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By hiring inexperienced Simon, Rice makes clear he's confident in his own coaching ability


The statement Dave Rice made in hiring Todd Simon on Monday as an assistant basketball coach at UNLV is clear: Rice has every belief in his own coaching skills, that they are strong enough to deliver the Rebels the kind of NCAA Tournament success their fan base expects and demands.

That he is not in need of a veteran mind more seasoned in the Xs and Os side of things. That while his success in the ultra-competitive world of recruiting has been stellar and beyond anything UNLV’s program has witnessed in decades, he can and will do better with those adjustments and decisions on the sidelines.

It’s his position, and it’s on him to prove it.

“I have every confidence, with the support of my staff, in my coaching abilities,” Rice said. “I know I can coach.”

His impressive 51-19 record in two years with the Rebels suggests as much, but college coaches are judged mostly on how their team performs during March Madness.

Rice is 0-2 in such games, and neither time — against Colorado in 2012 and California last season — did UNLV lose because it had inferior talent.

He was out-coached both times.

There’s no getting around that.

I don’t know Simon, other than his only college experience is as a video coordinator under former UNLV coach Lon Kruger. Nothing wrong with that. Eric Spoelstra once worked in the same capacity for the Miami Heat. His career has taken a fairly successful turn.

Simon, 32, might prove to be an excellent hire. He is certainly well liked within coaching circles.

But as much as Rice would like this to be more than welcoming an assistant coach whose greatest strength might be his contacts to players and their AAU and prep school coaches across the country and abroad, that’s the perception most will have about Simon as he arrives from Findlay Prep.

It’s still an important one. Recruiting is paramount to building a program capable of winning on a national level. There is no such thing as having too many good players.

You could, however, fairly view the Simon hire as an insecure one by Rice, that much like Steve Lavin did as a young coach at UCLA, he chose not to pursue someone with a respected college or pro coaching resume, someone whose voice might have at times questioned the direction of things during meetings or practices or, most importantly, games against Fresno State.

Rice believes it paints an opposite portrait of things, that not hiring a veteran assistant instead speaks to the security he has in his ability to coach the Rebels to great heights.

Simon will apparently allow Rice to do even more coaching by handling many administrative duties that made managing things the past few years difficult at times for him. I suppose that’s important.

What you can be assured of is this: Rice has put an incredible amount of on-court faith in assistant Heath Schroyer, who has proven to be a solid recruiter but was 84-115 as a head coach at Portland State and Wyoming, having teams under his guidance finish eighth in the conference four of six full seasons. His teams at Wyoming went 16-41 in the Mountain West.

And yet of the 146 applicants for the new assistant’s job, Rice thought his best option was someone who, while apparently a tireless worker and faithful to all things UNLV, isn’t going to challenge the pecking order regarding coaching decisions and strategic viewpoints.

“Sure, I considered a lot of different scenarios with this hire, including a veteran assistant,” Rice said. “I just felt that we already had a good staff, and by adding Todd and the qualities he brings, it will give me the opportunity to do the thing I do best, and that’s coach this team.”

Stacey Augmon is a third-year assistant who very well might play a significant part in recruiting and coaching, but it’s difficult to gauge what role the former UNLV great actually plays. He isn’t nearly as demonstrative as Schroyer, whose emotion and input during games suggests he, more than anyone else, has Rice’s ear.

It’s not a suggestion. It’s fact.

I’m certain the coaching tandem of Rice and Schroyer will continue to produce successful regular-season records and NCAA berths, because UNLV always will have enough talent under this staff.

Recruiting never will be an issue, and a nonconference schedule such as the one for 2013-14, which includes just two road games, all but guarantees another lofty record when conference play begins in January.

But whether Rice and Schroyer can produce wins in March is an entirely different matter. Neither have as head coaches.

Rice has often said UNLV will be much better in his third season than the first two, that once the majority of his roster consists of his recruits, the Rebels will take off and produce March success.

It’s on him to prove it, because if you look at each UNLV loss in the past two years, you will find few times in which the Rebels had lesser talent.

This is Rice’s program. His right to hire assistants he thinks will best execute his vision for the Rebels. His prerogative on how to build a staff he believes is capable of generating deep NCAA runs.

But in hiring Todd Simon, Rice made a clear statement about his own confidence to coach.

He will sink or swim without the Xs and Os benefit of a veteran’s ear.

And, I’m guessing, hope whatever Schroyer suggests is the right move more often than not.

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.