Johnson’s departure puts program in limbo | NevadaAppeal.com

Johnson’s departure puts program in limbo

Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . . Jay Johnson said three revealing things during his introductory press conference as the Arizona Wildcats new head baseball coach this week. He said Arizona was a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” that his coaching motto is “we’re going to complete the job or die trying” and Arizona “is a place you go and you stay.” Interesting. Does that make Nevada a once-every-two-years opportunity? Is Nevada a program where you complete the job or leave for a more high profile position if one is offered to you? And is Nevada a place where you go and don’t unpack all your boxes?

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Johnson heading to Arizona after just two seasons solidifies the notion the Wolf Pack has become a stepping stone university. Whether it’s fair or not, men’s basketball coach Eric Musselman and football coach Brian Polian are also looked at the same way — as guys who are going to continue to update their resume every two weeks, keep an ear to the ground for the latest job openings and bolt the Pack as soon as they have a season that’s noticed by someone outside the McCarran circle. If Musselman and Polian don’t like that, well, they can prove us wrong. They can be the anti-Johnson (Trent and Jay) and come here and stay and, yes, actually complete the job.

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The Nevada Wolf Pack now has its most inexperienced head coaches in its most high profile sports — football, men’s basketball and baseball — in almost 40 years. The Wolf Pack will go into the 2015-16 season with only one head coach in those three sports – football’s Polian at two years — with head coaching experience at the school. Musselman will coach his first men’s hoops season this year and baseball doesn’t even have a head coach right now. The last time the head coaches of the Big Three sports had just two or fewer years of combined experience at the school was at the start of the 1976-77 season when football (Chris Ault) and men’s basketball (Jim Carey) had new coaches and baseball had two-year veteran Barry McKinnon. Lawlor Events Center and Peccole Park weren’t even built yet in 1976 and Mackay Stadium was only slightly larger than Reno High’s field. It’s the Spirit of ‘76 all over again down on North Virginia Street.

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Should Nevada simply shrug its shoulders, collect its cable TV money and merely accept its fate as a stepping stone university for coaches of football, men’s hoops and baseball? Is that really how you build a fan base and a program? Of course not. Look at baseball. All of the momentum the program built this year by winning the Mountain West and 41 games has vanished down the drain quicker than you can say Doug Knuth. With Johnson gone, the future of the program is in limbo once again. Instead of excitement and hope for the future fans are now left wondering which coach is going to be the next to use Nevada to simply puff up his resume. Can you really build a program if the coaches are constantly leaving as soon as they are successful? All you are actually doing is building resumes.

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Universities are always asking their fans to be loyal and true to the school. Why don’t they ask the same of their head coaches? Coaches like Johnson, Polian and Musselman are all great coaches. But they are also guys who were just thrilled to finally get their first head coaching job at the Division I level. They didn’t come to Nevada because they loved Nevada. They came to Nevada because they loved being a head coach and they finally found some school to give them the opportunity. That doesn’t make them bad men or selfish. It just makes them modern day coaches. That’s just the state of college coaching right now in football, basketball and baseball. It’s just a money grab. But why can’t the Pack get both, a great coach who also loves Nevada?

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Johnson, it turns out, coached a player at Nevada who had far more loyalty to Nevada and love for the school than he did. First baseman Austin Byler was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the ninth round last year but decided instead to come back to the Pack for his senior year in 2015. For that reason alone Wolf Pack fans should always reserve a spot in their hearts for Byler. It was also heartwarming to see the Wolf Pack athletic department reward Byler this week by giving him the prestigious Doc Martie Award, given every year to the top male senior athlete. Byler is just the second (after Matt Bowman in 2009) Pack athlete to only play baseball to win the award since 1969. Pack fans might not have to wait long to show Byler their love once again. The slugger was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks this week in the 11th round and could be playing for the Reno Aces before too long.

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Wolf Pack reliever and Carson High graduate Adam Whitt was also rewarded for all of his hard work (and outstanding college career) by getting drafted by the Houston Astros in the 16th round this week. Whitt has a huge decision to make, whether to go pro like his former Wolf Pack and Carson teammate Colby Blueberg last year or come back to the Pack for his senior year. It will be understandable if Whitt signs with Houston, since Johnson is gone and the Pack program is up in the air. If he signs Whitt might also find himself this summer pitching against Blueberg, who’s having a great season in the Midwest League with a 1.37 earned run average in 14 games.

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Cleveland Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova, who plays as if his shorts are on fire, has captured the imagination of basketball fans in this year’s NBA Finals. But there’s a misconception about Dellavedova that needs to stop. The notion is Dellavedova, who looks like a guy who could be playing in the Parks and Rec league down at the local YMCA, is playing way over his skis and is getting by on grit and tenacity alone. Forget that. Dellavedova was outstanding at Saint Mary’s for four years and finished as the Gaels’ all-time leader in points, assists, 3-pointers, free throw percentage and games played. The entire NBA should be ashamed for not drafting him two years ago. Dellavedova, a tough 6-foot-4, 200-pound ball of dynamite from Australia, is a legitimate player. He’s a coach’s dream and his teammates love him. And the Cavs just might win a title because of him.