Joe Santoro: Cut the Pack some slack

Mackay Stadium

Mackay Stadium

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This will likely be a season of patience, understanding, restraint and composure for the Nevada Wolf Pack football team and its fans.
New coach Ken Wilson, after all, is practically starting a football program from the ground up this fall, reminiscent of what Jake Lawlor had to do heading into the 1952 season. The Wolf Pack lost its head coach after last season as well as most of its coaching staff, wide receivers, starting quarterback and lofty expectations. The last time that happened was heading into the 1952 season, a rebuilding year after the program took a year off to catch its breath and cleanse itself spiritually, mentally and financially. Those are the things that this 2022 season will also try to accomplish.
That 1952 season was the beginning of, for the most part, two-plus decades of mediocrity and suffering. But don’t worry, Pack fans. This season won’t be that bleak. Wilson, after all, does have a lot of advantages this year that the rebuilding 1952 Wolf Pack did not. For one thing he has scholarships. Wilson has enough full-ride scholarships (the NCAA allows 85) for two entire 1952 rosters. Wilson, whose $1 million annual salary could allow him to buy each member of his starting offense a new car every year, is now coaching in an “anything goes” era of college football. He can legally allow boosters to pay his players, an under-the-table practice in the 1940s that once got the Wolf Pack in trouble.
So, yes, while it is fitting that this rebuilding season is the 70th anniversary of the ground-breaking 1952 Wolf Pack, there aren’t all that many similarities between 1952 and 2022. Wilson, for one thing, can actually schedule a road game that can’t be reached in half a day by bus. But just keep all of that patience, understanding and composure close at hand just in case.
The Wolf Pack season starts in roughly three weeks. That’s it. We still have no idea who will replace Carson Strong at quarterback or who will replace Romeo Doubs, Cole Turner, Tory Horton, Melquan Stovall or Justin Lockhart at wide receiver and tight end. But that’s OK. The answer to those questions and concerns might change week to week. That’s what rebuilding means.
The Wolf Pack, of course, has lost quarterbacks, tight ends and wide receivers and, yes, head coaches before. But it has been about 70 years since they lost so many important ones all at once in one offseason. The good news is that the Pack is already a 12-point favorite in its season opener Aug. 17 at New Mexico State. The Pack will likely also be a favorite in Weeks 2 and 3 at home against Incarnate Word and Texas State. Rebuilding is fun when you are 3-0, right?
Week 4 at Iowa, though, will be the beginning of the Season of Patience and Understanding.
The Washington Nationals won the World Series in 2019 with a young and talented roster that seemed like it would keep hunting World Series titles for the foreseeable future. But here we are, just three seasons later in 2022, and the Nationals wouldn’t even win the 2022 Pacific Coast League title.
In roughly 22 months since winning the 2019 World Series, the Nationals have rid their roster of such established big leaguers (and some future Hall of Famers) like Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer, Brian Dozier, Adam Eaton, Howie Kendrick, Ryan Zimmerman, Gerardo Parra, Asdrubal Cabrera and Michael A. Taylor. About all they have left from that 2019 roster is a couple guys they can’t get rid of because they either are horrible at their job (Patrick Corbin) or can’t stay healthy (Stephen Strasburg).
Nationals fans don’t deserve this. No fans deserve it. But this systematic tearing down of a champion in a few short years has happened before. It happens a lot. See the Florida Marlins, Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks over the last two or three decades. The San Francisco Giants didn’t go out of the way to tear down their three-time champions but they did just let the organization die on the vine, which is worse than rebuilding because it involves lying to the fan base.
Did the San Diego Padres go out and trade for a World Series title this week by getting Soto, Josh Hader, Josh Bell and Brandon Drury at the trading deadline? Don’t forget they will also likely get Fernando Tatis back soon. A lineup with Tatis, Soto and Manny Machado might be one of the best Big Threes in baseball history.
Don’t forget that most everyone was saying the Los Angeles Dodgers traded for the World Series title last year when they went out and stole Scherzer and Turner from the Nationals. But this isn’t fantasy baseball. Baseball has always been about putting together the best group of players (stars, veterans, rookies, role players) that play together the best. The Dodgers didn’t even get to the World Series last year.
The San Francisco Giants don’t seem to have much of plan. The Giants have clearly been one of the worst teams in baseball since the All Star game and have all but fallen out of the postseason picture already. Their roster is full of washed up holdovers from the World Series years and players who look like spare parts on legitimate World Series contenders. The Giants should have been much more aggressive at the trading deadline, ridding the roster of dead weight. But maybe nobody else wanted that dead weight.
This franchise is going nowhere anytime soon but the middle of the National League West. The division now has a college football Power Five (Dodgers, Padres) versus Group of Five (Giants, Rockies, Diamondbacks) feel to it. The only problem with that strategy is that Major League Baseball doesn’t have a New Mexico Bowl or Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Jay Norvell’s job at Colorado State seems safe for years to come. Colorado State just gave athletic director Joe Parker, the man who stole Norvell away from Nevada from right under Doug Knuth’s nose, to a contract extension through 2027. Norvell’s deal with the Rams goes through the 2026 season and he will likely be extended after the 2024 or 2025 season if things go as planned.
There is nobody more important to a head coach’s job security than the athletic director. Just ask Chris Ault, who never had anyone above him at Nevada scrutinizing what he did on the field. He either had his lifelong friend and mentor (Dick Trachok) as athletic director or someone who would have been run out of town (Cary Groth) if she fired him. The rest of the time Ault was his own athletic director.
Brian Polian and David Carter didn’t have that luxury at Nevada. Polian was fired after the 2016 season by Knuth, who also got rid of Carter in 2015. Knuth did not hire either one and took the first chance he could to fire them both. It’s what athletic directors do. They sweep away the previous athletic director’s coaches and hire their own.
All of which brings us to Ken Wilson. Wilson, don’t forget, was not hired by new athletic director Stephanie Rempe. Rempe, like Knuth with Polian and Carter, has no loyalty to Wilson. All of that patience and understanding we told you about above will only go so far with Rempe and Wilson.


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