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July 30, 2014

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

ray brewer:

UNLV is lucky Dave Rice decided to stay

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV coach Dave Rice calls a timeout against Fresno State, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won 75-73 in overtime.

Dave Rice gets two-year contract extension

UNLV head coach Dave Rice angrily calls a time out after the Rebels fall behind Utah State during their game Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Launch slideshow »

A coach that severely underachieved this past basketball season is getting a pay raise from financially strapped UNLV. And Dave Rice is worth every penny of the salary increase.

Today, Rice agreed to remain at the helm of the Rebels program, turning down South Florida's lucrative offer that would have paid $1.3 million annually for six seasons.

Rice is a rising star in the coaching business. It was only a matter of time until another school with more resources came calling.

The time was this week. The university was South Florida.

Fortunately for UNLV, he said no.

UNLV sweetened Rice’s contract, giving him a two-year extension through the 2018-19 season, including more compensation for the program’s academic and athletic achievement, according to a press release issued by UNLV. His previous deal paid about $700,000 annually, and while it’s uncertain how much his base pay will be moving forward, UNLV clearly closed the gap between South Florida’s seven-figure annual offer.

That's a good thing.

Forget about how the Rebels leveled off this season to the tune of a 20-13 record in missing the postseason for the first time since 2006. Forget about how Rice is still without a NCAA Tournament win three years into his tenure, or how his players haven’t developed to equal their ability.

Rice, a reserve on the Rebels’ 1990 national championship, is the right man for the job. He understands the program’s past tradition and is confident in his blueprint to return them to excellence. He sells elite recruits on that vision, and they are jumping over each other to get to Las Vegas.

That’s why the past two days weren’t only about Rice being better compensated by UNLV. It was also about the UNLV administration showing they are dedicated to having a nationally-respected team, realizing basketball is the lone program in athletics that makes money.

They need Rice to maximize that potential.

Rice operates under the mindset that it’s still the early 1990s and UNLV is a powerhouse. He’s recruiting four-and-five star prospects, those All-American caliber players capable of instantly changing UNLV’s fortunes.

If UNLV wants to make a splash with its basketball team, it can’t operate like a mid-major conference program piecing it together. They need to be aggressive like South Florida, which, in addition to courting Rice, also has a new $11 million practice facility.

By flirting with South Florida, Rice quickly learned how valuable he is in Las Vegas. After the trials and the tribulations of the past season, he needed the reassurance.

Hours after word starting to spread Friday that he was considering leaving, Rebels supporters started rallying behind their coach. On Twitter, players and fans used the hashtag #InRiceWeTrust in support. It showed they still believe in his philosophies.

Finally, Rice again felt the love, comparable the initial month of his first season in 2011-12 when the Rebels opened with a nine-game winning streak and beat No. 1 ranked North Carolina. But the love affair didn’t last.

Two weeks ago, the blame for the Rebels’ poor season fell on Rice’s shoulders. His in-game coaching was questioned because the same mistakes proved costly, whether it was one player repeatedly taking bad shots or the inability to attack a certain defense. There were disciplinary problems, too.

Those problems won’t go away, but they don’t seem as problematic considering the alternative of losing Rice. The program would have been gutted if he would have left, including the three bluechip recruits expected to be difference-makers next season. It would have taken UNLV years to recover in Rice’s absence — he realized that, giving him leverage to negotiate.

Rice had to take the negotiations public after his attempt two weeks to get an extension never materialized. He was also displeased, and rightfully so, that football coach Bobby Hauck recently received a contract extension to earn a similar $700,000 per year wage. Football reached a bowl game last season for the first time in 13 years, but typically loses money and doesn’t have the sex-appeal of Rebel basketball with locals.

This won’t be the last time Dave Rice is tempted by a better job. Eventually, especially with the way Rice recruits, UNLV will soon break through with a memorable season. Imagine how much he’d be worth then?

It wouldn’t be South Florida calling. It will be a school with money to throw at a coach.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21

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