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Ken Wilson’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad season

Nevada head coach Ken Wilson looks on the first half against Incarnate Word on Sept. 10, 2022 in Reno.

Nevada head coach Ken Wilson looks on the first half against Incarnate Word on Sept. 10, 2022 in Reno.
Photo by Steve Ranson.

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Jay Norvell has his own problems this year at Colorado State but he might be able to sympathize with what Ken Wilson is going through this season with the Nevada Wolf Pack. The first season as Nevada’s commander in chief for both Norvell (2017) and Wilson (this year), after all, could have a few eerie and depressing similarities. Both suffered a demoralizing defeat to a FCS team at Mackay Stadium in the third game of the season. Norvell lost to Idaho State, 30-28, five years ago while Wilson lost to Incarnate Word, 55-41, on Sept. 10. Those losses sent both teams into a disheartening tailspin they never truly escaped.

Wilson’s Pack, now 2-7 (like Norvell’s Rams) and riding a seven-game losing streak with a date with Boise State this Saturday at Mackay, still hasn’t shaken off the loss to Incarnate Word. Both Norvell in 2017 and Wilson this year bungled the quarterback position to start their first years as head coach. Norvell, for some reason, thought Kaymen Cureton was a FBS starting quarterback for two games (both losses) in 2017 and Wilson, for some reason, thought Nate Cox was a FBS starter for far too long this year. Norvell started Cureton, a freshman, over a guy (David Cornwell) who once played briefly at Alabama. Wilson started Cox over a guy (Shane Illingworth) who once played at Oklahoma State.

Neither Norvell nor Wilson qualified for a bowl game their first season. Norvell finished 3-9 in his rookie year with his third and final victory coming in the season finale against UNLV. Wilson could also finish 3-9 this year (keep your fingers crossed, Pack fans) with his third victory coming against UNLV in the season finale.


Wilson, as things stand now, would be fortunate to finish 3-9 this year and to have a head coaching career at Nevada that mirrors the one Norvell put together for the Pack from 2017-21. Norvell, after all, turned things around quickly after his difficult first season.

Norvell’s second Pack team in 2018 went 8-5 and won the Arizona Bowl over Arkansas State. He went 30-17 over his final four years at Nevada, qualifying for a bowl in each season (winning two of the three in which he actually coached). His Air Raid offense, thanks to Carson Strong, Romeo Doubs and Cole Turner, rewrote some cherished Pack records.

Norvell also went 23-17 in Mountain West games in his five seasons. Wilson would have to win 23 of his next 35 league games (starting Saturday against Boise State) to equal Norvell’s Mountain West record.


Wilson, though, right now looks like he’s more Dick Trachok (loyal silver and blue Wolf Pack company man that is in over his head as head coach) than he looks like Norvell (Wolf Pack traitor who treated Nevada as if it was a penance he had to endure). Wilson’s current seven-game losing streak is tied with Chris Tormey’s slide in 2000 as the longest for a Nevada coach since Trachok lost 11 in a row in 1963 (last two games) and 1964 (the first nine).

Trachok coached the Pack from 1959-68 and only finished as much as three games over .500 twice in 10 seasons. Trachok, despite winning just 21 of his first 55 games and just 40-of-90 overall in 10 seasons, was never fired. He, in fact, was rewarded by being named athletic director.

There is just one degree of separation (Chris Ault) between Wilson and Trachok. Trachok brought Ault to Northern Nevada in 1964 and hired him as Pack head coach in December 1975. Ault brought Wilson to Northern Nevada twice, once officially in 1989 and once unofficially last December.


Wilson, though, should thank his lucky silver and blue stars that he didn’t have to coach in Trachok’s era. Wilson, after all, is getting paid roughly $85,000 a game this year. Trachok’s first contract at Nevada in 1959 paid him $8,500 a season.

There was another glaring difference between the Trachok and Wilson eras. After a season-opening 53-6 loss to Long Beach State in 1964 – just the third loss of what would be an 11-game losing streak – Nevada students hanged Trachok in effigy on campus. Hanging a public figure in effigy, a hideous practice that now might cause a university president to shut down the campus until the guilty party is found – wasn’t such a rare occurrence in the mid-1960s. Students, after all, didn’t have social media in 1964 in which to blast a coach. UNLV students, for example, publicly shamed three professors in that disgusting fashion in 1966 and did the same to Gov. Paul Laxalt in 1967. Other student bodies did the same to their own coaches throughout the early to mid-1960s.

It wasn’t celebrated but it also didn’t produce public outrage. The Reno Gazette-Journal, for example, ran an editorial in 1964 saying Trachok should be honored. “Coach Trachok should not be troubled by the attention given him,” the newspaper wrote. “Hanging in effigy is reserved only for important people. It is a status symbol.”

Wilson’s status symbol this year could net him an extra $25,000 if his players simply go to class and earn a GPA of 3.0 or higher. All his seven-game losing streak has done is make fans ignore the team. Trachok lost three in a row in 1964 and got hanged in effigy. Social media isn’t so bad by comparison.


Wilson, like Trachok, will likely never be in jeopardy of getting fired. The criteria for hiring him, it seems, was simply that he agree to never leave. In other words, the Pack was merely looking for the anti-Norvell. Wilson, like Trachok, should be able to fulfill his promise of never abandoning the program. It’s not likely, after all, you’ll even hear whispers this offseason suggesting the hiring of Wilson was a mistake even if the first-year Pack coach ends the year with a 10-game losing streak.

Nevada, by the way, is one of just four teams in the FBS that could end the year with a losing streak of 10 games or longer. South Florida is now 1-8 and has lost seven in a row with three to play while Northwestern and Akron are both 1-8 and have lost eight in a row with three to play. There is a very real chance the Pack can take a nine-game losing streak to UNLV for its Nov. 26 meeting with UNLV. The Rebels might have a six-game losing streak that night.

Being hanged in effigy might be the humane way to treat Wilson and UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo that night at Allegiant Stadium. The alternative, after all, would be to give each one a blindfold and a cigarette and position them in front of the Fremont Cannon.


There is another team this season that calls Allegiant Stadium home that might need to be put out of its misery after the season. The Las Vegas Raiders are 2-6 with five of the losses coming by seven points or less. They were up 20-7 on the Jacksonville Jaguars, 17-0 on the Kansas City Chiefs and 20-0 on the Arizona Cardinals and lost all three.

New head coach Josh McDaniels, a teammate of former Wolf Pack head coach Brian Polian at John Carroll in 1995 and 1996, is 13-23 now as a head coach after two seasons with Denver (2009-10) and his first eight games with the Raiders. He lost eight of his last 10 games with Denver in 2009 and 10 of his last 12 in 2010. McDaniels, though, keeps getting head coaching jobs (he accepted the Indianapolis Colts job in February 2018 and quit later that same day) because he was fortunate enough to be Tom Brady’s quarterbacks coach and sat at the right hand of Bill Belichick at New England. So, yes, he’s sort of the Forrest Gump of coaches.

McDaniels might eventually become a capable head coach someday, you know, after he gets his quarterback in the 2023 draft. But he’s not all that capable right now. Right now he’s just a guy who happens to have the best quarterback and the best head coach in the history of the NFL on speed dial.


The sports books are listing the Wolf Pack as a three-touchdown underdog to the Boise State Broncos this Saturday night. It’s hard to argue with that spread, given the fact that Boise State is likely the best team in the Mountain West right now and the Pack, well, is not. The Wolf Pack, after all, lost to Hawaii and Colorado State this year, two teams that have combined for just one other victory over a FBS team this year. And that was Colorado State over Hawaii. So don’t blame the sports books for disrespecting the Wolf Pack this week.

Boise State will also have a lot of incentive to play well on Saturday. The Broncos (5-0 in league play) still have to hold off Wyoming (4-1) and Utah State (3-2) to win the Mountain Division and get to the Mountain West title game. And, yes, it’s likely the Broncos still remember the 41-31 loss the Pack handed them last year at Boise.

But take the 21 points on Saturday, just the same. The Pack could use your support and, yes, booing Boise State always makes the coming holidays more special.


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