Team preview: Memphis

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(All information as of June 20, 2007)


Throughout a difficult 2006 season, Memphis coach Tommy West faced plenty of opportunities to question his decision to dismiss veteran defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn three games into the season.
"I made a lot of difficult decisions last year," West said, "and every decision I made was made with the best interests of the program in mind. I had to take a long, hard look at where we were headed, and I didn't like some of the things I was seeing. I could have waited until the end of the season to make some of those decisions, but sometimes when you know it's the right thing to do, you've got to make the decisions right now and live with some of the temporary consequences."

Those consequences included a 2-10 record and a defense that finished in the bottom half of Conference USA in all four major defensive stats, including 11th in total defense by allowing 408.7 yards per game.

Perhaps the Tigers would have won another game or two, or even three, if West had not parted ways with Dunn and changed the defense from a risky approach to a more traditional 4-3 scheme developed during West's time as a defensive assistant at Clemson, South Carolina and Memphis. Maybe things would have been a little more stable last fall if West had not spent the season moving players around in an attempt to put the right players in the right spots.

Then again, the situation certainly would have been more positive if the defense had not been hit by so many injuries or limited by some seniors who never quite seemed to reach their potential. In all, the Tigers lost 14 starters or potential starters to injuries while 22 players missed at least one game and nine sustained season-ending injuries.

Still, West took the heat. He took even more in the offseason when he released defensive line coach Craig Boller and secondary coach Tim Keane.
"Sometimes change is good, and I just felt like it was time to make some changes for the future of the program," West said. "None of those coaches are bad coaches or bad people. We just needed to get back to doing some things I believe in.
"You know, it's not like we've been a bad team the past few years. We went to bowls the three seasons before, and we won a bunch of games those three years, so it's obvious we know what it takes to win and we've got good players. It's just one season where a lot of things went wrong all at once, and I think we've learned from it.
"These players know what they're capable of. Most of them were here when we won seven games and went to our third consecutive bowl just two years ago. They know they can. We just needed to start over and get back to doing the things that will give us the best chance to win."