No Time Like the Present: Why Memphis Should Fire Tommy West Now

Dean JonesContributor ISeptember 14, 2009

NEW ORLEANS - DECEMBER 21:  Head coach Tommy West of the Memphis University Tigers calls a play against the Florida Atlantic University Owls in the New Orleans Bowl on December 21, 2007 at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Memphis is a basketball town. 

That has been a statement made as long as any Memphian can remember.  It's a lie.  It's false...propaganda by fans and professionals alike to give an excuse as to why the University of Memphis can't field a football team that people will support. 

It's an untruth that has become so prevalent and so repeated that all who hear it accept it as fact.  It's time to stop perpetuating this view point and deal with the real truth.

The truth is that Memphis is a sports town, but they only support winners. 

Isn't that how it is in other towns?  Doesn't everyone love a winner?  Memphis has struggled to know what that feels like with a litany of failed sports teams, but when we do get a winner we go all out.  Just ask those associated with Memphis' basketball program. 

Memphis being seen as a basketball town isn't by accident.  It is based on a simple assumption.  Memphians support the basketball program with great enthusiasm so Memphis must be a basketball town. 

Well, if that is true then answer this... why are the Grizzlies hiring an over-the-hill point guard, at $3.5 million, who cares more about starting than winning?  Because they can't sell tickets and those that do buy tickets don't come to the games.  Does that sound like a basketball town to you?  Of course not.

Here is another question for you... what do the Memphis Riverkings, Memphis Showboats, Memphis Redbirds, and others like them all have in common?  They all had great support and led the country in attendance when they were winners. 

Memphis supports winners.

If Memphis is a basketball town, then why do people go to Memphis Tiger football games when they play Ole Miss or Tennessee?  Why?  Are they hoping to get a glimpse of Anfernee Hardaway?  No.  They are there to see what they hope will be a great football game.  They hope for an upset.  And usually those hopes are dashed.

Memphians love sports...all sports.  Have you been to the Memphis Motorsports Park lately?  Did you go to the Fed Ex golf tournament this year and see the record number of people there?  Memphis loves sports.

Have you been to a "professional" wrestling match and seen the sellout crowds?  Memphis even likes fake sports.  They vote for an aging wrestler for Mayor because of how he put Memphis wrestling on the national map.

Memphians loves winners, but you have to give them a product worth buying...and can you blame them?

The Memphis Tigers football program, for as long as anyone in town can recall, has been a disappointment... a letdown.  Every year it's the same thing.  It doesn't matter who the coach is or who the AD or President of the University has been.  Fans hear promising comments and predictions. 

They are looking for great things.  Exciting ads are run.  Season tickets are bought.  And then...agony.  The pain of watching hopes and dreams smashed happens within a matter of a couple weeks and reality once again sets in.

Then the team limps along, makes a little run, puts some wins together against teams they shouldn't even be playing.  Scratches out a 6-5 season and gets into some bowl no one has heard of.  Some bowls are won, some are lost (three of the last four were lost to be exact) and no one really cares.  Apathy is the protection from disappointment.

Memphis must be a basketball town.The definition of insanity, as is often said, is continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  That pretty well sums up the Memphis Tigers football program throughout the vast majority of its history. 

It's time for a new approach, and ironically enough, the basketball program provides a good blueprint to follow.

First things the coach.  It was obvious Tic Price and Johnny Jones needed to go, and now it’s obvious Tommy West needs to go. 

West is a nice guy.  That’s the most common comment heard about Coach West.  He is well liked by all.  Unfortunately, this isn't a popularity contest.  West isn't running for Mr. Congeniality.  He is a football coach and football coaches are judged on one thing... winning.  A decade is long enough.

Some argue West has won more than anyone, except Spook Murphy.  Considering Memphis' past, that isn't saying much.  West's number of wins has a lot to do with the fact of having the job for nine years...and with an overall record of 47-51 it's still not something to brag about. 

Others will point to the number of bowls Memphis has been in during West's tenure.  True.  But what is also true is that there are more bowls now than has ever been before in the history of college football and coincidentally the majority of that bowl growth has occurred during West's tenure as Memphis' coach. 

It's much easier to get a bowl appearance now than it was 10 years ago.  There are now 33 bowls, including the four BCS bowls.  Over a third of those started in the last 10 years.  Last year, Memphis didn't even have a winning record (6-6) and got an invitation to the St. Petersburg Bowl, which they lost.  It was that bowl's first year in existence.

It’s also heard said that Coach West has taken the football program to new levels.  That can be argued as true.  Memphis does owe Coach West thanks for moving the program forward, but it just hasn’t moved forward enough. 

While Memphis has had some improvement, it still has a long way to go.  It’s kind of like saying Joey Dorsey improved as a free throw shooter when he went from 45 percent to 55 percent.  Yeah there is improvement.  A statistician could say it was almost a 20 percent increase and make it sound great.  But in the end it’s still poor.  It’s still unacceptable. 

One can play with the numbers all they want and point to individual high points, but in the end, everyone has to come to the same conclusion.  The Memphis Tigers football program is mediocre at best and changes have to be made...and the first change has to be at the top with the coach.

The same group of boosters that have done such an amazing job pouring dollars into the basketball program and that offered John Calipari the moon to stay, needs to do the same thing for a football coach.

Memphis is "saving" millions of dollars a year paying Josh Pastner instead of Calipari.  Simply redirect those funds to the football coach.

If you offer someone the kind of money that was being offered Calipari, Memphis could attract a top coach away from a BCS school, someone who is currently not coaching, or an up and coming coach who has proven himself at a non-BCS school. 

Phillip Fulmer comes to mind, though there are many other options.

While Tiger fans might initially cringe at the thought of hiring the former Vols coach, it can’t be argued that Fulmer would be excellent at recruiting and coaching at Memphis while bringing a whole new level of excitement among the fan base, and that is what Memphis desperately needs. 

Just as when Calipari was hired, ticket sales would immediately go up in anticipation of the future with that type of hire.

RC Johnson brags about money being spent on a weight room, Astroturf, and other improvements to facilities, and those are important.  That’s obvious, and it does help some with recruiting. 

But it is not why someone chooses to come to a school.  Kids come for coaches.  It’s that simple.  No kid ever said “I want to go to that school because they have a great weight room.”

As usual, Memphis seems to be putting the cart ahead of the horse.  Spend money on a coach, not weight rooms, not practice facilities, not a stadium… an excellent coach.  It's not minimizing the other things needed.  It's about priorities.  That has to be first priority.  A great coach brings instant credibility. 

It increases opportunities with top recruits, especially local talent that consistently leaves the city, often to SEC schools that surround this fertile recruiting ground.  In addition, Memphis will see improvement in development of players, better game plans, and cleaner execution of those plans during games resulting in more wins. 

More wins means more money as fans become engaged as never before.  TV appearances increase.  Memphis becomes a two sport threat and immediately becomes far more appealing to BCS conferences.

In recent months, there has been more and more chatter being heard about possible BCS opportunities for Memphis.  The Big East in particular keeps getting mentioned.  Let’s be honest.  None of the Big Six conferences are interested in Memphis without the basketball program. 

That is the main attraction.  Yes market size, location, and other factors may have appeal too, but without the success Tiger basketball has had during the Calipari era, Memphis is staying in C-USA indefinitely.   

The BCS is everything for football.  Being in a BCS school brings credibility, exposure, better recruits, better rivalries, better games, more money.  Not only will it be the single greatest thing to happen to the football program, it will also boost the basketball program, baseball, and every other sport. 

Every week that goes by with the football team losing...every week that Memphis allows to pass with Tommy West at the helm hurts their chances to join a Big Six conference.  Memphis must make a move and soon...this week...tomorrow.

They can’t afford to wait until the season is over and basketball has already begun.  It may be too late.  A move must be made now. 

Decisive, proactive, and aggressive action must be taken by RC Johnson or a BCS opportunity could slip away and may not come again for some time.  Memphis simply can’t afford to be passed over again.

If not, Memphis will continue to have no choice but to be a basketball town.


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