Thursday, September 10, 2015

Zenger, Beaty familiar with Memphis’ Fuente

In this Dec. 22, 2014 file photo, Memphis head coach Justin Fuente holds up the trophy after Memphis defeated Brigham Young 55-48 in double overtime during the Miami Beach Bowl football game in Miami.

In this Dec. 22, 2014 file photo, Memphis head coach Justin Fuente holds up the trophy after Memphis defeated Brigham Young 55-48 in double overtime during the Miami Beach Bowl football game in Miami.


In the fall of 2005, newly named Illinois State athletic director Sheahon Zenger, who now holds the same position at Kansas, wandered out to an ISU football practice and could not believe his eyes.

On the offensive side of the field, where the quarterbacks and receivers were working on offensive installation, a 29-year-old coach who looked barely old enough to be out of college seemed to be the one in charge.

Figuring he was mistaken, Zenger approached then-ISU head coach Denver Johnson and asked him who the young man was.

His name was Justin Fuente, and although the current Memphis Tigers coach who will bring his team to Lawrence at 6 p.m. Saturday for a Week 2 showdown with the Jayhawks remains one of the hot, young names in college coaching, Fuente has aged and accomplished an impressive amount since that day on the field in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois.

“Justin was a young man that I was always very impressed by,” Zenger said. “And I always admired his play-calling ability even then.”

After starting his college career as a three-year QBs coach and three-year offensive coordinator at Illinois State, Fuente left ISU in 2009 to become the co-offensive coordinator and QBs coach at TCU, where he helped lead the Horned Frogs and quarterback Andy Dalton to a victory in the 2011 Rose Bowl.

On the heels of the Horned Frogs’ enormous success, Fuente, now 39, left TCU for the challenge of rebuilding at Memphis.

After leading the Tigers to records of 4-8 and 3-9 during his first two seasons in charge, the former Oklahoma quarterback, whom many believe may some day wind up coaching his alma mater, guided the Tigers to a 10-3 season and bowl victory a season ago, which landed him squarely on every hot list for just about every head coaching vacancy in the country, including the one at Kansas.

Sources familiar with the search that ended with KU hiring David Beaty said casual conversations with Fuente never went beyond that. And in mid-December, Fuente agreed to a new five-year contract that included a $400,000 raise and hefty incentives.

The Jayhawks got their guy in Beaty, who, through previous stops at Kansas, had important institutional knowledge of what it took to succeed at Kansas, and the Week 2 game with the Tigers got a little more interesting.

Beaty said he and cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry remember first meeting Fuente when he recruited the halls of the Texas high schools at which they coached “way back in the day.”

As things often seem to go in the coaching world, the bond between Beaty and Fuente eventually grew on the recruiting trail, where they found themselves visiting the same schools and recruiting some of the same athletes.

“I’ve known (him) for a long, long time,” Beaty said earlier this week. “(And I) knew he was going to be successful because of the way he handled kids. But, man, he’s got some good players and has done a really good job with that football team.”

This week, all of the good vibes associated with their connection go out the window and it’s Beaty’s job to find a way to slow down Fuente and the Tigers. That should be at least a little easier given Beaty’s familiarity with Fuente’s offensive attack.

“I mean, I was the one standing in line trying to steal what he was doing schematically because he’s a brilliant, brilliant offensive mind,” Beaty said. “I learned a lot from that guy.”

What makes Fuente’s system so successful is something KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen referred to as “complicated within its simplicity.”

In their 63-7, Week 1 victory over Missouri State, Fuente’s Tigers ran 81 plays and displayed balance in the run and pass game, with 317 yards and 5.3 yards-per-carry on the ground and 202 yards and a 76-percent completion rate through the air.

“You can tell they know exactly where they’re headed with everything,” Bowen said. “And it’s the repeat plays, but they give you so many motions and formations and ways of getting to the same thing that it creates problems for defenses. It’s a nice system and they have the right personnel to run it.”


Ian Ballinger 6 years, 11 months ago

I watched the replay of the Memphis game... All I could take. Missouri State laid down early... arguably after Memphis' first TD. That's just from my uneducated perspective however. Also from my uneducated perspective I want to believe after what I saw in the second half last week (was impressed by the fire in their bellies, not giving up and rallying back), Cozart taking a legitimate leadership role by the likes of which we've never seen from him, the players and coaches never losing intensity and energy both on the sidelines and and on the field... I want to believe we can play a good football game versus Memphis.

Regardless, can't wait until Saturday... I can't be at the game this week... Breaks my heart to not be, because I want to go to as many home games as I can, it's just hard to be because my family is near the Garden City area out in the middle of the country and I'm at college in Great Bend. A drive to Lawrence is tough... not saying I don't love it, though. Was hyped beyond belief the moment we turned on to the Turnpike to Lawrence.

Family was planning on tailgating in our backyard, still trying to convince ma to let us take the TV outside with the food to watch the game, providing the weather is clear. Win or lose I love Jayhawk football. This is my team for life, and I'll support them through thick and thin. Rock chalk Jayhawk.

W Keith Swinehart II 6 years, 11 months ago

Great attitude. Last paragraph says it all. I feel the same, and have watched and listened since the 50's. Still my team to support, thick or thin.

Martin Rosenblum 6 years, 11 months ago

All I know, living in Memphis, is that fans of the U of M want to be able to brag about beating KU in ANY could be checkers! . Still a bitter memory from the 07-08 NC. If KU does pull off a W this Saturday, which is possible, the tone will be intensified as the old wounds will become a little deeper. Personally, I would rub salt in those wounds with some friends, coworkers, and relatives.

David Leathers 6 years, 11 months ago

What are they worried about, that win would have been vacated anyway!

Dirk Medema 6 years, 11 months ago

Sort of fun to hear, and similar to UofI people being pissed about Coach Self ditching them for the promised land.

Jay Beakum 6 years, 11 months ago

I work with a guy from Memphis. All he can talk about (re; KU) is that Chalmers is an overrated scrub. LOL!! It's still under his skin.

Ian Ballinger 6 years, 11 months ago

Yeah there's definitely significance regarding this game. Kinda feels like an old rivalry. All the more reason to win.

God bless yall.

Brett McCabe 6 years, 11 months ago

The key is being ready to play from the start. I'm thinking that all of the new kids will be less intimidated at kick-off this week and will be ready to play at kick-off.

Repeating myself here......I heard Stan Weber explain that the important thing in Bill Snyder's first year was that there was noticeable improvement in the team, even though they only won one game (I think).

This team has enormous potential for improvement and growth because of their age and experience. If we can avoid the injury bug, then we should become more competitive each week. That's what I'll be looking for, regardless of the record.

David Leathers 6 years, 11 months ago

If we can play 60 minutes of football instead of 35 this game, I believe it will come down to the wire. It has been said over and over that this season can't be graded on wins and losses, but by the game to game improvement itself. Its sad that so many Jayhawk fans can't grasp that idea and still continue to obviously point out the fact that we are terrible.

This coaching staff is headed in the right direction. I just hope that in 3 or 4 years we can be in the mix of things.

Brian Leiker 6 years, 11 months ago

I don't like to rain on parades but there is no way this game is within 20. Honestly, I think it's looking like a 55-21 kind of thumping.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 11 months ago

I got the impression reading the article that JF has his eyes set on succeeding Stoops.

Surprised that no one has complained about Dr Z not pursuing him more aggressively.

Aaron Paisley 6 years, 11 months ago

Fuente is someone who would've used KU as a springboard to OU (I think Stoops is gone within the next 5 years) and Memphis gave him a raise in the middle of the coaching searches so it was probably the combination of those two factors as to why Fuente didn't become a finalist for the job. Beaty is a guy who's been at KU under multiple coaches before now and is a guy who won't bolt KU for the next good job that comes his way.

Calvin Miller 6 years, 11 months ago

Zenger probably did pursue him. Difference is that Zenger knows Fuente, but Fuente knows Zenger and may no have wanted to work under him.
If Fuente would have been hired, he probably would have brought his entire staff---meaning no one from KU would have been retained. Fuente was, in fact, a finalist if you consider the last 5 candidates standing to be finalists.

Aaron Paisley 6 years, 11 months ago

That's not how it works though. Fuente was not a finalist for the KU job. There were only 3 finalists and they were Beaty, Bowen, and Ed Wariner.

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