Here are some of my stories as a reporter and editor at The Daily Helmsman
_Porter fired, Johnson to resign
By Adam Douglas
Aaron TurnerUniversity of Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson announces his retirement, effective at the end of June 2012, in a press conference on Monday.
One day after relieving head coach Larry Porter of his duties as head football coach, University of Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson announced his retirement at a press conference Monday in front of friends, fans, administration and supporters. His retirement not immediate, the 70-year-old Johnson will stay at The U of M until the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30, 2012.
"It's been a great ride, but it was just time," Johnson said. "I've been the athletic director here for 16 years. I've run out of ties, and I have no hairpieces left – it's time to move on."
University of Memphis president Shirley Raines, who was also in attendance, said that efforts find a new athletic director and head football coach will be swift and aided by resources outside The University.
"I have decided to use a search firm that specializes in athletics in hiring the next head coach," she said. "The timeline – which I know you all are interested in – is completing the search as soon as possible, but with time for the search firm to vet the candidates."
Johnson will have no input in the hiring of the next head coach.
"I don't want my future to take away from anything we're trying to accomplish," he said. "We've got a lot of things going on and I don't want any distractions."
The Tigers football team posted a 3-21 record in Porter's two years as head coach. The team won just one Conference USA game.
Hiring a new coach is the first step in reversing the Tigers' losing ways and regaining the support of fans and students, Raines said.
"Obviously we want to win. That will help," she said. "Having a head coach who will be interactive with the students, alumni and fans will be very important to us."
Porter discussed his firing at a press conference held after Raines' and Johnson's remarks on Monday.
"Although I'm very disappointed in the decision of my firing, I understand it and respect it," he said. "I am thankful for the opportunity that R.C. (Johnson) and Dr. Raines gave me. I wish I could have taken this program to a higher level."
Throughout the press conference, Porter referred to the football program as "we," and didn't hesitate when doing so.
He said that he'll remain a supporter and fan of Tiger football.
"I say ‘we' because I will forever be a Tiger and forever want to see this program succeed."
_Tigers’ exhibition opener provides fans with a look into what may be a magical season
By Adam Douglas
Two years ago, he almost lost his first ever game as a head coach in an exhibition match against Christian Brothers University. One year ago, he said that he almost had an ulcer on the sidelines at the Tigers exhibition season-opener.
But this year, his Tigers won by more than 50 points on Wednesday against Lemoyne-Owen.
Is this year's Tigers team finally going to live up to the hype? Judging from third-year head coach Josh Pastner's impressions of the team, the answer could be "yes."
"I just think we have some really good players," he said after Memphis defeated LeMoyne-Owen 119-67 on Wednesday. "We are at our best when we are playing up-tempo. But our whole identity has got to be on the defensive end – we've got to make stops."
Memphis did some good things during Wednesday's game. They committed fewer turnovers than their opponent (11 to 25), they had more assists than turnovers (26 to 11) and they got out on the fast break and scored points. This was something that Pastner and his staff have been looking for from the Tigers throughout his short tenure as head coach. Wednesday seemed to be an indication that The U of M finally has all its pieces together, albeit they faced a team far less talented than them.
"The good thing about this game is that we can take this film and break it down and show our guys a lot of things we need to work on," Pastner said. "We have to get better pressing, get up and down the floor quicker. There are some positives, but there are some things to work on."
The Tigers ended the night with seven players scoring in double figures. Sophomore point guard Joe Jackson looking like a true offensive leader, dishing out seven assists and turning the ball over just once. Senior forward Wesley Witherspoon showed no ill effects from two prior knee surgeries.
"I think all of our guys played well," Pastner said. "Antonio (Barton) played well. Will (Barton) kept it simple. Wesley gave us some good minutes, and I was really proud of Joe. But I keep telling guys, Wesley and Joe are our X-factors for us. They both don't need to be Superman, they just need to play to their abilities and that's what they did tonight."
The debut of freshman forward Adonis Thomas and junior forward Stan Simpson wasn't bad either. Thomas finished the game with 11 points, two rebounds and two steals. Simpson, carving up the paint, blocked three shots, grabbed seven boards and added 14 tough points. If those two can contribute like this for the rest of the season, a deep run in the NCAA Tournament may be in the future.
_Deja vu: Tigers collapse again in 4th quarter, lose to Marshall 23-22 in final home game
By Adam Douglas
David MinkinFreshman running back Artaves Gibson goes airborn while being tackled by Marshall defenders.
Both teams traded touchdowns in the first quarter, with the Tigers taking yet another lead into halftime, 13-10, and for the second consecutive game led going into the fourth quarter. And also like last game, The University of Memphis Tigers football team (2-9, 1-6 in Conference USA) couldn't hold the lead when it counted most, falling to Marshall 23-22 after dominating for much of the game.
Once again the Tigers won the turnover battle, 5-0, and once again they let a lead slip away. But in a game where the Tigers returned a blocked punt and a fumble for a touchdown, and had a punt blocked but managed to recover the ball for a first down, it would look like it would be your night to win. Somehow, though, the Tigers found a way to give another win to a reeling team in C-USA.
"I thought our team played hard and played well in spurts," said head coach Larry Porter. "But the inability to finish just frustrates you. And I will not allow the players to hold their heads low for the effort they gave out there."
The effort was there in Thursday night's game. The Tigers intercepted Marshall backup quarterback Rakeem Cato twice, as well forcing to him to fumble, which led to a touchdown. Memphis had a touchdown on special teams, and when the Thundering Herd went up 7-0 out of the gate, the Tigers responded with their own 10-play, 69-yard touchdown drive. Initially, the Tigers didn't show any letdown from last week's debacle against UAB.
"The resolve in this team is one thing you can enjoy," Porter said. "We were trying to play this game to the bitter end. We wasn't taking our foot off the gas – we're in no position for that."
Unlike last week against the Blazers, the Tigers had chances to win down the stretch. After going down 23-22 with 6:02 left to play, The U of M punted, only to see another fumble fall their way with 2:00 left on the clock. Sophomore quarterback Andy Summerlin, who took over for freshman Taylor Reed midway through the third quarter after Reed was injured, marched the team down the field only to see them start dropping the ball once they crossed their side of the 50. Three straight dropped passes by Marcus Rucker, Tanner Rehrer and Reggie Travis turned the ball over on downs and gave Marshall a come-from-behind win in the fourth quarter.
"We didn't capitalize offensively," Summerlin said. "It's very unfortunate that it ended this way; our defense played great tonight and as an offense you've got to score points."
The Tigers wrap up the 2011 season next Saturday when they travel to Hattisburg, Miss. to play the Southern Miss. Golden Eagles. Kickoff is slated for 3 p.m.
_No. 9 Tigers ready to pounce
Even without a definitive starting lineup, Coach Pastner and 2011-2012 Tigers eagerly await starting
By Adam Douglas
With just one more day until their first exhibition game and two weeks until the official start of the season, The University of Memphis Tigers basketball team is echoing the same sentiment they have all preseason – practice makes perfect, but the Tigers are ready to suit up against another team.
At practice on Monday, many players and head coach Josh Pastner said that come Wednesday, it'll be nice to play someone else in any type of game, albeit an exhibition.
"We're excited about the game Wednesday; it's been a long road getting here," said sophomore forward Tarik Black. "Last year, we came in during the summer and then started the season. But this year, we've been here through the whole year – the summer and Memphis Madness – and now the season is finally about to start."
The team should be much improved from last season. They come into Wednesday's exhibition against LeMoyne-Owen College ranked No. 9 in the ESPN/USA Today Poll and No.11 in the AP Poll. With a year of maturity, the team feels they are better prepared to take on tough competition without having chemistry setbacks like last year.
"We've got to be focused from day one," said sophomore point guard Antonio Barton. "Last year, it took too long for us to click, and we can't wait that long because, like coach says, every team is good. So we have to take it seriously starting with the exhibition game."
The Tigers will again have a deep team, but a starting five and substitution pattern have yet to be determined by Pastner and his staff. Players know that they're name can be called at any minute, but when they'll hear their name is the question.
Pastner insists that it's too early to tell who will be starting, but says he will try to better manage the different lineups he will juggle in his third season as head coach.
"I haven't decided yet (on starters), but we're getting close," he said. "We literally have eight starters. We don't have a starting five – maybe a starting eight or starting nine. I want to make it easy for everybody here. I will try to keep the same starters the best I can."
Having a choice of playing eight or nine players may be a challenge for some teams, but this Tigers squad doesn't mind who starts and who comes off the bench.
"I can't speak for everybody, but it really doesn't matter to me who starts because we're so loaded," said sophomore guard Chris Crawford. "That's why in practice, everyone's competing against each other – it's so competitive."
_Tigers bruise Bruins 97-81
By Adam Douglas
In a game where many experts either thought the final score was going to be close or thought the away team would somehow win, the No. 10 University of Memphis Tigers basketball team (1-0) made quick work of the Belmont Bruins on Tuesday afternoon, winning 97-81 in front of 16,294 fans at the FedEx Forum.
The Bruins did at one point lead the game 2-1 very early after tipoff, but the Tigers quickly regained the lead and never relinquished it from that point on. The Tigers' biggest lead at one point was 18, and the closest Belmont ever got was within seven points of Memphis midway through the second half.
"That was a great win for us; that's a good basketball team," said head coach Josh Pastner. "They're extremely well coached. They'll probably win 30 games again this year."
Though the final score indicates The U of M seemed in control for much of the game, it doesn't quite tell the battle that went on between the two teams. There were technical fouls, elbows being thrown and scrappy play on both sides. Some positives for the Tigers included 20 assists on 34 made field goals, and fewer turnovers than the opponent, 18-9.
"The number one thing on offense for me is that the open man is the go-to man," Pastner said. "And single-digit turnovers, we had seven in the first half and two in the second, so I'm very proud of our guys for that."
The game wasn't easy for the Tigers. They missed 12 free throws, shooting 64.7 percent from the line, hitting 22 of 34 attempts. They were outrebounded 42-29, and couldn't stay out of foul trouble early. But with senior forward Wesley Witherspoon going 8-for-8 from the field and scoring 22 points to go along with 5 rebounds – arguably his best overall performance as a Tiger – the Bruins would not leave Memphis victorious.
"Wesley was elite today," Pastner said. "There was no doubt about that."
Sophomores Joe Jackson and Will Barton also helped the Tigers, each scoring more than 20 points. Jackson again looked like a true point guard, with seven assists and just two turnovers. Barton grabbed five boards and dished out three assists.
"We've got a lot of weapons," Barton said. "I expect guys to score and put up a lot of points. On any given night, Chris (Crawford), my brother (Charles) Carmouche or even (Tarik) Black can go for 20 points or more. It's scary."
The Tigers wore throwback uniforms from the 1972-73 team that went to the Final Four, and also honored former player and head coach Larry Finch by wearing a No. 21 patch on the right shoulder of the uniform. Pastner said the team will wear throwbacks throughout the season in commemoration of The U of M's 100th anniversary.
The Tigers return to action on Monday when they play No. 20 Michigan in the Maui Invitational. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m.
_NCAA awards Lady Tigers No. 4 berth in tournament
Women’s soccer team to face UT-Martin with 7-1 all-time series advantage
By Adam Douglas
Aaron TurnerAbove, The University of Memphis women’s soccer team anxiously awaits to hear its name announced as an automatic qualifier in the 2011 NCAA women’s soccer tournament. Below, the team reacts to the announcement of its pairing with UT-Martin in the first round.
One day after winning their fifth straight Conference USA title, the undefeated and No. 4 ranked University of Memphis women's soccer team (21-0-1) awaited their fate as they watched the 2011 NCAA women's soccer tournament selection show. And once the show began, the Lady Tigers quickly found out where they were seeded and how the rest of the country felt about them being undefeated, receiving a regional No. 4 seeding.
"When it comes to seeding, I felt like we were disrespected a little bit," said head coach Brooks Monahgan. "But I really like our draw; and when you look at Florida State, who got the No. 1 seed in our region, I think on paper they drew a tougher draw than we did."
The Lady Tigers are appearing in their fifth straight NCAA Tournament, and their opponent in the first round will be a familiar foe in Tennessee-Martin. The Tigers and Skyhawks have met eight previous times, with the Tigers holding a 7-1 advantage in the series.
The two programs haven't played each other since the 2007 season.
Though the seeding wasn't ideal for The U of M, players said they will make the most of it.
"We came up with a good draw," said senior defender Lizzy Simonin. "We feel very confident going into Saturday's game and looking forward to getting that monkey off our back."
Simonin was referring to the Lady Tigers failure to advance past the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But having to host a couple of home games should give the Tigers an edge and help make a deep run in the tourney.
"I think playing at home in the first round is massive," Monaghan said. "Hopefully we can continue to have the support that we've had during the season, plus the conference tournament; especially the tournament final – the atmosphere was incredible, and the kids really feed off that."
Though the regular season went according to plan, the faces of the players, coaches and well-wishers after the brackets were unveiled seemed to convey uncertainty about the Tigers position in the tournament.
"I think (the seeding) kind of shocked everybody because we came up first, and it was like, ‘There we are,'" Monaghan said. "I don't think it affects the girls at all – I know it doesn't affect me. We're just focused on who our next opponent will be."
The Lady Tigers will begin their quest for an NCAA Women's Soccer Championship on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Mike Rose Soccer Complex.
_Tigers roll in exhibition opener at FedExForum
By Adam Douglas
David MinkinSenior forward Wesley Witherspoon adds a pair of first-half points with authority against LeMoyne-Owen College in an exhibition matchup at FedExForum on Wednesday.
They set the tone early with rebounding and a stifling full court defense, creating turnovers that led to fast breaks in the Tigers dismantling of LeMoyne-Owen College, 119-67, in an Wednesday night exhibition match that opened Memphis' 2011-2012 basketball season.
Sophomore guard Will Barton led all scorers with 22 points, collecting five rebounds and dishing out four assists in only 18 minutes of playing time. His brother, Antonio, was a spark off the bench, hitting consecutive threes and shooting 5-for-8 from the field for 16 points as part of a 19-0 Memphis run midway through the first half.
"During the course of the offseason, I've been in the gym working on my shot all year round," Antonio said. "But the way me and my brother played tonight is credited to our mother. She tells us to go out every game and give your heart – there's no turning back."
The Tiger defense also looked improved, but despite holding the Magicians to just 67 points on the game, Memphis was unable to shut out the Magicians from the three-point line. Lemoyne-Owen shot better than 60 percent from beyond the arc in the first half. They finished the game shooting 32 percent from three.
"You guys know my number one thing is to take the three-point shot out of the game," said U of M head coach Josh Pastner. "How many times do you see teams that are lesser in talent beat teams because of the three-point shot? We have to take threes out of the game, but we couldn't because our hands were down and guys were shooting over us."
Junior forward Stan Simpson, making his Tigers debut, looked better than advertised, shooting 7-for-8 from the floor for 14 points. He also grabbed seven rebounds. His knack around the basket may be what the Tigers need to get over the hump this year.
"I thought Stan played well," Pastner said. "Credit goes to coach (Luke) Walton for that. Stan gets credit too – I think both guys deserve credit. Stan can help us because he plays hard; he played hard tonight."
Sophomores Chris Crawford and Tarik Black didn't have their best games. Black, who was not expected to play due to flu-like symptoms, had only four points in limited playing time. Crawford shot poorly from the field, but was stellar on defense.
"I just got to stay in the gym and take care of the ball more," Crawford said. "I missed a lot of shots tonight, but you live to shoot another day."
Memphis returns to action next Friday night at FedExForum to take on Christians Brothers University for another exhibition tune-up. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m.
_Tigers drown Green Wave 33-17
Tigers pull ahead early in New Orleans, thwart Tulane’s second-half comeback attempt to snap 16-game
By Adam Douglas
Freshman cornerback Bobby McCain intercepts a pass in the third quarter before returning it 79 yards for a touchdown.
Entering last Saturday's game against Tulane, The University of Memphis Tigers football team had lost 23 of their last 25 games dating back to the 2009 season. They also owned a dubious 16-game Conference USA losing streak, with four of those losses suffered this season. But the Tigers (2-6, 1-3 in C-USA) put those streaks to an end as they defeated the Tulane University Green Wave 33-17 in New Orleans.
"I would like to compliment our team for coming out and staying focused and playing a 60-minute game," said head coach Larry Porter. "We were able to counterpunch and fight off some negative momentum, which gave this team some energy and more passion to fight through for 60 minutes."
That "negative momentum" came after halftime, when Tulane captured the lead midway through the second half against a Tiger defense that controlled the tempo from the outset. Down 14-10 at the break, Tulane took the second-half kickoff and drove 80 yards on only six plays to regain the lead, 17-14. Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin was perfect on the drive, going 4-of-4 on passing for 77 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown strike to Wilson Van Hooser.
The turning point of the game happened when Tigers cornerback Bobby McCain intercepted Griffin on Tulane's next possession, returning the ball 79 yards for a touchdown. A blocked extra point left the Tigers with a 20-17 lead.
After blocking a Tulane punt attempt the next possession, Tigers quarterback Taylor Reed gave Memphis a 26-17 lead after scoring on a one-yard touchdown. Kicker Paulo Henriques missed the extra point attempt.
Redshirt senior Billy Foster would add to the lead by scampering 22 yards for another touchdown, putting the Tigers up 33-17 late in the fourth quarter and dashing any hopes for a comeback by Tulane.
"It feels good to get a ‘w' on the road, and to top it off this was a conference game," said senior linebacker Terrance Thomas, who had a team-leading 14 tackles in the game. "Practice will be more fun this week, the enthusiasm will be there and everyone will come out with the will to practice."
The Tigers' performance, though leading to a win, was still flawed.
Tulane gained more total yards than The U of M (459-289), had more first downs (26-15) and a greater time of possession (32:46 to 27:14). Despite those shortcomings, some players still had high hopes for the rest of the season.
"Truth be told, if we win out, we can still go to a bowl game," said sophomore tight end Justin Henderson.
_Women’s basketball picked to win C-USA
Carter named C-USA Preseason Player of the Year
By Adam Dougas
Coming off of back-to-back 20-win seasons and consecutive post-season berths, The University of Memphis women’s basketball team was picked as the preseason favorite to win the Conference USA crown in a poll of league coaches announced on Thursday.
Coming off of back-to-back 20-win seasons and consecutive post-season berths, The University of Memphis women's basketball team was picked as the preseason favorite to win the Conference USA crown in a poll of league coaches announced on Thursday. Also, senior guard Brittany Carter was named preseason Player of the Year and senior Jasmine Lee was named to the preseason all-conference team.
"When you get that vote among your peers, it means something," said Melissa McFerrin, head coach of the women's basketball team. "But it also comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility. Being preseason number one in October is not our goal – our goal is to be number one in March. But we've been building to this point for three and a half years now, so it's not a big surprise, but it is a big responsibility. "
Carter, who's repeating preseason all-conference honors from last year, is a two time, first team all-conference honoree that averaged 13.8 points per game last year. The senior guard battled a foot injury last season, missing five conference contests, but returned at the C-USA championships to help Memphis to its first semifinals appearance since 1997-98.
"I'm humbled," Carter said. "I didn't expect it. I just want to work hard for my team because if I am the best player in the conference or become that person, then ultimately it helps us out as a team to get to where we want to be."
Carter becomes the first Tiger to earn preseason Player of the Year honors from Conference USA since Tamika Whitmore prior to Memphis' 1998 and 1999 seasons. Only Carter, Whitmore and LaTonya Johnson have been named to multiple preseason All-Conference USA squads.
Senior post Jasmine Lee earned a preseason all-conference nod after leading Memphis last season in rebounding (8.2 rebounds per game) and finishing second in points per game (12.4). Lee also added 21 steals on the season and shot 49.5 percent from the field.
"Jasmine spent last year trying to get consistent, to bring an eight or nine or ten in effort level all the time," McFerrin said. "Last year, early on, we had some games where she was not at that level, and this year we need her to show up every day and be the same player in games that we see on the practice court."
Fans will get their first full look at the team at Memphis Madness on Friday. Doors open at FedEx Forum at 5:30 p.m., and fans can watch the team practice until about 7:15 p.m.
__Time's ticking for Porter to keep fans interested
After an unproductive start to the season, The University of Memphis football team has finally gotten some pretty good news. No, Cannon Smith is not off the team, and no, we still don't know how healthy freshman Ryan Williams will be for the next game against Louisville. But looking forward to next season - if Tigers fans out there think Ryan Williams is the answer at quarterback, then they have probably neither seen nor heard about Andy Summerlin. He started the summer in the five-man competition for the starting quarterback job, and probably would have won, but an injury to his throwing shoulder prior to the annual Blue-Gray scrimmage kept him out of contention. Just recently, he returned to practice. Trust me when I tell you, this guy has the accuracy of Tom Brady, the arm of Peyton Manning and he studies film like them too! You have to turn the lights out on this kid to get him out of the film room. And most importantly, he looks like a quarterback. Summerlin is 6-foot-5, 230-pounds with a cannon of an arm that will have you saying, "I wish he wasn't hurt" or even "Why haven't I heard of him before?" If coach Larry Porter wants to keep his program relevant, he will make Summerlin next year's starting quarterback. It gives him the best chance to win, and if he doesn't, fans may become even less interested in the Porter era of U of M football. Because in this town Tigers fans really only care about one thing - basketball. With the season quickly approaching and the weather starting to get cold outside, then there will be no need to care about what is happening over at the Liberty Bowl. From keeping the freshmen inaccessible, to not putting the right people out on the field to play, to starting a quarterback that can't be any taller than me - people are already getting tired of how Porter is running his program. This is getting ridiculous! We all know that before he got here this was a program on the verge of extinction. We all know that he was dealt a bad hand to start his coaching career, but to not put the right players on the field that gives you the best chance at winning? Come on! There are quite a few players yet to see some significant action this year that have made major contributions to the program in the past, particularly players that Porter, himself, didn't even recruit. Players like Cam Baker, Marcus Hightower, Bryan Wright, Tyler Bass, and even Winston Bowens makes the list because they wanted to move him to defensive end during the spring, and it messed up his rhythm and timing once he got back to linebacker. Coach Porter is basically running out of time to win the fans over. He can't keep putting this group in these horrible positions that won't win ball games. This team has to sustain some form of consistency on both sides of the ball if they want fans to keep coming back. Tiger Lane won't keep them around forever. After next Friday, which happens to be Memphis Madness for basketball, no one will really care about football anymore. So it's obvious that we're possibly looking at a dead end when it comes to football. Because once the doors of FedExForum open for the first official practice, then fans will gravitate towards what really matters in this city - basketball. And time for Porter will have run out.