary Patterson's staff at TCU from 2007-11. Fuente joined the TCU football coaching staff in February of 2007 as running backs coach and was promoted to co-offensive coordinator in February of 2009. As part of his promotion, he moved to coaching the Horned Frogs quarterbacks.
A native of Tulsa, Okla., the dynamic play-caller helped guide TCU's program to consecutive BCS bowl game appearances with a 2011 Rose Bowl victory over No. 5-ranked Wisconsin that followed an appearance in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl. From 2008-10, TCU was the only program in the country that finished in the top-10 in both the Associated Press and USA Today polls all three campaigns.
In Fuente's three seasons as offensive coordinator, TCU set single-season school records for touchdowns, points scored and first downs, while also ranking among the nation's most productive offensive units. From 2009-11, the Horned Frogs won 36 of 39 contests, including a 24-game win streak in the Mountain West Conference (MWC).
Credited with developing some of the top quarterbacks in TCU history, Fuente coached 2012 NFL Pro Bowl selection Andy Dalton and 2011 TCU starter Casey Pachall. TCU was the only school in the nation to have two different quarterbacks rank in the top-10 in the country in passing efficiency from 2009-11.
Under Fuente's tutelage, Dalton became TCU's career leader in every major passing category. The 2011 NFL Draft second-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals also set Mountain West Conference all-time marks for total offense (11,925 yards) and plays from scrimmage (1,730). The two-time MWC Offensive Player of the Year and three-time bowl game MVP, Dalton finished ninth in 2010 Heisman Trophy voting. He was a finalist for the Manning, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm and Bobby Bowden awards, while also being a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien and Maxwell honors.
As a sophomore in 2011, Pachall broke Andy Dalton's single-season TCU records for completions (228), completion percentage (66.5) and yards (2,921). Pachall threw for 473 yards against Boise State, the second-highest, single-game total in school history. He threw only seven interceptions in 2011 and helped rally TCU from fourth-quarter deficits three times, including the 31-24 win over Louisiana Tech in the Poinsettia Bowl, a bowl in which Fuente did not coach.
The 2011 Horned Frogs became the first team to win the Mountain West championship three-consecutive seasons. TCU finished the year at 11-2 and ranked No. 13/14 in the final polls. The Horned Frogs ranked among the national leaders in total offense with their average of 440.2 yards per game.
In 2010, Fuente helped direct TCU to single-season school marks in touchdowns (73), points scored (541), total offense (6,199 yards) and first downs (327). The Horned Frogs ranked fourth nationally in scoring (41.6 points per game), sixth in passing efficiency (166.9), 10th in rushing (247.4 yards per game) and 12th in total offense (476.9 yards per game).
In his first season as co-offensive coordinator, Fuente helped direct a record-setting 2009 TCU attack. The Horned Frogs established then single-season school marks for points scored (498), total offense (5,937 yards), touchdowns (65) and first downs (311).
TCU ranked fifth nationally in rushing offense (239.5 yards per game) and scoring (38.3 points per game), while placing seventh in total offense (456.7 yards per game) and eighth in passing efficiency (154.1).
With Fuente as running backs coach in 2008, the Horned Frogs had a "running back-by-committee" attack. TCU ranked 12th nationally in rushing, despite not having a player ranked among the top-96 rushers in the country. TCU's 220.2 yards per game rushing was its highest mark since 2000 when LaDainian Tomlinson keyed a Frogs ground game that averaged 275.6 yards per game. During that 2008 campaign, Fuente helped develop tailback Aaron Brown into being a 2009 NFL Draft sixth-round selection of the Detroit Lions.
Fuente made the move to TCU after spending six seasons as quarterbacks coach at Illinois State. His final three years saw him double as the Redbirds offensive coordinator. Under Fuente's direction, Illinois State ranked in the top-10 nationally in total offense in 2005 and 2006. The Redbirds ranked eighth in 2006 with an average of 397.5 yards per game, after ranking fifth in both total offense (477.6 yards) and scoring (39.2 points) in 2005.
Fuente coached Redbirds quarterback Luke Drone to All-Gateway Conference first team honors, as he led the league in passing (227.8 yards per game) and total offense (231.6 yards per game). Running back Pierre Rembert set an Illinois State single-season record with 1,743 yards, while also ranking sixth nationally in rushing with 134.1 yards per contest. As a college quarterback, Fuente played two seasons (1996-97) at Oklahoma under then-Sooners offensive coordinator Dick Winder. Fuente set an Oklahoma freshman record with 11 touchdown passes. He transferred to Murray State for his final two years of eligibility.
Fuente set 11 school records at Murray State, including total offense and passing yards in a game and season. In 1999, he was the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) Offensive Player of the Year and a Walter Payton Award finalist, given annually to the nation's top player in Division I-AA. Fuente is a 1999 graduate of Murray State.
Following his collegiate career, Fuente played professionally with the Oklahoma Wranglers in the Arena League. Fuente and his wife, Jenny, have three daughters, Cecilia, Caroline and Charlotte.
The Fuente File