Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Monday, Sept. 10, 2012 | 6:15 p.m.
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The reality of Saturday night’s disaster at Sam Boyd Stadium, a 17-14 loss to Northern Arizona that set UNLV back to 0-2, has had time to settle in the Rebels’ minds. It has churned around up there for nearly two days, mixing into a fusion of anger, regret and, they hope at least, resolve.
After losing to a Division I-AA team for the second consecutive season, many fans are calling for coach Bobby Hauck to be fired. He’s 4-23 in his third season at UNLV, a year that wasn’t supposed to be like the others. So far the games are a lot closer, but the results, which will ultimately determine his fate, are the same.
That was the scene for Monday afternoon’s press conference at the Lied Athletic Complex where Hauck, though clearly still upset over UNLV’s most recent failure, appeared the most relaxed he’s been all season. He handled questions about his job security with calm, saying both UNLV Athletics Director Jim Livengood and President Neal Smatresk have been supportive, and the decision is in their hands, not his.
“I don’t make that decision anyway,” Hauck said. “We’ll either get it done or we won’t.”
That sounded more like one of his typical sound bytes, but in general the mood was lighthearted and Hauck was quick with a few jokes.
“We know we’re hard to love right now,” Hauck said. “I got a text from my mother about 15 minutes ago. She told me she loved me, but it took her two days to send it. That’s a good indicator.”
The room could have been somber and uncomfortable, yet Hauck and a pair of Rebels gritted their teeth, smiled and tried to forge ahead toward Friday’s ESPN-televised game against Washington State at 6.
“The self-pity and the negativity have no place on a team that’s getting ready for a game,” Hauck said.
Honestly, this is probably UNLV’s best chance at a victory until it welcomes in New Mexico on Nov. 3. Washington State opened with a 30-6 loss at BYU, and last week it had to fight for a 24-21 victory against Eastern Washington, another Division I-AA team, albeit one much better this season than NAU.
If UNLV lets this one slip away, too, it could be a long search for that first victory, and the questions about Hauck’s future would only grow louder by the week. A victory against the Cougars doesn’t erase Saturday’s defeat, but it’s the best place to start.
“Right now things are a little bit dark and dim,” senior offensive lineman Doug Zismann said. “But it’s like my mom always said: You act your way to feeling better. So I’m going to go out to practice today, I’m going to bounce around and put a smile on and get out there and hit someone.”
Hauck said he woke up at 5:30 a.m. Sunday feeling sick and had to drag himself to the office for a 6 a.m. meeting with the rest of the coaching staff. The players, he knew, were going to depend on the positivity starting at the top. Even if everyone’s taking the "fake it until you make it" approach, it has to be nearly universal to have any chance of taking hold throughout the team.
Last year at Washington State the Rebels were thumped 59-7. With Mike Leach now leading the charge, the Cougars are a pass-first offense with a lot of the holes on the roster you would expect of a rebuilding program under a first-year coach. So while the Cougars’ passing against the Rebels’ secondary is a major concern, Washington State is vulnerable. It’s won only two road games in the past four seasons coming into 2012.
And unlike last year’s early-season losses, UNLV isn’t “flopping around,” Hauck said. There’s no excuse for Saturday’s loss, but a victory was still just a couple of plays away. Because of that this team may be more capable of making some corrections and jumping on this opportunity than the two previous squads would have been.
“In our locker room, everybody’s smiling now,” junior linebacker Tani Maka said. “We’re trying to go back to work.”
For Hauck, it’s about making sure there’s work to go back to. Livengood told the Sun before the season he would be patient with the program, but nobody anticipated two straight gut punches like this.
Now that it’s happened, UNLV has 11 games left to deal with its new reality.
“The two realities are this: One, we’re 0-2. We have to accept that,” Hauck said. “The other reality for us, from our perspective, is that we’re triple-overtime and a last-second field goal away from being 2-0. That’s how we’re going to approach it.
“We’re going to be positive about it, even though we’re absolutely ill about being where we are right now.”