Joe Santoro: Time for Pack’s Wilson to move on

Ken Wilson during the Nevada football team’s spring game April 23, 2022 in Reno.

Ken Wilson during the Nevada football team’s spring game April 23, 2022 in Reno.
Steve Ranson/NNG

We can’t wait to see what Ken Wilson learned during his nine seasons away from the Nevada Wolf Pack. So far all we’ve discovered about the latest Wolf Pack head football coach is what he remembers from his first stay in Reno from 1989-2012.
The most recent Turn Back the Pack Clock moment from Wilson took place last week when the Pack announced, among other things, that the football team will return to its former East sideline home at Mackay Stadium and blue will be the primary helmet color. Hey, if that doesn’t sell season tickets nothing will. Make no mistake, Wilson, who was always Alfred the Butler to Chris Ault’s Batman and Commissioner Gordon, knows all too well why he got this job. So, gosh darn it, when Commissioner Ault calls on the Aultphone or flashes the Ault signal in the clouds in the middle of the night (about 7 p.m. for the 75-year-old Ault) and screams, “Put my team back where it belongs on the East sideline,” Wilson is going to put down his Wayne Manor feather duster and do it and wait for the next restore-my-legacy senior moment from Ault.
Ault, as we feared, seems to be coaching the Pack via a never-ending Zoom call to Wilson from his Ault bat cave. Wilson, apparently, doesn’t pick paper or plastic at Scolari’s (will Ault allow him to shop anywhere else?) without consulting Commissioner Chris first.
We get it. Wilson is just trying to give some old Pack boosters with more money than grandchildren a warm and fuzzy feeling thinking that it is indeed 1976, 1986, 1990 or even 2010 all over again at Mackay Stadium. OK, fine. But so far we are not sure whether Wilson has ever had an original thought since he became head coach. We know he didn’t have his own ideas when he was a frighteningly loyal Ault Apostle from 1989-2012. But Wilson’s loyalty and devotion to Ault seems to have reached scary levels. It’s time Wilson moves on.
If Wilson is to truly succeed as Pack head coach it will be because of the things he learned at Washington State and Oregon from 2013-2021. So far all Wilson has brought to the table is an old Chris Ault scrapbook that is conveniently missing the 15 pages of Division I-AA playoff and Division I-A bowl game losses.
As a rookie head coach in the Mountain West the odds are against Wilson having any sort of real success on the field this season.
There have been 19 rookie head coaches in the Mountain West since the conference began in the fall of 1999 and just seven produced a winning record in their first season. The combined record of those 19 rookie head coaches in the Mountain West is 87-138 (.387). Wilson is the third first-time head coach in the Mountain West for Nevada after Brian Polian (4-8 in 2013) and Jay Norvell (3-9 in 2017). So the Pack should rename a street on campus for Wilson if he wins five games.
UNLV has had three rookie head coaches in the Mountain West (Mike Sanford in 2005, Tony Sanchez in 2015 and Marcus Arroyo in 2020). The three combined to go 5-24 in their first seasons. But it’s not impossible for a rookie head coach to find success in the Mountain West. Troy Calhoun went 9-4 in 2007 for Air Force, Tim DeRuyter was 9-4 for Fresno State in 2012 and Matt Wells was 9-5 for Utah State in 2013.
DeRuyter was an assistant with Wilson at both Nevada and Oregon and Calhoun at Air Force. So maybe Wilson should give DeRuyter access to the Aultphone, too.
Is it a sure thing that Grant Sherfield will never dribble a basketball for the Wolf Pack ever gain? Not so fast. Sherfield has jumped into the dreaded transfer portal and has declared his desires to be part of the NBA draft this summer. But he has yet to sign with another college team and the NBA did not choose him to take part in this week’s NBA Combine in Chicago. Mountain West players Orlando Robinson (Fresno State) and David Roddy (Colorado State) were invited to Chicago.
Sherfield, who will turn 23 in late October, has two years of college eligibility remaining and will likely sign with a team in a power conference or go play professionally overseas. But there is a remote chance that he will come to his senses and return to the Pack, where he has excelled the last two years.
There is also another reason why Sherfield might come back to the Pack. Sports Illustrated’s website ( reported recently that Sherfield “was part of a Nevada team this season that was one of the most disappointing in the country, one that seemed riddled with chemistry issues. Sherfield being the leader of a team that fell apart as spectacularly as the Wolf Pack may give some (college) teams cause for pause.”
Chemistry issues would explain why a team coached by a college basketball legend (Steve Alford) with as much talent as the Pack would finish just 13-18, winning just four games after Jan. 21, and then see its top three players (Desmond Cambridge, Warren Washington, Sherfield) jump into the portal. Or maybe it was just because those top three players knew they were leaving at the end of the season all along and that college basketball legend of a coach simply realized he had another seven years remaining on his contract.
The Wolf Pack, no doubt, is acting as if Sherfield is long gone. The Pack recently signed guards Jarod Lucas of Oregon State and Hunter McIntosh of Elon so, yes, they will have at least two guys who can shoot.
Lucas is 6-foot-4 and has been one of the better 3-point and free throw shooters in the Pac-12 in recent years. Alford also once recruited him out of high school in California for UCLA. The 6-2 McIntosh started the past three years at point guard at Elon. McIntosh’s Elon teams went a combined 33-52 the last three years while Lucas’ Oregon State team went 3-28 last year (38-26 the previous two years). So 13-18 would be an improvement.
All of the recent Name-Image-Likeness deals for players in college sports likely makes Alford shake his head. Back in December 1985 Alford, as an Indiana player, was suspended for one game because he posed for a calendar. A nice, wholesome calendar for a charity. He didn’t receive a penny for the photo and only agreed to do it because it was for a charity. Alford wasn’t even wearing an Indiana uniform in the photo and the Hoosiers weren’t even mentioned in the caption.
It really had nothing to do with the NCAA or college basketball except for the fact that Alford was pictured holding a basketball behind a basket. That photo, though, was the reason why Alford had to sit out a game against Kentucky, one of Indiana’s biggest rivals. The Hoosiers lost 63-58 without Alford at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena.
“It’s just sad because the ruling is picking on a very strong Christian boy,” Alford’s mother Sharon was quoted in a story in 1985. “It seems they are telling nice kids it’s no use.”
It was, of course, a ridiculous suspension by the NCAA even back in 1985. It is now a joke. Boosters now can openly recruit athletes for schools and pay those athletes seven figures for doing less than Alford did for that charity calendar.
And now Alford is coaching a team that doesn’t have any of those sort of boosters. Maybe Momma Alford was right. It is no use, after all, for nice Christian boys like Alford.


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