After four years of college and several more playing basketball, Dave Rice knew exactly where his career path was headed.
"I was going to law school," he said.
Rice, a Rhodes scholar candidate, earned his bachelor's degree in political science from UNLV in 1991. He might be in a courtroom somewhere today if his former coach, Jerry Tarkanian, had not objected 20 years ago.
"I had never really thought about coaching," Rice said. "Coach Tark came to me and said, 'Dave, I'm going to have a spot on my staff. I really see something about you. I think you could really become a great coach someday.' "
Tarkanian, who gave Rice his start, watched from a front-row seat in a Thomas & Mack Center board room Monday as the 42-year-old was introduced as the Rebels' new coach at an afternoon news conference.
Rice is the first former UNLV player to be the program's head coach, and he beat out a Rebels star from the 1970s, Reggie Theus, for the position. Ironically, Tarkanian had promoted Theus' as his preferred candidate.
UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood led a coaching search that became bitter and contentious at times as fans' loyalties were divided between Rice and Theus.
"Our job now is to try to bring people together," Livengood said. "Simply put, Dave Rice is the right person at the right time for UNLV basketball. He's the right fit."
Livengood said Rice will get a three-year contract, pending approval Friday by Nevada's Board of Regents.
According to a source, Rice will earn about $550,000 per year plus incentives, but Livengood would not confirm financial details until it is complete.
The greatest players rarely evolve into elite coaches. But Rice, a reserve on the Rebels' 1990 NCAA championship team and 1991 Final Four team, fits a different profile. He was an 11-year assistant at UNLV before ascending to associate head coach at Brigham Young, where he spent the past six years.
When former coach Lon Kruger left April 1 after seven seasons to take over at Oklahoma, Livengood began considering replacements, and Rice was one of the first coaches he contacted.
"I've watched him the last couple of years, and I've thought, here's somebody that I love the way he coaches and I love the style of play and I love the passion," Livengood said. "I knew he would be a head coach. It's just a matter of where.
"In 30 years as a Division I AD, I have never been around anyone more prepared to take the next step as a head coach. Dave has prepared many years for this moment."
It was more irony that Kruger, who did not retain Rice in 2004, called him "the perfect hire for UNLV."
Rice reflected on his years as a Rebels assistant, a long tenure in which he worked under Tarkanian and head coaches Tim Grgurich, Bill Bayno and Charlie Spoonhour.
It was a turbulent era of UNLV basketball.
"If you have the ability, like I believe I do, to learn from a lot of different experiences, then I should be a pretty smart guy," Rice said with a laugh.
"This is a special place. It will always be about the players. It will always be about the tradition of this program. I don't exactly know why it's my turn to have this, but I represent all the former Rebels who are just as equally qualified. This is our program, not mine, and I'm just a caretaker."
Rice appeared nervous during the news conference and at one point seemed to get emotional as he talked about his respect for Nevada governor Kenny Guinn, who died last year.
"Nobody loved the state of Nevada, nobody loved the community of Las Vegas, nobody loved UNLV more than Kenny Guinn," Rice said. "He was someone who believed in me."
Rice announced the hiring of his first assistant, Justin Hutson, a highly regarded coach and recruiter from San Diego State. He also said his former Rebels teammate, Stacey Augmon, an NBA assistant with the Denver Nuggets, is interested in joining his staff.
"We're going to get out and run -- we're the Runnin' Rebels," Rice said. "We're going to win games and we're going to have a good time doing it.
"I'm just so excited to be the coach. I'm honored to be the one. This is home. This is not the end of a journey. This is just the beginning."
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907.