Hauck's breakthrough breaks cycle for Rebels

One by one, he offered excuses. He wasn’t given enough time. The facilities were lacking. Promises weren’t kept. Resources weren’t properly utilized. Community support was lacking.

It was a systematic issue.

An infrastructure issue.

A commitment issue.

Mike Sanford on that November day in 2009 was convinced it wasn’t a coaching issue when addressing why he had just been fired at UNLV, believing that five years from the day, the university would return to an identical place of searching yet again for someone to lead the school’s football program.

That the cycle would repeat itself.

That another coach would have been shown the door.

That won’t happen. That’s a good thing.

The Rebels are bowl eligible for the first time since 2000, and Bobby Hauck is soon to be granted a contract extension, once the I’s are dotted and T’s crossed and president Neal Smatresk finds a few minutes to sign off on the deal while dusting off his boots for a similar position at North Texas.

Cowboy up, big fella.

It hasn’t been the best-kept secret around UNLV, the fact new athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy has correctly decided that nothing continues a football program’s rebuilding process like consistency at the top.

She won’t yet officially speak on Hauck’s extension, thought to be for three years and taking the university’s commitment to him through the 2017 season.

Details must be finalized for regents to approve.

But it’s happening. It’s close to being done.

Progress is relative in these matters. The demands and expectations considered normal at Alabama and Notre Dame are hardly realistic here. Not now. Not since forever.

Hauck is 12-37 at UNLV, but half of those wins have come in this, his fourth season. Nothing defines tangible evidence of growth as four more victories than in any of his previous three years.

It doesn’t mean Hauck has proven he can assemble and then develop a program capable of annually contending for conference titles and bowl berths. It only means that UNLV this season has beaten inferior opponents and has yet to defeat a side better than itself.

But the steps taken under Hauck, however small in some minds, continue to be forward.

Four years ago, no one was inferior.

“We’ve built through the ground up with good kids, primarily with freshmen rather than junior college transfers,” said Hauck, who wouldn’t address his impending extension. “We’ve played a lot of young guys and lived through the hard times. We’ve had to take our lumps. But I think we have developed hard-nosed, tough-minded character guys who play hard for UNLV.

“We love Vegas. The people at UNLV have been great to us. We have great friends here. I love the guys in our locker room. Sure, at a place like ours, there are things that are liabilities when compared to some of the people we’re competing against, but it’s about the people. We’re surrounded by great people. Good working atmosphere. Great place to live.

“Competing for a (conference championship) has been a pipe dream until now. It’s not anymore. We have a lot of guys on this team back next year. We can do it.”

Sanford mentioned many of those liabilities in that 2009 news conference, claims that held merit and yet were lost in a bitter tone of a spiteful coach just fired. He was angry and frustrated at the end. He never really took any blame at all.

He was wrong about the cycle repeating itself five years later. Not even four years. UNLV is not in the business of having discretionary funds able to continue paying off coaches and hoping the next hire proves the correct one.

It doesn’t have the budget of football giants. It would take near $2 million to dismiss the current staff and hire a new one. Thankfully for Kunzer-Murphy’s bottom line, already soaked in a bright red, that isn’t necessary.

That he has brought the Rebels to bowl eligibility with a team that returns many of its key components in 2014 more than supports the idea that Hauck be extended and afforded the type of security that is vital in the heart of recruiting battles.

He can get much better as a game-day coach. The Rebels can certainly improve greatly in all phases as a program. The nonleague schedule in the coming seasons gets tougher and tougher.

It’s still much closer to a beginning than finished product.

But in the big picture of coaching jobs in college football, UNLV remains a steppingstone for someone to create success over time and then reap the benefits with a better job in a bigger conference for more money. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all. There are such positions all over the college football map.

Hauck still has the opportunity to realize such a fate by making the Rebels a consistent winner.

He will be extended here. It’s the right decision.

It’s the only one.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.