Hiring a football coach is not easy
December 1, 2016
Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .
Hiring a head football coach for the University of Nevada is never an easy task. You could argue that they've only gotten it right once in the last 70 years or so when they hired 29-year-old UNLV assistant coach Chris Ault to come back to his alma mater in 1976. All of the other Wolf Pack head coaches hired since the start of the Korean War (Jake Lawlor, Gordon McEachron, Dick Trachok, Jerry Scattini, Jeff Horton, Jeff Tisdel, Chris Tormey and Brian Polian) only had, at best, a year or two of modest success. Even Ault failed three times (Horton, Tisdel, Tormey) when he tried to hire a head coach. The only time he succeeded was when he hired himself in 1994 and 2004. That's why current athletic director Doug Knuth's career at Nevada might be at a crossroads as he looks for a new football coach. Football is the single most important sport at Division I-A schools. The Wolf Pack is leaving a ton of money on the table with each passing season of mediocrity in football. If the Pack is ever going to be able to compete financially in the world of Division I sports, it needs a money-making machine in the fall at Mackay Stadium. It's time the university gets a football hire right.
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There have already been a half dozen or so names connected to the Pack's coaching search. Among the most mentioned have been UCLA quarterbacks coach Marques Tuiasosopo, Washington State running backs coach Jim Mastro, Oklahoma State running backs coach Marcus Arroyo, Louisville offensive coordinator Chris Klenakis, Maryland defensive coordinator Andy Buh, Washington defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski and Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin. It doubtful Knuth will give anyone with Ault ties serious consideration so you can probably rule out Klenakis, Buh and Mastro. Tuiasosopo is a very young coach and hasn't earned the right to be a head coach yet (see Polian). Baldwin has been at Eastern Washington nine years and might not want to leave a place where he is comfortable and successful (see Ault). Arroyo has been linked to the San Jose State opening, where he once played and coached. That leaves Kwiatkowski. The Wolf Pack would hit a huge home run if it could somehow convince the former Boise State defensive coordinator to come to Reno and turn the Pack into the next Boise.
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Kwiatkowski saw with his own two eyes how amazing Wolf Pack football can be when all of the stars line up and the football gods smile down upon it. He was Boise's defensive coordinator on the night of Nov. 26, 2010 at Mackay Stadium when the Pack stunned college football by beating the Broncos. Boise head coach Chris Petersen brought Kwiatkowski to Boise in 2006 and when Petersen got the job at Washington in 2014 he took Kwiatkowski with him. He obviously trusts Kwiatkowski. The goal at Nevada is not to be Alabama, Ohio State or Florida State. That will never happen. The goal is to become Boise State. Kwiatkowski can show them the way.
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Knuth, it seems, will not hire anyone who puts Ault's name on his resume as a reference. Whether that is true or not, it is certainly the perception that many former Ault assistants and players have concerning the current athletic director. If it is true, Knuth needs to change his thinking. By shunning Ault and, by association, all of those who identity with him, Knuth is telling a large segment of the Pack community that they don't matter anymore. He is only hurting himself and the program in the long run. Fans, coaches and players with Ault loyalties will support the new coach no mater who it is because they love Nevada and want the school to succeed. But they will also quickly turn on that new coach when he doesn't win enough (see Polian). And they will stop going to games (see the Utah State game this year). Knuth is always talking about connecting with the community. But, it seems, all he wants is their money. He doesn't want their ideas or opinions beyond building them a gigantic scoreboard. Knuth needs to consult with Ault on this hire. He needs to seriously consider any former Ault assistant who is qualified. He doesn't have to hire any of them or do what Ault says. But he has to at least make them feel that he might.
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Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford, Boise State's Bryan Harsin, Utah State's Matt Wells, Air Force's Troy Calhoun and Hawaii's Nick Rolovich, among Mountain West coaches, all once played for the team they now coach. San Diego State's Rocky Long was an Aztecs assistant coach when he was hired to be head coach and UNLV's Tony Sanchez was a high school coach (Bishop Gorman) in Las Vegas when he got the Rebels job. That leaves just Wyoming's Craig Bohl, New Mexico's Bob Davie and Colorado State's Mike Bobo as the only current Mountain West football coaches who had no ties to the university or the community when they were hired. And they all earn $800,000 or more a year. That's another reason for hiring someone who has ties to your university or community. You get a friends and family discount. And if there was ever a school that needed to hire a coach at a friendly rate, it's Knuth's Pack.
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The Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team's season changed drastically this week when power forward Elijah Foster was arrested on domestic battery charges. The absence of Foster leaves the Pack extremely thin in the post. All that is left is Cam Oliver and Jordan Caroline. Oliver rarely goes into the paint on offense or defense, leaving Caroline to do all of the dirty work. It is going to be extremely interesting to see how coach Eric Musselman devises a plan to win games on a nightly basis. He did it last year when center A.J. West quit the team and he'll find a way this year.
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Sports Illustrated got it wrong again this week by naming LeBron James as its Sportsperson of the Year. James helping the Cleveland Cavaliers win its first NBA title was certainly a great achievement. But it's basketball and he's won a title and this award before. Put James in a Carson High jersey, surround him with four other guys who know enough to get him the ball and get out of the way, and he'd compete for a NBA title every year. The S.I. award this year should have gone to the Chicago Cubs, who won the franchise's first title in 108 years. The World Series this year was hailed as one of the greatest ever and Game 7 was being touted as the greatest game ever. The Cubs captured the nation's imagination. Naming James as the winner of this award is a cliche. S.I. needs to be more creative than that. Naming a team as the Sportsperson of the Year has been done before so that is not an excuse to give it to James over the cubs. The 1980 United States Olympic hockey team, the 1999 U.S. women's soccer team and the 2004 Boston Red Sox all won the award. The Cubs are certainly worthy of being honored as much as those teams.