Monday, May 25, 2015

UNLV Football Future Suggests All In Move With Sanchez

     It's been no secret that I have been talking about football program shutdowns amongst "mid-major" programs for well over a year now. UAB, while still in flux with their football program, was the first to pull the trigger (even though a small chance exists that a reversal is in order), and they were only in the middle of a list of approximately 30 schools that was released late last year detailing athletic departments in absolute trouble financially. On that list was UNLV, and their AD debt was amongst the highest in FBS football, and in fact, was the highest at over $30 million, almost double the debt that UAB carried.
     It's also been no secret that the few loyalists left to the moribund program at UNLV have attacked my stance endlessly on the matter, stating that UNLV was about as safe as a fun (albeit expensive) family vacation to Disneyland on the fun scale. When UAB, who was strongly in the middle range of debt on the list released, dropped football on perceivably what was a strong revenge driven whim, it proved no program was safe moving forward, and the precedent was set for others to follow suit.
      When last season ended, and the Rebels continued on a listless path with Bobby Hauck (whom I still contend is a damn good football coach), it became imperative that Hauck had to go. The program was sinking like a stone, support in the community was beyond apathetic at best, and had the program dried up in short order, very few people would have given a damn. Las Vegas is a community of winners. This town doesn't support minor or bush leagues, and UNLV football has long been bottom rung, along the likes of the now former ECHL club (which has had several incarnations), and the likely soon to be abandoned Arena Football club which languishes in a mostly empty Thomas and Mack on most home dates.
     UNLV made the smart play and accepted Bobby Hauck's likely forced resignation. A search began in short order, and there were actually some solid names on the short list of people who actually wanted the job. When the smoke cleared, the Rebels laid a huge bet on the only hire that strangely enough made sense for them. They hired Tony Sanchez, a career high school coach from Bishop Gorman.
     Sanchez understands the community, and he came with high profile backers in the Fertitta Family, who owns the chain of Station Casinos around town, as well as a huge share in UFC. The Fertitta's were entrenched supporters financially of Gorman, and likely cut a huge check to get Sanchez hired on Maryland Avenue. Of course, when grilled about Fertitta financial assistance for the school, AD Tina Kunzler-Murphy acted like she was being handed an indictment by a grand jury. In short, every time she was asked, she changed the subject like a politician who had just been nabbed with a bag of blow in a less than savory hotel. To this date, it's still unclear, however probable, as to what contribution that the family made to support the hiring of Sanchez, but I am guessing that the program deficit went down somewhat.
     Kunzler-Murphy would have been smart to take that check, and keep on taking them at this point. UNLV has to go all in and double down on Sanchez, because he is likely the last great hope that this program has of survival. It's a huge risk, but when you are against the ropes as often as this program is, you have to take big gambles.
     In yesterday's (May 24) edition of the LVRJ, Mark Anderson wrote what I have been saying for quite a while now. Before the hiring of Sanchez, there was talk in circles at the university of shutting the show down. UNLV football had all of the attraction of Taylor Hicks performing at the Paris. None. Check the fifth paragraph in the article that begins with " Talks of killing football at UNLV has subsided with the hiring in December of Tony Sanchez, who has brought energy to the program and created a buzz in the community for the first time in a decade or so".
     I think that the Buzz that Anderson is discussing is tangible, if not a tad bit over hyped, but he is right that someone has to create a buzz that literally has never really existed, and it's been longer than ten years since it's existed if it ever did. It dates back 20 years to John Robinson's hire, even if Robo Coach was worn out and outdated by that time.
     Everything lays on the shoulders of the energetic Sanchez, and he has a short time frame in which to entirely change a culture that has gotten used to apathy and losing. Hell, he has to build a culture that largely doesn't exist. Right now, he has to get people that just don't care to buy in. He has to win people who've never given a damn to start giving a damn.
     If the Sanchez gamble fails, the program eventually dies out, especially in an ever changing landscape where money and success is the only game in town. The Mountain West is not in the Big 5, which keeps UNLV in what is essentially a minor league in a town that, outside of the PCL 51s, largely could care less about the minors. Even the 51s rarely see front page coverage in a town where no other baseball exists for almost 300 miles around.
     Sanchez has a ton of weight on his shoulders right now, and he has the bravado to carry it out. The problem is that the university dropped a huge chip on him, and if it doesn't pay off, it's game over in all likelihood. Good luck with that.

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