Larry’s homecoming is complete

By Phil Stukenborg
Updated: November 30, 2009

MEMPHIS — Larry Porter began envisioning his perfect job nearly two years ago when, as an assistant coach, he and the LSU football team were being honored at the White House for winning the national championship.

Porter, a former University of Memphis running back, wasn’t thinking politics. He had his alma mater on his mind. Later that night, the UofM basketball team was playing Kansas for a national title of its own, a matchup that inspired Porter to dream.

”I will never forget that, on one hand, I was so proud of my alma mater,” Porter said. ”On the other hand I was saying, ‘You know what?

Football can be just as good.’

”I went to bed with that vision in my mind. (Saturday) night I probably slept two hours thinking about that same vision of being a championship-caliber program. I still believe that will happen.”

Porter, 37, will get the opportunity to make it happen. Before a large crowd of boosters, politicians, fans, players, former players and local high school coaches, Porter was announced as the UofM’s 22nd coach Sunday.

Porter, who played for the Tigers in the 1990s, replaces Tommy West, who ended his nine-year run Friday in a 33-30 overtime loss at Tulsa.

”The Memphis job is the perfect job, in a perfect place, for me,” Porter said. ”I understand the Memphis brand. I believe in it unconditionally. I have a conviction, a passion about it, and a vision that allows me to walk into homes (of recruits) in this community, to talk to the student body, the faculty, and get them to believe in that vision simply because I’m motivated to get this program to the next level.”

Memphis went to five bowl games during West’s tenure, but the Tigers failed to win a Conference USA title during his run. The UofM finished 2-10 this season.

”I think the Memphis job is a diamond in the rough, waiting to sparkle,” Porter said.

Porter, the first African-American UofM football head coach, received a five-year contract worth $750,000 annually. This will be the first head coaching job for Porter, who has never been a coordinator in his 12 years as a college assistant.

Known as a successful recruiter, Porter spent the past eight seasons under coach Les Miles, including the last five at LSU, where he served as assistant head coach and running backs coach. He said Sunday he will not remain with LSU as it prepares for its bowl game and instead begin recruiting for the UofM starting today.

He said his goal is to keep the top Memphis-area talent from leaving for the Southeastern Conference and other BCS leagues.

”There are a lot of kids that really want to stay home,” Porter said. ”I’ve basically identified about 10 guys, five of which I know have legitimate BCS, SEC offers, that are very, very open to coming to the University of Memphis. The other five … I know there’s a chance we can get them on visits.”

As for putting together his staff, he said he’ll be patient as several candidates will be coaching in bowl games.

”I don’t want to hire a staff quickly,” he said. ”I want to hire a great staff.”

Appearing comfortable and composed on stage delivering his “acceptance speech” and answering questions from the media, he addressed concerns about never having served as a coordinator. Porter has been a running backs coach since 1998 when he started his career at UT-Martin. He became LSU’s assistant head coach in 2006.

He mentioned several head coaches, including Florida’s Urban Meyer, who were elevated despite never having served as coordinators. He said his ascension is a tribute to his work ethic and success as a position coach and recruiter. He is a two-time national recruiter of the year.

Tiger athletic director R.C. Johnson, who introduced Porter, said Miles assured him Porter was ready.

”Les said he’s my (assistant) head coach,” Johnson said. ”He is really prepared to take over as a head coach. I talked to two other people that I think the world of who knew him and they thought he was ready. Les has him doing a lot of things that a head coach has to do.

”And I just felt he was ready. He’s 37, he’s got a great background. He’s high energy, he has a lot of enthusiasm.”

Johnson also spoke with Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who preceded Porter as running backs coach at Arkansas State, about a non-coordinator making the jump the head coach.

”Tomlin said to me, ‘I’d like guys that haven’t been coordinators if I was looking for a head coach,”’ Johnson said. ”As a coordinator, you really focus on (the unit you are coordinating). If you are an assistant head coach, you kind of look at a bigger picture. Les talked about that, too.”