RON KANTOWSKI :

Two paths to improvement for UNLV’s football team

One way, but maybe not the only way, is to spend millions more

Sanford Out as UNLV Coach

After a 15-43 record in five seasons as head coach, UNLV put an end to the Mike Sanford era.

Cause and Effect?

Here are the football budgets and bowl game appearances for Mountain West Conference schools:

  • TCU, $16.6 million, 25 bowl games
  • BYU, $10.1 million, 27 bowl games
  • Utah, $9.8 million, 15 bowl games
  • San Diego State, $9.8 million, 4 bowl games
  • Colorado State, $7.8 million, 12 bowl games
  • UNLV, $6.4 million, 3 bowl games
  • New Mexico, $5.7 million, 11bowl games
  • Wyoming, $5.5 million, 11 bowl games
  • Air Force, *, 19 bowl games

*Air Force’s budget is provided by the U.S. government and isn’t reported under the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act.

Looked Good on Paper

UNLV has had five head football coaches since Randall Cunningham left school in 1984:

  • Wayne Nunnely, hired from within the program. Record at UNLV: 19-25
  • Jim Strong, offensive coordinator, national champion Notre Dame. Record at UNLV: 17-27
  • Jeff Horton, head coach, Nevada-Reno. Record at UNLV: 13-44
  • John Robinson, former national championship coach, USC. Record at UNLV: 28-42
  • Mike Sanford, offensive coordinator, BCS qualifier Utah. Record at UNLV: 15-43

Mike Sanford at UNLV

UNLV head coach Mike Sanford sprints off the field after a 59-21 loss to BYU Oct. 10 at Sam Boyd Stadium. Launch slideshow »

The hills are alive with the sound of ... well, that isn’t exactly music now, is it? It’s the cacophony of UNLV football fans suggesting cures for what has ailed the program since the advent of the face mask and two platoons.

It really hasn’t been that long since the Rebels have been competitive. It just seems like it.

Actually, it seems longer. Three winning seasons since 1987. Sheesh! Rebel fans are mad as hell, and like Howard Beale in “Network” or Allen Iverson in Memphis, they’re not going to take it anymore. Or so they write.

Hire this coach or that one. Hire Bear Bryant’s nephew. But first hire this athletic director or that one. Or Bill Gates’ second cousin. Pave the parking lot. Build a new stadium. Heck, while you’re at it, put a dome on it. Schedule Notre Dame. Drop Texas Christian. Run the ball. Throw the ball. Blitz. Put eight men in the box. Drive a stake through BYU’s heart. Make UNR cry uncle.

Go for it on fourth-and-2 on your own 28.

I can’t speak for Mudville, but there is joy on Maryland Parkway because Mike Sanford has been run out as coach.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land, the sun is shining bright ... like on Urban Meyer at Florida, for instance. It’s easy to build a program with 240-pound guys who run the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds. It’s easy to build a program where they spend $18.7 million annually on football and the BCS championship is yours to lose.

This isn’t complicated, like pulling soldiers out of Afghanistan or the Pythagorean theory. What’s the hypotenuse? Who cares what a hypoten uses. Fielding a winning football program isn’t rocket science, has nothing to do with Roger Clemens, really.

If UNLV wants to win in football, it must spend money on football. Period. Beginning, middle and end of story. That’s basically what Sanford said during his 25-minute news conference Monday.

Look at the chart about football budgets and bowl games elsewhere on this page. Then look at the Mountain West standings.

Cause, meet effect.

I read recently where UNLV has secured $500 million in endowments and other pledges. If it is prepared to spend $16.6 million of those promissory notes on football, like TCU does, goodbye MWC basement. Hello BCS penthouse. Hello Lee Corso on Saturday morning. Hello paved parking lot.

No slight to Urban Meyer, but good coaches are overrated. They might turn a 14-10 loss into a 17-14 victory once a season. Maybe Bear Bryant’s nephew does it twice a season.

There’s no limit, on the other hand, to what a fat wallet can buy. See Tressel, Jim; Girardi, Joe; Trump, Donald. Maybe money can’t buy you love, or, in Trump’s case, a decent hairpiece. It can buy a good coach. It can make it easier to acquire national and world championships, even if most of the world doesn’t play baseball.

But let’s say for the sake of fiscal responsibility that UNLV has no intention of leaping with the Frogs when it comes to those promissory notes and its bid to join the Big East — still the shortest path to BCS fame and fortune — is rejected.

For the Rebels’ (lack of) money, there are still two ways to potentially be respectable under the current budget restraints.

A) Run the option, like Air Force.

Or:

B) Recruit every junior college stud with a C-minus average who has never been convicted of robbing a 7-Eleven, like Kansas State did under Bill Snyder when it overcame a potentially lethal dose of fumbleitis to attain football health and prosperity.

Eventually, the Wildcats slipped back to mediocrity. Then they paid a new coach under the table and that, as you can imagine, didn’t work out too well. See Massimino, Rollie.

Because I have a wife who is fond of her purses and frequents places where a college football player might be tempted to snatch them, I prefer the option option.

UNLV should take its cue from the late Billy Preston. Instead of the Fifth Beatle, it should become the Fourth Commander in Chief Team. Army. Navy. Air Force. Marines? No, the Marines don’t have a stadium, even one off campus with a dusty parking lot. Army. Navy. Air Force. UNLV. Now that’s more like it.

The Samoan guys might not like it, because they’d have to get haircuts. But if UNLV were to adopt the option — which is difficult to master and even harder to defend against — maybe the Rebels could beat Notre Dame, too.

Not only is the option difficult to defend against, but you can run it with little guys who aren’t that fast. I laugh every time I hear one of my colleagues in the media talk about what a great defense Air Force has. It’s an OK defense. The reason it looks great in the statistics is because it is rarely on the field. Not when the Falcons’ offense is marching 91 yards in 18 plays by running the option.

This is why, unless it is willing to loosen the purse strings and leap with the Frogs, UNLV would be better off running the option and keeping its English department.

But there is one more remedy that could make the hills around Sam Boyd Stadium come alive with the sound of football fans filing through the turnstiles: Run the option with big guys who run really fast.

It worked for Barry Switzer.

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  1. Can't sum it up much better than that.

  2. Robinson, John stuck it to the Hogs by running the ball and playing defense. Frank Summers would have been phenomenal if we simply lined up in the I and let that dog eat ala J-Ro. Instead they tried to pigeonhole Summers into the role of a speed back, putting him on flat or banana pipe routes only he's not shifty enough to plant that outside foot and turn the corner up field. End rant.

  3. Wow Kantowski...what a HORRIBLE article. You have an opportunity to be serious about the solution and you propose this garbage. What a waste of an article.

    Redeem yourself and put together a researched thoughtful article about the real path to fixing UNLV football and student life at UNLV: build an on campus stadium.

    Do your homework and you will find that indeed not only is it doable from a financial perspective (see government recovery bonds), but UNLV has actually identifited the land parcels to acquire to build it. It's not a pipe dream. It just takes someone to stand up and speak the truth. How bout you do that instead of writing this nonsense.

  4. There is nothing that can be done in the short term about our obvious lack of resources. What we can do though is hire a coach who is great at X and Os has tenacity. Someone who is a proven winner as a HEAD Coach and not just as an assistant. That person is:

    BOBBY HAUCK

    He is 76-16 as a head coach, only 45 years old, has experience coaching and recruiting at Washington, Colorado, and UCLA. In fact, he was rumored for both the Washington and UCLA jobs. Sooner or later someone is going to step-up and grab this guy ala Jim Tressell.

    Please please go get this man...

  5. Bam:

    If UNLV is not willing to pony up the cash it takes to compete with TCU, BYU and Utah -- and that's a lot of cash to pony up -- I am afraid, based on the past 25 years, we will be having this same conversation again five years from now.

    This is why the service academies have traditionally run the triple option. It gives you a chance to be successful, keeps the clock running and keeps the defense off the field.

  6. You have the cart BEFORE the horse, my friend.

    There is no way TCU's football budget has been 2.5 times that of UNLV for the past 25 years, which is how long UNLV football has stunk.

    TCU, BYU, Utah didn't suddenly increase their spending in order to become successful football programs.

    It is precisely BECAUSE they are successful football programs that they HAVE more money to spend on football.

    Our football budget is what it is not because of a 'lack of commitment' or unwillingness to commit another $10 million a year.

    It's a low budget because football LOSES $3 million a year. And it loses that money because it spends $225,000 buying out a coach who could and should have been fired years ago instead of spending that money to pave its parking lot.

    You could give Sanford the entire TARP fund to spend on Rebel football and the results would not have changed one bit.

    Likewise, you could have cut Utah's football budget to $3 million a year when Urban Meyer was coaching and he would still take that school to a bowl game every year.

    Whittingham and Mendenhall were both unemployed and available in 2004 when, instead of interviewing either of them, the Hammy settled on Sanford instead.

    THAT is the reason why football has failed at UNLV. Unqualified individuals making reckless and poorly thought out selections of underqualified individuals to lead the football program.

    And with a rushed and hurried selection process to hire the new AD in one month or less so he can select a new football coach in one month or less, the formula for failure is repeating itself.

    They never learn over there on Maryland Pkwy, do they?

  7. --- nyr: Interesting post, as usual.

    What I am saying is they've tried just about everything when it comes to coaches. What they haven't tried is throwing some serious cash at the program and see if that sticks.

    But here's the deal. Coaches are almost always judged on the belief that all things are equal and as you can see by that little budget chart, they so rarely are.

    Of course, Mike Sanford had to know that before he accepted the job, didn't he?

  8. "they've tried just about everything when it comes to coaches" ??? Really?

    I don't think they have. I think UNLV tries to leach success from somebody else, from another's program. (See Horton, Robinson and Sanford) instead of going out and actually FINDING a good coach/good manager/good fit.

    Of the last 3 coaches, Robinson was the most successful because even in a shell of himself, he was a better HEAD coach than the other two. He raised money, added to the programs facilities, all while losing...plus he did win one bowl game.

    UNLV needs to find a good coach....however, you're right in one sense, money DOES need to be spent. Good coaches don't come cheap...even if they're moving up from a lower division NCAA school. Also, the facilities (locker rooms are INDEED a disgrace) need to be re-modeled, there needs to be SOME investment in the infastructure).

    However, I disagree we've done everything to find the right coach (we because I'm an alum). We have not done everything.....we haven't judged head coaching talent, we've merely hoped to absorb success from another program already having success.

  9. Rebelx--

    Well I said UNLV has tried "just about everything" when it comes to a coach. You are right -- identifying one on its own has not been tried.

    But that probably takes money, too.

    Or at least a fair amount of foresight.

  10. disappointed because you didn't discuss the prospect of hiring the best division III coach in 3 universes -
    Ok, hire Larry Kehres!
    There is the answer!

  11. Hire Larry Kehres! Beat Wisconsin Whitewater! Gotta love it ...

  12. You make valid points, Ron, but the bottom line on Sanford is this:

    All the stubborn goat had to do was finish 6-6 two seasons in a row to become the most successful head coach UNLV had seen since Regan's second term in office.

    That is probably the LOWEST bar defining "success" at any program in the country right now.

    And it's not like we play an SEC or Big 12 schedule either.

    SDSU, Wyoming, UNM, CSU, Reno and least one patsy or two every season, should be good for 5-6 wins per season right there.

    The media and fans were very loud and public in advising Sanford to dump his DC last season and hire Rocky Long, but Sanford had too much ego to let one of "his" hires go and hire someone who could improve his defense and help him win games.

    If Sanford had made any off-season changes, even just one change, it might have been enough to post two wins over Wyoming and OSU this year, and he would be UNLV's head coach going into next season.

    Sanford's little pity poor me party yesterday makes it sound like the gulf between UNLV and football success is miles wide.

    Actually, maybe it could have been bridged by simply hiring a better DC!

  13. Would have been a decent article had you not rambled on about the option offense, Ron.

    I agree that UNLV has to pony up some serious cash to be relevant in football. Instead of the option offense rant, why not talk about getting a competent Atheletic Director that can raise money. Koloskie isn't the answer because he hasn't done a whole lot in the many years at UNLV, just a yes man. The right AD and the right football coach can go a long ways to bringing a good football program to Las Vegas. Easier said than done.

    Second thing you need to write about is the fact Sam Boyd Stadium is a dump, needs to be demolished. What UNLV needs is an on campus Stadium. Doesn't need to be a first class stadium like Jerry's World. Just build it, and like the Thomas and Mack, upgrade it as the years go on.

  14. Responding to Fake_American, Bobby Hauck would not be a good choice. Check out the recent rap sheet on his players. He's had players charged with murder, several assults, and a home invasion in just the past two years. His success is because he has the largest budget in the Big Sky, has D1 facilities in a 1AA conference, and his administration looks the other way when he recruits thugs. In addition he is a prima-donna who recently refused to talk to the student newspaper for a month because they asked about a recent assault the players committed on campus. Finally, look at record of Montana coaches that moved to D1. None have acheived any success. They look great at Montana when they have more resources than their opponents and then fail when they no longer have that advantage.

  15. What UNLV football cannot afford to do here is get ahead of itself. If there is any extra money down the donation pipeline, let's use it to lure an attractive coaching prospect.

    I agree with New York Rebel that any talk of an on-campus stadium is premature, and putting the cart before the horse. We need to throw some serious dough at a quality head coach. Name recognition alone would do wonders for this program. When we average thirty to thirty-five thousand people a game, that's when the campus stadium rhetoric can commence.

    There were some salient points to Sanford's press conference yesterday. This school cannot continue to play it on the cheap, and expect to produce winners on the football field. However, this is a guy who for five years blamed UNLV's losses on everything from injuries, to bad calls, to a second shooter on the grassy knoll. He never shouldered an iota of responsibility, so one last dig at someone else was inevitable.

    Once again, the old adage of spending money to make money applies here. Hire a proven winner, pad the schedule for a few years, and fill Sam Boyd on a consistent basis. Generate some excite about the program, and then let's turn our attention to an on-campus stadium.

  16. --- C'mon Rosegreen. Show a little love for the fullback on the dive play. :)

    This was a good day for the peanut gallery. Most of you guys would do well in debate club.

    After reading what all of you have to say, I think UNLV's next/last plan of attack for hiring a football coach should be to go after the Urban Meyer-type when he was Urban Meyer of Bowling Green. Maybe it wouldn't generate a lot of excitement at his press conference or at the season-ticket window but you wouldn't have to pay a ton of Simoleans to get him.

    Just load up his contract with performance-based incentives and tell him to go earn those bonuses.

    Running the option is optional.

    Thanks for reading and writing.

  17. good stuff ron. im all about the option. the new spread offense everyone hearts doesnt sustain drives. it either scores in 3 min drives... or punts in 3 min drives. awful tough for our D fence to be on the field that much. who knows what the answer is. unlv will never be able to recruit blue chip D or O linemen, which are the core of every championship team... maybe we just run the wildcat triple option spread.

  18. What I want to know is what happened to facilities improvements in Sanford's five years? His predecessor John Robinson managed to build that outdoor practice park on UNLV campus. It seems Sanford had the time to lobby for and make improvements to, say, stadium locker room. My guess would be no one gave him money because he was losing, and certainly if they kept him on one more year, no one would give him money. I think Sanford has a share of responsibility in the very thing he criticizes.

  19. lvs: Nice observation. Go 5-1 vs. UNR, get a practice field. Go 0-5 vs. UNR, do not pass go, do not collect $200. (But do collect your buyout on the way out).

  20. unlvrebs: Who's got the pitch man? Who's got the pitch man?

  21. Ron ejoy your talent, but it doesn't take millions to recruit locally. Sanford's biggest mistake was not hiring some local coaches from Gorman, Palo Verde, or LVHS to be on his revolving staff to keep some of the better local players. Next coach, young or old, needs to be able to recruit,recruit,recruit to one of the premier destination cities in the world. It is really hard to believe a 17 year old boy is picking a stadium locker room over the excitement that Las Vegas has to offer.

  22. Would you send your 17 year old to "the excitement that Las Vegas has to offer"?

  23. Money alone will not solve this issue. I for one am tired of driving all the way out Boulder Hihgway to see the game decided by halftime.

  24. Well we have 2 choices. One, go out and spend a lot of money on a potentially great coach. Or look at our own resources, and stay within the budget that we currently have, load it up with incentives, and aggresively go after to great coaches within the state.
    I know it would be hard, but we need an athletic director that can close deals. I personally think we should go after UNR's Chris Ault. I know he bleeds blue and played there, etc., etc., but have we ever, seriously went after him? If UNLV's budget met Chris Ault's talent with the lure of Vegas over Reno, we could get some sound Hall of Fame coaching while at the same time Coach Ault would have a Real city that would attract quality athletes over Utah and BYU and possibly TCU.
    Vegas kicks all of those cities butts in the eyes of a 17-18 year old! We must get a coach that not only can coach, but he must be aggresive during recruiting periods and close deals in the living rooms of big time prospects that can start and be "The Man" at UNLV, or sit on the bench at USC, Oregon, TCU, Stanford, BYU, etc.
    The second option would be Coach Sanchez from Bishop Gorman. He's 38-2 in three years, ran a clean program and on his way to winning a second state title in three years.
    Let go after both of these winning coaches and see which one wants the job the MOST! These choices are sound, stay within our budget, come from Nevada, both have recent success within their own right and they both just make a lot of sense.
    Let the games begin. Let bring one of these fine men on the head our fledgling program. Whomever is chosen must commit to local and Nevada athletes first along with going outside out-recruiting our conference competitors and state neighbors.
    Go REBELS!!!!

  25. TheNativeSon,

    Maybe you should be called naive son. Let me see if I got this straight: You want to an hire a guy from Reno that has nothing to gain or prove or, better yet, a high school coach from the only school in town that can recruit (well besides the other "genius" at Palo) and presto he wins everything in sight. Wow what an amazing idea! Even Sanford could've been .500 if he didn't have to compete for players. Move the Gorman (and Palo's) coach into the real world where they would really have to complete for players, like TCU, BYU, and Utah and see how they fair.

    Be careful, because clear thinking like yours could get you the AD job at UNLV!

  26. ---h82lose. Thanks for the compliment. But just to play devil's advocate on recruiting local players, part of the joy of college is getting away from your parents and such, so I understand if UNLV has trouble keeping some of the good ones from leaving. But there is no excuse for NOT TRYING to get them to stay home, which has been the case way too often.

  27. hire dirk koetter for what he is making now and pay for a good defensive coach and your worries will be over

  28. When I lived in Hawaii our football team was 0-12 one season because of our head coach Fred Von Appen. Our program was in shambles, horrible facilities, uniforms, attitudes and pretty much the worst team in Div I football. He got fired, and then we brought in June Jones. He took the same players from the previous year, we won a conference championship and a bowl game the first year he came in. He completely revamped everything about the program. Eventually, we got to the sugar bowl, and won numerous bowl games over the years. I hope UNLV will be able to share that same success. It just goes to that a good head coach makes all the difference and you don't need tons of money to do it. We only paid him $250,000 a year and that was mostly through boosters. When TCU goes to a BCS game this year we will automatically give us an extra couple million to mess around with, especially if they make it to the BCS championship game (long shot I know). Hopefully this AD knows how to hire a coach with a good staff because that is also very important in getting the right guy here. I personally think that Oscar Goodman should be our AD, he would do an awesome job.