Leading by Example
Sept. 12, 2012
One of the first items Justin Fuente put in place upon taking the head football coaching job at the University of Memphis was "The Tiger Code." The code is built upon the four pillars of the Memphis football program, which are 1) Academic Integrity, 2) Social Responsibility, 3) Individual Accountability and 4) Competitive Excellence.
Those who live by the Tiger Code are physically fit, fundamentally sound and mentally tough. Fuente wanted to take things even further by putting people in place that exemplified the code.
"We're trying to do everything we can to foster and facilitate leadership," Fuente said. "I wanted to put together a group of guys to hold up as an example of what we wanted."
Following spring workouts and heading into the summer, Fuente handpicked 10 student-athletes to form a leadership council.
"(Coach Fuente) assembled us together and felt like we'd be the best guys starting off that exemplify (the Tiger Code) in all facets of life," said senior linebacker Akeem Davis. "Whether it be in the classroom, on the beach at spring break or at church on Sunday; to exemplify (the code) in all walks of life."
The 10 original members of the leadership committee come from all ranges of the field. It includes five seniors, one junior, three sophomores and one freshman. Among the council are three offensive players, six on the defensive side and one kicker.
"I looked at the depth chart," Fuente said. "I did not have a number in mind. I didn't care if it was all freshmen or all seniors. I didn't care what position they were. I didn't choose them as necessarily the best players or as just the guys that worked the hardest. I wanted guys that led, either their side of the ball, or their position groups or the team. After one semester, I tried to make my best judgment on it."
The youngest player on the council is wide receiver Tyriq Patrick who is the only freshman member. After redshirting in 2011, Patrick came into spring workouts determined to make an impact.
"I've stayed positive and bought into what Coach Fuente is trying to start," Patrick said. "When he named the leadership council, I was the last one to be named. I was shocked just like everybody else. Ever since then, I've just upheld the position, and I've been proud to do what I've had to do."
Redshirt-junior quarterback Jacob Karam joins the Tigers this season after graduating from Texas Tech. Although he said the Red Raiders do not have anything like the leadership council, Karam became intrigued by the idea when told about it by Fuente during the recruiting process.
"He told us it was something that would have to be earned," Karam said. "I kind of made it a goal of mine to make it on that leadership council. I heard about it, and I thought it was really prestigious."
Senior defensive lineman Zach Gholson said that Coach Fuente compared the leadership council to the founding fathers of the country. It is a new era in Memphis football, and the 10 members of the leadership council are like the founding fathers of the program.
"That struck a cord with me," Gholson said. "Not a lot of people get to be part of a team which turns a program around. To potentially do something they have never done before. It is a tremendous honor, and I am looking forward to being a part of it."
During summer workouts, members of the leadership council wore blue shirts while the rest of the team wore gray. It allowed the council to stand out in the crowd and provide an example for others to follow.
"Coach Fuente has told us we're as close to being a coach as a person can get while still being a player," said senior kicker Paulo Henriques. "We are there in the summer when the coaches can't be around us. We're the leaders of the team pushing people and basically leading by example."
According to Fuente, there is not a minimum or maximum number of members that can be on the leadership council.
"We can add to it any time, and we can subtract from it at any time," Fuente said.
Added Henriques, "If you're on the leadership council, you're on the leadership council. For the younger guys, this is a privilege and an honor. You stay on if you do right. The minute you abuse that privilege, you're going to lose it. (Coach Fuente) really wants to get everybody into a blue shirt. If he can get everybody as leaders, you're going to be successful."
Sophomore linebacker Charles Harris talked about the future of the program. While the team started with 10 wearing the blue leadership council shirts during summer workouts, the goal down the road would be to see the opposite. Instead of 10 people in blue, Harris said the coaching staff would like to see 10 people in gray.
"He wants everybody to be a leader and everybody to be accountable for each other," Harris said.
Being on the leadership council also has its special privileges. Fuente gave up his second office located at the Park Avenue Campus to turn it into a relaxing room for the members.
"It's pretty cool for a head coach to give up his own office for the leadership council," Karam said. "I don't think anywhere else you can find that. That goes to show that he's a real team guy and he's all about the players."
A big screen TV and several couches adorn the space, giving the leaders a place where they can unwind or take a quick nap.
"I think a lot of us are going to be staying there instead of going home to have a break," Patrick said. "It's very comfortable."
The windows in the room are draped with blinds that include images of former Memphis Tigers team captains to serve as examples of leaders who have come before.
Additional perks will also be added to the room in the future.
"We're trying to talk coach into letting us have a drink machine to put in there," Harris said.
As the Tigers enter the 2012 season, Fuente believes the direction given by the leadership council over the summer along with strength coach Rohrk Cutchlow has made an impact. The leadership council helped push the team while setting the standard of living by the Tiger Code.
"They did a great job," Fuente said. "They are part of the reason I think we have some of what we need to at least give us a chance."
Members of the Leadership Council
Akeem Davis, Senior Linebacker
Jordan Devey, Senior Offensive Lineman
Zach Gholson, Senior Defensive Lineman
Charles Harris, Sophomore Linebacker
Paulo Henriques, Senior Place Kicker
Bakari Hollier, Sophomore Defensive BAck
Jacob Karam, Junior Quarterback
Bobby McCain, Sophomore Defensive Back
Tyriq Patrick, Freshman Receiver
Cannon Smith, Senior Defensive Back
The Tigers play host to Middle Tennessee Saturday. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. in Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.