Depending on how he approaches the hiring of a new athletic director, time either is UNLV president Neal Smatresk’s enemy or his friend.
Smatresk has spent nearly five months trying to find a replacement for Jim Livengood. Over the past three weeks, he has interviewed four candidates — former Florida State AD Randy Spetman, Washington State associate AD John Johnson, Arkansas-Little Rock AD Chris Peterson and Seton Hall deputy AD Duane Bailey.
But the end of the process might be at hand.
The Board of Regents, which must approve any hire Smatresk makes, has a special meeting scheduled for Oct. 18 at UNLV. By law, agenda items must be posted seven working days in advance of a meeting, so if Smatresk hopes to get his replacement for Livengood in place in the next couple of weeks, he needs to act in the next few days.
“I’m kicking around to see what my options are,” Smatresk said in his first public comments on the search since bringing Tina Kunzer-Murphy on board as the interim AD in late May. “I feel I need to have a decision rendered in the next couple of weeks.”
Smatresk said he has not made up his mind as to which direction he is going with the AD hire. But while he’s up against the calendar regarding the Oct. 18 regents meeting, he also can elect to wait until the regents’ next meeting, which is scheduled for Dec. 5, also at UNLV. By waiting, he can buy himself time if he decides that neither Spetman, Johnson, Peterson nor Bailey are the person he envisions running the athletic program and the $30 million budget that accompanies it.
“We’re in the due-diligence phase and doing our background checks,” Smatresk said. “At this point, I’m keeping all my options open.”
Kunzer-Murphy is his safety net. Her appointment runs through Dec. 31, and if Smatresk ultimately decides to make her the permanent AD, he can do so in time for Dec. 5 and let her continue to run the department. He also can make that same move next week, get it on the Oct. 18 agenda and wrap up the process.
“I haven’t heard anything,” Kunzer-Murphy said. “I’m just focusing my energies on the day-to-day operation of the department, our coaches and our student-athletes.”
Smatresk ultimately might decide to wait until December and see how the football season plays out before hiring a new AD. UNLV is riding a three-game winning streak and is 3-2 under fourth-year coach Bobby Hauck. The Rebels host Hawaii next Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium, and with seven games remaining, the team is in position to get to its first bowl game since 2000 when UNLV defeated Arkansas under John Robinson in the Las Vegas Bowl.
And while Smatresk deliberates, support is growing on campus for Kunzer-Murphy to become the permanent AD. She has the backing of virtually every coach. She has trimmed spending, and while some of her cost-cutting moves have been unpopular within the department, they have met Smatresk’s mandate to stay within the budget.
Kunzer-Murphy, a 1975 graduate of UNLV, also has improved the athletic department’s working relationship with the Thomas &Mack Center, something that was an issue during Livengood’s tenure. Communication lines are open between her office and Thomas &Mack executive director Mike Newcomb, and her permanent hire could cement that positive relationship further.
Smatresk could be subjected to criticism for hiring Kunzer-Murphy by those who might believe that was his plan all along. But her five-month stint as interim athletic director has provided a window to judge whether or not she can handle the job on a permanent basis. Kunzer-Murphy’s local ties and dedication to her alma mater also could work in her favor.
What will Smatresk do? Only time will tell.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.