unlv sports:

With exit of athletic director, UNLV sports heavyweights ponder future

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AP Photo/The Herald-Dispatch, Lori Wolfe

Marshall University named former UNLV athletic director Mike Hamrick as its athletic director during a press conference Monday, July 20, 2009, in Huntington, W.Va. He replaces Bob Marcum, who retired after seven years.

Click to enlarge photo

Cliff Findlay watches a UNLV game at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Las Vegas Bowl Executive Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy announces Pioneer as the new sponsor of the bowl Wednesday, August 11, 2004.

Las Vegas Bowl Executive Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy announces Pioneer as the new sponsor of the bowl Wednesday, August 11, 2004.

Click to enlarge photo

Steve Stallworth

Lon Kruger

Lon Kruger


Mike Hamrick announces at a Monday news conference in Huntington, W.Va., his decision to step down as UNLV's athletic director so he could assume the same job at his alma mater, Marshall University.

Mike Hamrick announces at a Monday news conference in Huntington, W.Va., his decision to step down as UNLV's athletic director so he could assume the same job at his alma mater, Marshall University.

Beyond the Sun

Lon Kruger, Cliff Findlay and Tina Kunzer-Murphy convened in Couer d’Alene, Idaho, over the weekend to design the future of the UNLV athletic department in the wake of Mike Hamrick’s departure.

Hamrick left the Rebels’ post as athletic director Monday for the same job at Marshall, his alma mater.

Actually, that high-powered trio’s rendezvous, with spouses, at Findlay’s summer retreat had been planned for months. It was no Star Chamber gathering to plot the direction of the department.

Still, those will be some of the principals that will play significant roles as the search for Hamrick’s successor, and the future of UNLV sports, unfolds.

To some degree, the group discussed that future.

The lake

The three influential UNLV figures relaxed on and around pristine Lake Coeur d’Alene for a few days.

Tuesday afternoon, as he prepared to start the motor of his boat in the middle of the lake, Findlay regretted answering his cell phone to answer questions about UNLV’s athletic-director search.

The former Rebels basketball center is a titan in the automobile industry, with 21 dealerships in Las Vegas and surrounding states, and he’s a major UNLV booster.

Findlay played a major role, with Hamrick, in the hiring of Kruger to coach the basketball team in 2004.

It was a keen move, as Kruger guided the Rebels to victories in consecutive NCAA tournaments, in 2007 and 2008, for the first time since 1990 and 1991.

“I don’t want to get involved in any rash decisions or rumors,” Findlay said. “They should let things clear. I’m kind of like Lon. I want to take a wait-and-see attitude. Let it go for a couple weeks or months ... Don’t get too excited.

“I’d like to get a good person in there.”

Kunzer-Murphy is a Las Vegas native and former UNLV tennis player and coach. She has turned the Las Vegas Bowl football game into a success as its director and has been widely mentioned as a favorite to take over for Hamrick.

UNLV has never had a female athletic director and it would be a trailblazing move. A year ago, according to a Title IX study, less than 10 percent of more than 300 Division-I programs had female athletic directors.

The Rebels could take a cue from their Silver State rival, too.

Cary Groth has earned wide respect in her five years as UNR’s athletic director, and she has scheduled football games against Notre Dame, UCLA, Texas Tech and BYU.

Kunzer-Murphy told the Sun the UNLV athletic director’s gig is her dream job and it would be an honor to be a candidate.

Asked about her qualifications, Findlay muffled his cell phone with a palm and asked someone, possibly Kunzer-Murphy, that a paper was asking about her qualifications.

“She’s a good person and very professional,” Findlay said upon returning to his phone. “She’s qualified to do anything she wants to do.”

Kruger said the Coeur d’Alene contingent did not know what was transpiring with Hamrick and Marshall, or when – or if – he’d be bolting for Huntington, W. Va.

“We did not know what was going to happen until Monday,” Kruger said. “It was all very coincidental.”

However informal, UNLV athletics were discussed in Idaho. Tuesday, Kruger said the athletic director’s position, as in most jobs, requires someone who is a solid communicator and can develop relationships.

“Everyone has their different ideas about it,” Kruger said. “Nothing is official. But from my perspective only ... (he or she) should be a good leader who can reach out to develop partnerships with people and companies in town.

“Really, it’s what’s required in leadership positions in any organization.”

The quarterback

Former UNLV quarterback and South Point Equestrian Center & Arena general manager Steve Stallworth, and Kunzer-Murphy top a preliminary, if not unofficial, short list of AD candidates.

Thomas & Mack Center and Sam Boyd Stadium director Daren Libonati might have some ideas how the athletic department could be streamlined, but don’t consider him as a serious candidate.

UNLV golf coach Dwaine Knight, whose forte is lowering handicaps and raising funds, doesn’t need the headaches. Las Vegas 51s president Don Logan, according to an insider, recommended Kunzer-Murphy.

Like Kunzer-Murphy, Stallworth, who started as the Rebels’ quarterback in 1985 and 1986, called the position a dream job.

He was an executive in the Mack’s sports marketing department from 1994-2001, and he ran the Orleans Arena, for Michael Gaughan, for seven years.

Gaughan hired Stallworth at the South Point in June 2008.

When asked of his interest in returning to his alma mater to oversee its athletic department, the congenial Stallworth responded quickly.

“Are you kidding me?” he said. “If you have a chance to return to the school you graduated from, where you played, where you’ve worked ... it’s an honor.”

Gaughan is at his ranch near Joseph, Ore. He and Stallworth have not discussed the UNLV post since it opened, but Gaughan knows Stallworth’s feelings about the job.

“When I was hired, I told Michael, ‘There is only one job I would leave you for,” Stallworth said. “This would be the job.”

In the interim

Longtime UNLV athletic-department official Jerry Koloskie, who worked closely with Hamrick as his senior associate athletic director, is running the department until a replacement is found.

Koloskie, who has worked at UNLV since 1982, deserves recognition for his versatility and loyalty to the school. Likely nobody knows the inner workings of the department like Koloskie, and he's in the mix for the permanent post. For now, he's steering the ship.

“All of our jobs are to support Jerry and help him through the next few months,” Knight said. “Jerry is going to have a lot on his plate and I will do whatever I can to help.”

Acting tags have become fashionable on campus.

UNLV Provost Neal Smatresk is serving as the acting president after David Ashley’s demotion, by the Nevada Board of Regents on July 11, to the faculty.

Smatresk, a candidate for the permanent presidency, said he expects the Board of Regents to call an emergency meeting in early August to address the president’s position.

“Of course, finding (an athletic director) will be the first thing on the new president’s plate,” Smatresk said. “It’s a no-brainer. We want whoever is the next athletic director to take the program to a new level.”

Hamrick will return to UNLV for the next three weeks to, among other matters, help with the transition.

“I hope whoever fills the role will be forward-thinking,” Knight said. “There are a lot of challenges out there that have to be met. The future will depend on getting financial support for all the sports so they can be successful.”

Good timing

It will be vital for the new athletic director to boost the department’s bottom line.

Hamrick inherited a budget deficit of $2.2 million, which is now a $2 million emergency surplus, but the rough economic climate will demand new – and boosting current – financial streams.

Hamrick said Monday he was pleased that, when a recent state deficit slashed his budget, he avoided laying off any department employees.

Among an array of cuts, there will be no pre-game media food at basketball games and UNLV will order fewer media guides in 2009-10.

In such an economic environment, should UNLV spend $50,000 – which Marshall gave a Dallas firm to come up with an alumnus – to conduct a national search?

Hamrick said UNLV passed the most recent round of NCAA certification with flying colors, and Kruger hailed the impressive academic performances of all Rebels student-athletes on Hamrick’s watch.

In 2007-08, five Rebels teams, including men’s basketball, either won a Mountain West Conference regular season or tournament title. That dipped to three in 2008-09.

However, several minor programs, like women’s soccer, women’s tennis, softball, and men’s swimming and diving, have been annually strong. Kruger said other coaches hired by Hamrick have their teams poised for success.

The men’s basketball team is expected to have a sterling season, as transfers Derrick Jasper and Chace Stanback are eligible and have been dominating in off-season pick-up games.

And Hamrick believes football, 5-7 a year ago, is on the verge of being a winner. After last season, Hamrick extended football coach Mike Sanford’s contract, due to expire after 2009, through 2012.

“It was a little bit of a surprise this weekend,” Sanford said of Hamrick’s departure. “Mike was very good to me and gave me my opportunity here to be the head coach, and I wish him well.”

On soon having a new boss to report to, Sanford said his focus is on his team.

“To me, that’s one of those things that’s taken care of on the field,” Sanford said. “And that’s what I’m all about ... what we do on the field.”

The future is very bright, according to Kruger.

“It’s really solid timing for someone coming in,” Kruger said of the next athletic director. “It’s very good.”

Knowing the turf

Kruger, who started his career as the athletic director and hoops coach at Texas-Pan American, is adamant about one topic – he does not want to be UNLV’s athletic director.

So squelch those rumors you might come upon on Internet message boards.

“Oh no,” said Kruger, laughing. “I’ve got plenty to do with what I’m trying to accomplish.”

Stallworth is most pleased that it appears plenty of locals, who have strong ties to the school and city, will get a shot at the job.

Jim Weaver, Charlie Cavagnaro, John Robinson and Hamrick were outsiders who weren’t exactly familiar with the Las Vegas turf, or how to cultivate its movers and shakers, before their athletic-director reigns.

Knowing the terrain, Stallworth said, can only enhance a candidate’s qualities.

Not to say someone without those ties couldn’t do a decent job, Kruger said, but a tie to UNLV and Las Vegas is a strength.

“I think anyone who has familiarity with the community and UNLV would have a head start,” Kruger said. “Someone who knows the climate as it relates to UNLV and the community, that would be a positive for sure.”

Asked about Kunzer-Murphy, Kruger didn’t pause.

“Tina has done a terrific job with the Las Vegas Bowl and she’s extremely comfortable in Las Vegas,” Kruger said, “and she’s very familiar with people in town.”

Especially those who vacation in places like Couer d’Alene, Idaho, who just might have something to say about UNLV’s next athletic director.

Ron Kantowski, John Katsilometes, Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer contributed to this story

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  1. I'd be happy with either Stallworth or Kunzer-Murphy, and it appears that they are the top candidates. I hope we go with a local.

  2. We should hire Mike Hamrick as the next AD at UNLV. He has done wonders at Marshall over the past 2 days.

  3. The $2.0MM 'surplus' is smoke and mirrors.

    Is it a coincidence that after Utah wins the Sugar Bowl and each MWC school gets a few million bucks as a result that suddenly Rebel athletics has a 'surplus'?

    Read between the lines. Collectively, athletics loses money at UNLV.

    At best, sports break even, or come out a little ahead due to one time big paydays when a conference member wins a BCS bowl or a BCS opponent needs to pick up a game at the last minute and pays big dollars to do it (W.Va).

    Findlay will get who wants in the position because he's probably the last big money name donor left to sponsor the programs.

    But the new hire better be ready to come in and start making some difficult choices in the roughest local economy the community has ever seen.

  4. If the government was about making money then the goverment would never be allowed to do anything. Public transportation? Nope. Public education? Nope. People always forget to factor in public utility. It is an intangible but very important aspect to any public program. If we break even at UNLV in the sports programs I am OK with that because I, as do thousands more, gain utility from going to games.

    If we are losing multi millions of dollars every year, then it's time to cut back.

  5. Me -- I changed the interim tag for both UNLV officials to acting. Here is how the school classifies the titles:

    "Acting refers to a short duration (example: the president is out of the country on vacation, so the provost is acting in the role of president). "Interim" refers to a longer-term, but non-permanent appointment (example: we may have an interim president for one year, while a national search for the next president is conducted).
    Both acting and interim positions have the full range of power and responsibilities of full appointments."

  6. reagan21, that's the point.

    If not for the occasional BCS bowl win by Utah, UNLV sports would be losing money. Lots of it.

    It's like running up $1,000 a month on your credit card that you can't pay and claiming you have a 'surplus' because you hit a $1,200 royal flush at the neighborhood casino.

    Sure, today, you have a $200 surplus. Next month, you'll have an $800 deficit unless you keep hitting royals.

    Hammy got lucky and, thanks to Utah, hit a royal flush twice in his 6 years on the job. If not for those royal flushes, Rebel athletics would be losing money. Big time.

    A properly run athletic department is either breaking even or generating a profit every month (year) with or without the occasional payout generated by a conference member's unusual success.

    Like Hammy, Murphey has also been pretty lucky, with BYU winning the MWC almost every year and playing in the LV Bowl, it was very easy to sell out the game annually and claim success.

    But, sooner or later, luck runs out. And if you don't have solid management practices backing up the decisions you make, you wind up bankrupt when your luck finally runs out.

  7. newyorkrebel,

    Very logical and sensible, which is why people will not only....not buy it but they won't even listen.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again: you are now my favorite Rebel fan.