CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Many major-college football coaches have a long, twisted career path through a number of schools, and Lytrel Pollard's path to Marshall has gone through Memphis.
And that generally means one thing: He has experienced some painful football.
Currently MU's cornerbacks coach, Pollard had the misfortune of witnessing the end of Memphis' Tommy West era up close - he coached the Tigers' cornerbacks in 2008 and 2009. The 2008 season was a rebound year, as the Tigers rallied to earn a bowl berth and finish 6-7.
The 2009 season? A 2-10 disaster, punctuated by West's dismissal. The end was announced in early November, with the lame-duck staff allowed to finish the season.
The dark side of coaching, for sure.
"My second year, we had some people get hurt, things didn't go quite the way we wanted," Pollard said. "We got let go, I think, with four games left to go in the season. Once that happened, guys just throw in the towel and don't work as hard, because they know the coaches are going to be gone - what's there at the end the day to look [forward to]?
"That was the hardest part of the situation."
It hasn't gotten easier in Memphis. Former Tiger running back Larry Porter took over for West, and that was a disaster from the start. Reports say he failed to connect with the community, a necessity for a football coach in a basketball-rabid city.
(A sidenote: Former Marshall player and assistant coach Shannon Morrison was a member of Porter's staff. He has since served a year as defensive coordinator at Holy Cross and is now coaching corners at Cincinnati under Butch Jones.)
The Tigers went 3-21 in 2010-11, eroding fan interest further. That was evident in the final home game - when Marshall visited Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium last November, it was greeted by a frosted-over gathering of about 2,000.
By contrast, when Marshall first played at Memphis in 2005, 46,000 showed for DeAngelo Williams' final home game.
Porter became the eighth head coach to leave U of M with a sub-.500 record. With a Big East invitation expected and the program getting shelled by Sun Belt schools, the position became even more of a daring proposition.
Justin Fuente took the dare, leaving a secure post as co-offensive coordinator at Texas Christian. A former Walter Payton Award finalist at Murray State, he tutored quarterback Andy Dalton and was part of the Horned Frogs' three straight top-10 seasons.
Few first-time head coaches take over winning programs, but Fuente faces challenges on many fronts. Facilities have been historically lacking, with a perpetual fight over the merits of an on-campus stadium vs. remaining in the Liberty Bowl. Top local talent gravitates toward nearby Southeastern Conference schools.