Justin Fuente and Paxton Lynch were all smiles on Thursday as Lynch announced his early departure for the NFL draft.
Easy for them to smile, they’re leaving.
For fans of the program, fans that have suffered through years of misfortune and inept football, the feeling was significantly less buoyant.
After all, less than 24 hours had passed since the shell of the program Fuente left behind was humiliated at the Birmingham Bowl. Humiliated by the 3 touchdown loss to an underachieving Auburn team, and humiliated by the headline grabbing shenanigans of Senior Reggis Ball – who wrestled an Auburn equipment manager after the game to steal a football.
Ball was later dismissed from the team, but proceeded to display the autographed ball on Instagram.
Let’s be real about what Reggis Ball did – nobody cares. He’s a 20 year old kid doing what 20 year old kids do.
But let’s also be real about what the last 24 hours reveal about the Memphis football program – all isn’t necessarily well.
Could new coach Mike Norvell be just the type of leader, recruiter and football coach that the program needs in order to take the next step forward?
Sure, I guess.
Could he also be a man hired to take over a program that drastically over-achieved with Lynch (potential top NFL pick) but that lacks the structural moxie to replicate even similar success going forward.
Kind of seemed like that in Birmingham, didn’t it?
Doesn’t it now seem likely that Fuente wasn’t all that impressed about what he was leaving behind?
After all, this was a team that lost 4 of its final 5 games with Lynch under center. And again, without crucifying Ball for acting like a kid, surely we can all agree that his behavior didn’t exactly display a program oozing with mature Senior leadership.
I was struck by what Fuente said just moments before hopping a plane to Blacksburg last month:
“I hope that the next coach comes in – and I hope that (the Memphis program) will be in better shape than when we got it, but it’s not perfect either.”
If you watch the video it’s almost as if Fuente was going out of his way to emphasize that there are some issues here. The vapor trail he left behind him isn’t reassuring either.
Like ‘not perfect’ in the indoor practice facility still hasn’t been built or ‘not perfect’ in that the leadership and / or talent in the program isn’t at a level to compete for conference championships?
Oh look, there’s conference divisional mate Houston winning the Peach Bowl over Florida State with a coach signed to a $3m per year long term contract.
Oh look, there’s a story about how BYU and Cincinnati are favorites for Big XII expansion and how the football program at Memphis “isn’t developed enough.”
Wonder where they got that impression? Maybe they listened to that Fuente interview.
So welcome to the job Mike Norvell. Pay no attention to those guys in the lobby smiling ear to ear for the cameras. They’re even richer than you are and they’re not sticking around.
Grab a hard hat, time to get to work.