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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)
Construction will begin on the Memphis football team's new indoor practice facility in January, according to athletic director Tom Bowen.
During a wide-ranging radio interview as part of the "Wolo and Peter Show" on Sports 56, Bowen said that the project, which has been in the works for more than five years, is "fully funded now" and a January start date was set in order to not conflict with the Tigers' current football season.
The facility will be located on the easternmost part of the football team's practice fields on the university's Park Avenue campus. It will include a 120-yard climate-controlled turf field, with retractable doors allowing it to connect with the neighboring outdoor field.
The existing Murphy Complex will also be renovated to house offices for the coaching staff, new athletic training rooms, dining spaces and more.
Bowen noted construction was delayed for about seven weeks because he allowed coach Mike Norvell to re-design the facility to his liking. The original plans were drawn up when former Coach Justin Fuente was still with the Tigers.
"I thought that was appropriate," Bowen said. "I didn't think it was fair to say, 'Ok, we did this before you got here, so this is what we're going to build.'"
The school held a groundbreaking ceremony for the indoor practice facility in April. In August, the university's Board of Trustees approved $10 million in debt financing from the Tennessee State School Bond Authority in order to start construction of the indoor practice facility.
Last month, Memphis received a building permit from Shelby County for an $8.6 million project. Tony Poteet, the university's assistant vice president for campus planning and design, wrote in an email that the permit is for "phase one construction."
The total project is expected to cost $10.6 million, according to a motion presented to the board in August by school President David Rudd. Bowen added Wednesday that gaining approval from the Tennessee state building commission also took longer than expected.
Rudd said previously that construction would be completed in 18 to 24 months once it begins.
"The bonds have all been funded. The money's in the bank. We're ready to go," Bowen said Wednesday on the radio. "We'll start real construction in January because I can't start demolition and all the stuff I would do with this facility during the football season.
"The last thing I want to do is upset this current football program, and that would create a lot of distraction and a lot of inconvenience because the facility is used 24-7, seven days a week right now during the season. There's some time constraints some people just don't understand."
Norvell job rumors addressed
Bowen also discussed Norvell's future as head coach in light of speculation about his candidacy for other job openings this offseason. Bowen noted he is "working diligently to make sure we get a long-term agreement with Mike ... and keep it rolling."
Norvell already signed a one-year extension through the 2021 season last May that increased his assistant coach salary pool by $250,000.
"We are a great football program that will continue to be a great football program, and we want Mike Norvell to be our coach for a very long time," Bowen said. "That's our stance and that's where we're at. If that changes, we'll work forward. But we'll continue to be a very good football program. That's not going to change as long as I'm allowed to be the athletic director here."
Bowen expressed some frustration with attendance at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium and asked fans to show up in force for the Tigers' final two home games against SMU and East Carolina following this Friday's matchup at Tulsa.
Memphis drew an announced crowd of 17,989 for its 56-26 win over Tulane last Friday night due to the cold and rainy conditions outside.
"We're playing at a really high level. We're ranked in the [College Football Playoff rankings]. Where are you?" Bowen said. "Buy tickets. Come see this team play. These kids love it when they look up in the stands and it's full, and it matters. ... My thing is come support us. Come enjoy it. Come enjoy every moment you can with Coach Norvell, his staff and this team because it's ... going to pass you if you don't."
The Tigers currently rank sixth in the American Athletic Conference in home attendance behind East Carolina, Navy, Houston, Central Florida and South Florida. They are averaging 31,261 fans per game.
In men's basketball news, Bowen mentioned Wednesday that the school will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Lawrie-Walton Family Basketball Center on Nov. 17.
Reporter Tom Bailey contributed to this report.
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