Rebels basketball:

UNLV expects quick resolution to Rice’s career decision

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV head coach Dave Rice ponders the situation against San Diego State during their game Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 at Viejas Arena in San Diego. The 10th ranked SDSU won the game 63-52.

UNLV expects to hear Dave Rice’s decision soon, maybe by Saturday, and sources tell the Sun the Rebels’ coach is expected to accept an extension and possible raise from UNLV discussed at a meeting Friday evening. Rice is also considering a five-year, $6 million offer to become the coach at South Florida.

Rice met with Athletic Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy and interim President Don Snyder after getting back into town on Friday. Rice and at least one assistant coach had been traveling to the East Coast to meet with UNLV signees Dwayne Morgan and Goodluck Okonoboh.

While there, South Florida contacted Rice after its initial hire — Manhattan’s Steve Masiello — fell through when a background check revealed Masiello lied about completing his college degree. Rice may have been more receptive to this offer because of a recent meeting with Kunzer-Murphy.

Multiple sources tell the Sun that Rice went to Kunzer-Murphy a few weeks ago to discuss an extension. Rice has three years remaining at approximately $700,000 per season.

Those talks didn’t go anywhere, which reportedly upset Rice. UNLV football coach Bobby Hauck received a raise and extension earlier this year.

Multiple calls to Rice and Kunzer-Murphy were not returned.

Rice is coming off a 20-13 season that included no postseason and multiple off-the-court incidents, including players fighting and a suspension. However, Rice is 70-31 overall at UNLV with two NCAA Tournament trips. And he’s in a unique position of power this offseason.

Morgan, a wing from Maryland, and Okonoboh, a center from Massachusetts, combine with Findlay Prep guard Rashad Vaughn to form a top-10 national recruiting class. One person close to the players says they all want to stay together, whether that’s at UNLV or elsewhere.

Vaughn hasn’t signed anything, so he’s still free to go wherever he wants. And were Rice to leave, the other two would likely ask the school for their release and either reopen their recruitment or follow Rice and possibly Vaughn to South Florida.

While USF’s offer is a substantial salary increase, all indications are that’s only part of the equation for Rice. The added years of security at UNLV, his alma mater, are his top priority, with amenities like more chartered flights and extra academic attention also of importance.

In short, Rice wants UNLV to commit to being an elite program. And while basketball fans generally don’t think of USF as meeting those criteria, the Bulls’ money, conference affiliation and visibility belie that perception. USF opened an $11 million basketball practice facility in 2011 and competing in the American Athletic Conference, a bulk of its games are on the ESPN family of networks.

As far as how USF got its eye on Rice, his staff’s recruiting has made national waves since stepping on campus. And USF Athletic Director Mark Harlan once worked at Arizona for former UNLV Athletic Director Jim Livengood, who hired Rice. Livengood also reportedly has connections to Eastman & Beaudine, the Texas-based search firm USF hired to help select and vet coaching candidates.

Whether Rice stays or leaves, UNLV is in for an eventful offseason. The Rebels have already parted ways with junior guard Bryce Dejean-Jones and seen top assistant Heath Schroyer leave for the head job at UT Martin. There are more player departures expected, plus a couple of coaching hires since Rice said he wants to add a new position to the staff.

That’s assuming he stays. If Rice leaves, UNLV will be hitting the reset button. There are only a few scholarship players expected to return and the incoming recruits would likely explore other options.

The names that keep popping up as possible replacements range from the feasible — former Rebel and current Cal State Northridge coach Reggie Theus — to the absurd — Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart, who has turned down jobs that pay nearly four times as much as UNLV does currently.

That’s something UNLV will get into only if necessary. Two sources close to the situation expressed varying degrees of confidence but both expected the end result to be Rice staying put.

Soon enough the Rebels and their fans should have an answer.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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