Two former UNLV basketball players, Dave Rice and Reggie Theus, are candidates to be the program's next coach. Larry Johnson wants his name added to the short list.
Johnson discussed the idea with former Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian on Saturday and decided to promote his interest in the position.
"I would love to do it," Johnson said. "This situation is just like ideal. It's close to my heart. If they hire me, we would get back to being the Runnin' Rebels."
UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood, in Houston for the Final Four, said he's in the middle of the process of finding a replacement for Lon Kruger, who resigned Friday to become coach at Oklahoma.
"I've talked to several people," Livengood said. "Our challenge is finding a coach capable of taking us to the next level."
Does Johnson fit the description? Arguably the greatest player in UNLV history, Johnson led the Rebels to the 1990 NCAA championship and was the NBA's No. 1 draft pick in 1991. But he's an unknown coaching commodity.
Johnson, who does promotional work for the New York Knicks, turned down an offer last summer to be an assistant coach for the Chicago Bulls.
"The only limitation is Larry has never coached before at any level," said Brad Rothermel, special adviser to the athletic director. "You need the experience of being a coach. Otherwise, you have to learn on the job, and on-the-job training at this level can be a real challenge."
Johnson, 42, wants to shoot down the notion his lack of coaching experience is a negative.
"Of course, I don't think so, but that seems to be the talk. If that's what it is, I understand. But to me, it wouldn't be no problem at all," he said. "You recruit and get some good people around you."
When he heard the news of Kruger's departure, Johnson said, "That took me as a shock. I got on a rampage and started calling."
One of Johnson's first calls was to Stacey Augmon, who ranks No. 3 on UNLV's career scoring list with 2,011 points from 1987 to 1991. The school retired Johnson's jersey No. 4 in 1995, the same night Augmon's No. 32 was raised to the Thomas & Mack Center rafters.
Johnson asked Augmon, a Denver Nuggets assistant coach, if he would consider being one of his assistants at UNLV.
"He's willing to jump at the opportunity," Johnson said, "but he didn't have much faith in what's going on there.
"We can put butts in the seats and we definitely can recruit. There's no growing pains I would have to go through, and if I have the right cast around me, I believe I can do it. And I really believe the city would be behind me."
Johnson said his years playing for Tarkanian and various NBA coaches, including the Knicks' Jeff Van Gundy, have prepared him well.
"I'm definitely a scientist in this," said Johnson, who earned his Bachelor of Arts in social science studies from UNLV in December 2007. "I've turned down several assistant jobs in the NBA that I just didn't feel good about. I would love it at UNLV."
He also said he would "definitely support" Theus, who starred for the Rebels from 1975 to 1978 and led them to their first Final Four in 1977. Theus, an assistant for the Minnesota Timberwolves, was an NBA head coach for the Sacramento Kings in 2007-08.
But Theus said Saturday he had not received a call from Livengood, who has met with Rice in Houston.
Johnson said he was "pretty close" with Rice, Brigham Young's associate head coach. Rice was a reserve on the Rebels' 1990 title team and spent 11 seasons as an assistant at UNLV. He is considered by some to be the leading candidate to follow Kruger.
"I love my alma mater," Rice said. "I certainly am involved in the process. I know there are a lot of good candidates."
Johnson said he's planning a call to Livengood, who is expected to make a decision this week.
"I don't think there's a right guy. I think there are several right guys," Rothermel said. "It's Jim's call. He has a great feel for it, and I'm sure he'll get a good coach."
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907.