Summer Q&A With Coach Larry Porter
July 23, 2010
Former Tiger running back Larry Porter has returned to his alma mater and became the 22nd head football coach at the University of Memphis. He was officially announced as the head coach on November 29, 2009 and quickly began assembling a championship-caliber staff and hit the pavement hard in recruiting to sign his first class in February.
Porter will go through his first fall camp session as a head coach in August and consistently made two key statements throughout the spring regarding the 2010 Tigers - 1) It is imperative everyone involved in the program must "Invest in the Helmet"; and 2) All positions are wide open and Porter expects everyone to challenge for starting positions.
The following is a summer Q&A session with Coach Porter.
Q) Having had approximately eight months as the head coach of the University of Memphis, what has surprised you most about this job?
A) The thing that I have been most surprised about and most excited about is the fact that our players have embraced change and transition which has made things less complicated for me and it has given me the opportunity to focus on some things that will give us the opportunity to be successful within this program.
Q) Again, I realize it's only been eight months, but what have your biggest challenges and your biggest triumphs been up to this point?
A) I live through vision and not circumstances, and I wake up every morning excited about the opportunity to improve this program so I don't see challenges and adversity. I just look for ways to solve issues and put us in a position to get beyond them.
Q) How would you describe your goals for this team in 2010?
A) Well I can tell you this - I won't put a cap on what we are trying to do. We are going to start out trying to pursue championships, and that is what it is going to be from start to finish.
Q) You have been promoting the theme "Invest in the Helmet." What does that mean, and does that extend beyond the team?
A) Yes it does. That's not only a challenge to our team, but to the city as well. When you invest in something, you become a shareholder and you commit to it and you make sacrifices. I think in order for us to create the type of football environment that we want to create here in the city of Memphis, it is going to take everybody - players, coaches, fans, alumni, supporters in the city and just the city in general. These young men want success and they want to be successful, both on and off the field. If you truly watch what they have done so far, they show you that. As a head coach, it is our job to teach them to make that transition from a young man to a man and that has to come from within the structure of your program.
Q) Do you feel that the players are understanding what "Investing in the Helmet" means and are making the sacrifices necessary to take this program to a higher level?
A) Definitely. I think they have bought in, and they are on board. There have been some tough days for them but they have been fighting through all of the challenges and adversities that they face daily and it will ultimately give them the opportunity to be successful.
Q) This spring, football had its highest GPA since 2006; three QBs with a 4.0; and the most-ever players on the Dean's List. We often hear about expectations on the field, but what are your expectations in the classroom?
A) So many times the emphasis is put on winning, but it is our job as head coaches and assistant coaches to develop the total person, not just the athlete. That is a commitment that I make to every parent because I know that education is the foundation of life. Our academic culture here will always force our student-athletes to pursue excellence because I am a product of this university, and I know what having a degree does for your life.
Q) What do you think fans will notice right away about a Larry Porter coached program?
A) They will notice discipline. They will notice toughness. And they will notice relentless effort.
Q) When you were first hired, you talked about your strength and conditioning coach being one of the most important hires. Can you assess Coach Myslinski and what he has been able to do so far in a short amount of time?
A) I think our strength and conditioning staff as a whole has made a tremendous difference in terms of helping me carry through with my vision and my philosophy. It has paid big dividends. You can see not only discipline on the field but discipline in the classroom and socially as well. I think they are working harder and working together and know that every day is going to be hard, but when game day gets here it will be a lot easier.
Q) How do you feel about the very first staff that you have assembled now that you had the spring to evaluate all the different personalities and styles you put together?
A) I am excited about this staff. There is a tremendous amount of chemistry in the room. I think that the guys get along very well, they understand each other, and they complement each other with their different coaching talents.
Q) You went after some specific needs in your first recruiting class back in February. Can you address your recruiting philosophy from this past season and for the years to come?
A) We want the total package; we want the student-athlete. Each year is different in terms of needs but first of all we want to recruit character, then we want to recruit the student and then we want to recruit the athlete. It is important that the player truly understands what you are trying to do for him as a person and not just as an athlete. I don't want a guy to enter this program that does not want to pursue the classroom; that does not want to pursue life in a way that he can be successful; and does not want to grow as a person. I totally understand that we are going to get our football in and these kids will get better and we are going to have a great football team, but I want a guy to leave here a better person than they are a football player.
Q) What is your philosophy on true freshmen? Do you expect guys that you signed to come in and compete or do you see many redshirting?
A) I think no matter if they are freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors they dictate whether they play or not and that will always be my philosophy. We will put the best players on the field.
Q) As we break things down position by position, what in general can we expect offensively and defensively this year?
A) Offensively, we will be multiple in our approach but balanced in terms of running and passing. We want to force defenses to legitimately defend the length of the field. We know that we must have a strong presence in the run game to be successful. Our defense will be one that speaks to a defense of toughness, relentless effort and fanatical play. We need to improve across the board, not just on offense, defense or special teams. That is something that will be emphasized and understood from day one at every position. No one is in a position to be comfortable with where they are. Our whole team must improve. I don't think that there is one specific position that you can say that you must improve because the game of football requires a team effort. Each guy must take pride in making sure that they are held accountable, and if they do that, we are a better football team.
Q) You have five QBs on scholarship and all five were getting reps in the spring until Andy Summerlin went down with an injury. Can you assess that position as you head into fall camp, and how quickly do you want one guy to step up that you can commit to being the starter on Sept. 4?
A) Going into the fall we have to get guys ready to play. We will not go through fall camp with five guys getting reps at quarterback and there will be a time that we will cut back and go with a guy. I have that timeframe in mind.Our quarterbacks must take a position of leadership. They must also understand how to manage the game and put us in position to not hurt ourselves. They must have a presence on the field that lends itself to one of confidence, to one of poise and to one of relentless play. That is the most important position in terms of development. We need a guy that's going to put us in position on game day to win. The leadership, decision making and game management of this position will be critical to the success of this team.
Q) Running back is a position that you played here and have coached for many years. How did you feel that position grew this spring?
A) Barring injury, I thought that position had tremendous growth and I was very excited about the position. I think that we have some talented guys. Right now, my concern would probably be depth but I think we do have talent.
Q) The initial reaction to our receiving position may be panic with the loss of record holders Duke Calhoun and Carlos Singleton, but you have indicated you feel you have play-makers in guys like Jermaine McKenzie, Dejarrius Adams, Billy Foster, Trey Johnson and crew. Talk a bit about your receivers and what you expect of that group this year.
A) It is all about consistency. If those guys can be consistent doing what they are supposed to be doing, we have an opportunity to be pretty good at that position. But again, sometimes consistency can be difficult and that has been the challenge for them. We are not there yet but I think we are heading in that direction.
Q) Your offensive line is the most veteran group at this point, having returned all five starters and a host of guys who have seen game action. How do you feel about that position following the spring and having changed the offensive scheme? What does that group need to do to be ready heading into camp?
A) I am concerned based on the fact that we don't have depth so at times it causes you, from a rotation standpoint, to do some things that really and truthfully don't allow you to develop the continuity that you want to. But, with all that being said, I think that we have a bunch of try-hard guys who think that the sky is the limit and I want to certainly encourage them to continue to feel that way because we can get there if we continue to move in the direction that we were in the spring.
Q) You said prior to spring that the tight ends need to be a factor in this offense. Do you feel they are on track following the spring?
A) Deven (Onarheim) is. Other than that, this is a position that we don't have much depth and in order for us to sustain success the way that we want to at any position, you have to have depth. We have to put ourselves in position to improve because one guy cannot do it by himself and that right now is my biggest concern. But, I do think that Deven has the potential to be productive throughout this 2010 football season.
Q) Overall, what point do you want to make offensively as we open the season on Sept. 4?
A) I know what I want, but each and every year, each unit takes on a different identity and personality and that normally happens, especially with a new team, throughout the course of the season. No matter what phase of football we are in, we are going to always look to do two things; 1) be very disciplined and 2) display a tremendous amount of toughness. Now, in terms of the productivity and the direction that we want to head, it will be based on the guys that emerge as play makers.
Q) Can you talk about your offensive coordinator, Eric Price, and what he brings to the table?
A) I think Eric brings a tremendous amount of experience. He is a veteran guy, who truly understands offensive football. He has been in it for a little while and he brings a calmness that allows us to play through adversity and not become raddled.
Q) Starting with the defensive line, what can we expect at that position, and what are your feelings coming out of the spring?
A) I do believe that group has some talent although it has yet to arrive. I think it is on the way based on what I have seen this spring. Sometimes as a head coach you want too much so quickly but you must allow those things to develop and as long as they get here before September 4th ,then I am in great shape. Dontari Poe, Charlie Bryant, Frank Trotter, Lester Lawson, Justin Thompson and Winston Bowens, all those guys have experience underneath their belt and can give our defense an advantage if we just continue to work hard and grow and I think they will because they are being coached by a really good guy (Mike DuBose).
A) They are talented and I don't think that they have scratched the surface of their talent level and potential. If the best is yet to come, I am very excited based on what I have seen.
A) I think this defense can be very advantageous for our linebackers and our safeties. Based on that, I think they have the opportunity to make a lot of plays and really and truly get some confidence going within themselves because the opportunity to make plays will be in their favor.
Q) The corners appear to be a position lacking in experience with the exception of Darius Davis. What do guys like Mohammed Seisay, Lavaris Edwards, Torenzo Quinn and Randy Powell need to do to be ready for fall camp?
A) First of all, we will have to be more consistent. Second, we will have to be more disciplined, and third, our talent will have to take over. I think we are talented enough in the secondary to be a good unit but they must play together.
Q) What are your thoughts at safety, and who do you expect to factor in there?
A) Marcus (Ball) had a very productive spring. I thought Derek Smith grew as the spring went on and then as Tremaine (McKenzie) overcame his injury he showed some signs and flashes of being a good football player. We also had Mitch Huelsing, who had a solid spring from start to finish so with that being said that is a unit that has the potential to be a good unit if they remain disciplined and very consistent throughout the season.
Q) Talk about your defensive coordinator Jay Hopson and what intrigued you about him?
A) Jay and Eric have both been coordinators in this league so they understand the league. Jay is probably more on the fiery side in terms of personality, which is what you want defensively. He has a tremendous amount of knowledge in terms of just defensive play and he holds the guys accountable. He is very aggressive in terms of making sure that they are responsible and accountable for their actions out there on the field. So, I am excited about him and the guys can sense that and feel that so that becomes a part of him and that is exactly what we need.
Q) You also have a well-known coach in Mike DuBose working with your defensive line. What influenced your decision in adding him to your staff?
A) I think his resume speaks for itself but he is a better man than he is a coach, and along with that, he has a tremendous amount of wisdom, both as an assistant coach and a head coach. I think everything that he brings to the table serves not only myself but the program as a whole.
Q) You have said that you expect special teams to be the heartbeat of this team. Talk about Coach Yanowsky and what he will bring to that area.
A) Our relationship goes back 20 years. I know what kind of special teams coach he is, and I know that he will bring excitement and a sense of pride within our special teams that will serve as an advantage for us. I am excited about him and I know that he enjoys being here and he wants to be here and at the end of the day it will serve as an advantage for us. Special teams will be a phase that every guy must embrace. We are going to put our best players on special teams to show our commitment to improving and being dominant in that phase.
Q) Where do you see the kicking game at this point as far as both field goals and kickoffs?
A) I am encouraged, just based on our personnel. I think now that it is summer and we have everyone on board, we will be better than we were in the spring.
Q) Few people are aware that you signed Tom Hornsey, an Australian Rules Football player, as a punter. What do you think Tom can bring to this program, and how do you feel he is adjusting so far?
A) He will bring a tremendous amount of excitement simply because he is a talented former international rugby player. His adjustment to being in the U.S. has been solid. It has been somewhat of an easy transition for him because he has gotten with a good group of guys and they have embraced him and he is well on his way.
Q) Can you talk yet about guys who you think will factor into the return game?
A) Coming out of spring we didn't have a clear cut returner, but I do think that some of the guys that we brought on board with us will definitely give us an advantage based on their history, so I am looking forward to seeing those guys come of age this fall.
Q) The schedule appears pretty daunting at first sight, opening with Mississippi State and East Carolina on the road. What are your feelings about opening with those two programs?
A) I am excited about our schedule. We have our first four of six games on the road and when you play a good football team early, it forces you to play good football. That will give us an advantage when we have four of our last six games at home. You should see an improved football team and a team that is playing its best football in November, and ultimately that is what you want.
Q) How excited are you about your very first game on the sidelines at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium and hosting Middle Tennessee on Sept. 18?
A) I haven't gotten that far. I am strictly focused on Mississippi State, and I'm jacked about that one.
Q) Are there any games that you look forward to most as a gauge in how your team stacks up?
A) Yes, Mississippi State.
Q) You have at least six games on television this season, what does that mean for you in relation to recruiting?
A) We will see. If we are playing well and people are getting an opportunity to see us, it will mean a lot. But, at the end of the day, I think it will serve as an advantage for us simply because they will see a product on the field that is ultimately better.