Chuck’s Corner by Chuck Livingston
MEMPHIS — Nearly everything about Memphis’ game against SMU was bizarre on Saturday. The game was played under a torrential downpour that felt more like your average day in Seattle rather than a Thanksgiving weekend in Memphis. The weather kept away a lot of fans for what will likely be the last game of the Justin Fuente Era in Memphis. In fact, late in the second quarter of the 63-0 win, Fuente was apparently hired on the field by Virginia Tech as Twitter was set ablaze with the news. Imagine telling someone that in 2004? “Yeah, the Memphis coach that has won 19 games over the past two years got hired during the first half of their game. People in the press box were retweeting the news like crazy.” I’m not sure you can blame Fuente for leaving for a job at a bigger school. What he’s done at Memphis is unprecedented and he deserves to see how he can build a program elsewhere. If the reports are true and Fuente is bound for Blacksburg, then it ends a golden era of football in Memphis, but the way it ended is also quite fitting. There’s just nothing easy about football in Memphis. The struggles have been well-documented, but even Fuente’s run in the Bluff City came under strange circumstances. Remember, he wasn’t Memphis’ first choice in 2011. That honor would go to Jim McElwain, who was then Alabama’s offensive coordinator and is now the head man at Florida. It was only after McElwain changed his mind and took the Colorado State job that Memphis went to their second choice in Fuente, which allowed this current run to unfold. Imagine that: Four years ago, a coach spurned Memphis for Colorado State. The move worked out for McElwain, but Fuente stands to gain plenty in his own right. It took Fuente two years to get everything rolling, but once he did, it was on for Memphis. With very little debate, most people would agree that the high point of the Fuente era was that iconic win against Ole Miss in the Liberty Bowl on October 17. That win put Memphis into the national spotlight and even had some whispering about the Tigers potentially making the playoff. Yes. The Memphis Tigers that were so awful with no light at the end of the tunnel as recently as 2011 were seriously being bandied as one of the nation’s four best teams. If that seems strange to read in print, I would agree with you. But strange is the buzz word for Fuente in Memphis. Perhaps the only one more fitting would be successful.