Justin Fuente’s best choice might be to water his own lawn at Memphis

“You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” is one of the most disingenuous axioms routinely spit out by human types. Surely, you knew someone in college that posted it on a Facebook wall in the most passive-aggressive way of announcing relationship problems.

People typically do know what they have; they just bet on themselves a little too hard in assuming they can have more.


When the smoke clears on this college football season, no matter how it shakes out, Memphis football coach Justin Fuente will be the most sought after commodity since grown people were strangling each other in retail store aisles over Tickle Me Elmo.

Fuente has Memphis in rarefied air after dismantling a once-emotional Tulsa team turned blowout victim, 66-42. Tulsa saw a Friday night standalone game with the Tigers as a season-saving pelt to put on their wall. After 60 minutes and more than 60 points by Memphis, Tulsa simply got pelted.

Since clipping Ole Miss last Saturday, this was the Tigers’ first chance at being the hunted, being the Sasquatch all the townsfolk load their rifles to hunt in the middle of the night.

Prior to Fuente’s hire in 2012, the Tigers were 5-31 in their previous three seasons under Larry Porter and Tommy West. They’ve gone to five bowl games since 1970, four of which came under the gaze of West, when basically breathing and standing upright would get you a bowl game (sort of like now).

Fuente will be without question the hottest mid-major coaching commodity around, the likes of which we possibly haven’t seen since Urban Meyer was trolling around the Utah sidelines lo those many years ago when Utah was a mid-major.

Fuente should choose wisely, and sometimes, that means staying put.

His past makes him attractive to pretty much any open job. He was Tulsa World’s Player of the Year as a senior in high school and went to Oklahoma as a much ballyhooed talent. He fell out of favor with John Blake, Oklahoma’s new coach who didn’t recruit him, and finished at Murray State.

From there, he went to Big Ten country for his first college job, winding up at Illinois State before heading back to the Big 12 and cutting his teeth as a household name for mid-major junkies looking for the next big thing at their program, overseeing the offense at dynamic TCU.

Memphis snagged him in 2012, and Fuente built it the old school way: improving, but not overnight. Now, he has the Tigers as a top-20 club and rising, looking like he’s married the up-tempo, no-huddle offense of today with the clock bleeding efficiency of yesteryear.

We know this much: Illinois, Maryland, South Carolina, and Southern California will be open. Maryland has already stated it wants an offensive mind. Illinois would be nuts to not call a guy who knows Illinois high school football. South Carolina would be even more nuts, because how many coaches can recruit in SEC country at Memphis and defeat SEC teams?

Southern California would be wise to call as well, and that may be the one that’s too tough to pass up.

Assuming they all call, is leaving (for any option) the best idea? The biggest rub of coaching at a mid-major in college football is that you have no realistic shot at the big prize, unlike, say, college basketball. Fuente might look like the Brad Stevens of college football, but Stevens could take his team to the limits college hoops would offer.

Where Fuente goes is only for the future to tell. A bit of advice (since there’s no shot anyone that knows him or even has shaken his hand reads this column): making decisions based on fit often works out better than making decisions based on money, power, rank, or anything else.

Take a page from former Boise State coach Chris Petersen, who was a white hot commodity every offseason for about five years before folks realized he was only going to leave when he had the itch and the right opening.

That didn’t always mean a brand-name program. In the end, it meant Washington, which thus far looks like a perfect low-key fit for a guy looking for a low-key gig.

She can be pretty, she can be smart, but if she can’t get along with you, she can’t stay for long.

The glitz of Southern Cal, the pull of the SEC, the nostalgia of Illinois and (well, sorry Maryland) might all have the pretty, the smarts, and the rich in-laws.

Memphis, though, might just be good looking in a mini skirt, enjoy a burger and a beer here and there, and love football on a Friday night. The grass often is greener on the other side. Sometimes, though, it’s worth just watering your own, as it’s pretty comfortable there, too.

If it ain’t broke … eh, forget it. We’re done here.


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