Sunday, March 21, 2010 | 2:07 a.m.
Rob Phenicie recalls his first stint on the UNLV football coaching staff with fondness — even though it was only for six months.
Phenicie, who was hired as the Rebels’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach three months ago, was also on staff in 1999. He was an offensive assistant on John Robinson’s staff and calls the season in Las Vegas one of the best learning experiences of his career.
He did a little bit of everything for Robinson, from off-field duties, editing game film and helping during practices. It was a crash course on how to be a college coach.
“He’s a living legend. You don’t get to be around coaches who are in the Hall of Fame too often,” Phenicie said of Robinson, who in 2000 led UNLV to its last winning season and bowl victory.
Phenicie left UNLV after one season for Wyoming, where he worked three years and was the Cowboys’ co-offensive coordinator in his final year of 2002. After his time at Wyoming, Phenicie was the offensive coordinator at Montana, working under now-UNLV coach Bobby Hauck for the past seven years.
When Hauck took the job at UNLV in December, Phenicie had no reservations about returning to Las Vegas.
And, after just three months on the job, Phenicie has noticed a few differences since he was last with the program.
The first is the talent level of the players.
The Rebels have fell one-win short of bowl eligibility in each of the last two seasons, and Phenicie said the cupboard is far from bare in terms of talent. He credits former coach Mike Sanford for bringing in several capable players.
“There is a lot of potential and a high talent level here,” he said. “You can really recruit well here. There are a whole lot of kids who are going to be interested in coming here.”
Phenicie, whose offense at Montana last year averaged 35.8 points and 427.4yards per game, is spending most of spring practice working with the seven quarterbacks on UNLV’s roster. Through the initial four practices of the 15-practice spring, one of Phenicie’s biggest obstacles is finding reps for each signal caller.
The trio of incumbent starter Omar Clayton, rising junior Mike Clausen and redshirt freshman Caleb Herring will ultimately compete for the top spot on the depth chart. That makes this spring invaluable for Phenicie, whose offense at Montana ranked second among Football Championship Subdivision schools in scoring, to evaluate talent and how each organizes his offense.
“It’s tough (sometimes) to get two reps each for these guys,” Phenicie said. “But that is the nature of the position. Until someone separates from the pack, we will continue doing it that way.”
However, juggling quarterbacks hasn’t been his biggest challenge.
Phenicie’s wife and children are still living in Montana while their house is being sold. Phenicie shares a furnished apartment with another assistant coach.
During his first go-round with UNLV, Phenicie rented a studio apartment near campus while his family stayed in their native California.
But that’s the price he was willing to pay to return to Las Vegas. He speaks with optimism about the potential of the UNLV program.
“I’m excited to be back,” he said.