Nevada will always be a stepping-stone in college athletics.
The Wolf Pack doesn’t compete in the best conference. They don’t have the budget or good enough facilities to even draw the best recruits in the Mountain West Conference. But when someone comes onto campus and turn around a program seamlessly, it’s going to be difficult to keep that coach in Reno.
And it happened this week when Jay Johnson became the new baseball coach at Arizona.
It took only two years to mold the Wolf Pack program into one of the best in the region. As soon as Nevada won the conference and entered the MW tournament as the top seed, doubt seeped in that Johnson wouldn’t be around much longer. Part of me, though, believed that he would stay to continue building this program into not only a contender in the MWC but also in all of Division I baseball.
Loyalty doesn’t exist in college athletics unless you have the right enticements. Money, good facilities and a long tradition are just a few of the big selling points in college baseball.
Consider what Gary Powers and Chris Ault did for the university to be a favor. You don’t see it happen enough when coaches stick around for 20 years and resist the temptation of more money and bigger opportunity.
But unfortunately, this is the state of Nevada athletics.
Trent Johnson and Mark Fox left the men’s basketball program after short coaching stints.
Johnson left for his dream job at Stanford after leading the Wolf Pack to a Sweet 16 appearance. Fox followed after succeeding Johnson and taking the team to the NCAA Tournament three consecutive years. Fox moved to Georgia and now has the campus buzzing about basketball at a football-dominated university.
And up in Idaho, it seemed like Chris Peterson would be Boise State’s football coach until retirement. But no matter how successful the Broncos were, Peterson reached the ceiling multiple times and needed a better conference in order to coach at the highest of all levels.
Success at the mid-major level doesn’t go unnoticed, as we’ve seen every year. Young coaches are able to prove themselves and are lured by the bigger programs that have more money and bigger, better facilities.
Unfortunately, though, success at Nevada will attract these schools but at the same time, an opportunity opens up for the next coach.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise for Wolf Pack fans considering the history in the past 10 years.
With Johnson and Fox leaving, it left a void in the basketball program that hasn’t been filled. The hiring of Eric Musselman could help make Nevada relevant on the hardwood. But if the Wolf Pack return to the Big Dance again and make some noise, will Musselman stay?
The same goes with the football team.
Brian Polian enters his third season and Nevada’s poised to have its best season in the MWC. Give Polian time and he could have the Wolf Pack become a regular in the conference title game and earn a berth in one of the more premier bowls. But, again will Polian stay?
Until Nevada upgrades on every level to keep its coaches, as well as entice better recruits, the university will continue to be just another stop.
Thomas Ranson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.