'Sheriff' Livengood not afraid of change


When Jim Livengood was introduced as UNLV's 11th athletic director on Dec. 17, 2009, a lot of people said he came here only to cash a fat paycheck, play golf and retire.

But if you didn't know better, you'd now swear he came here to clean house.

It was a week ago today that Livengood announced the hiring of Oregon assistant Lisa Dodd as the Rebels' new softball coach, replacing Pete Manarino.

Dodd was the eighth head-coaching hire during Livengood's 30 months on the job. She joins Tim Chambers (baseball), Dave Rice (men's basketball), Bobby Hauck (football), Rich Ryerson (men's soccer), Amy Bush (women's golf), Michael Coll (women's soccer) and Cindy Fredrick (volleyball).

Eight new coaches. Out of 14.

To paraphrase Eddie Murphy in the guise of furloughed convict Reggie Hammond, who was responsible for a similar housecleaning at a honky-tonk called Torchy's in the movie "48 Hours": There's a new sheriff in town, and his name is Jim Livengood.

Y'all be cool. Right on.

"I'm not a firing fool," Livengood says. "It doesn't mean we had bad coaches. We're just trying to see if we can be better, aim a little higher."

So much for coming here to play golf.

But Livengood also doesn't want to be perceived as a guy who arrived in Las Vegas wearing an executioner's hood with his thumbs turned down. He says it has just sort of worked out that way.

"I didn't come here to rearrange everything," added the former Washington State and Arizona AD. "But you get better when you get better people.

"We can get better athletically, academically, socially. All of those things are measurable. We still have to win.

"Some of this, the proof will be in the pudding."

In the 2½ sports that are big pudding, UNLV was 2-10 in football last season, 26-9 in men's basketball and 26-31 in baseball. As noted, each marquee sport is now under the direction of a Livengood man.

Men's soccer went 3-14 and men's tennis was 7-16. On the women's side, basketball finished 22-10 in a breakthrough season; soccer, 8-10-3; softball, 22-27; tennis, 16-9; volleyball, 14-17.

In sports harder to judge by final scores, men's and women's golf finished eighth and 12th, respectively, in NCAA regionals; women's swimming and track were third at the Mountain West Conference championships. The men's swimming team finished second in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, ending its run of eight consecutive titles.

Aim a little higher in the team sports? Yeah, I guess I can see from where Livengood is coming.

A lot of these records are influenced by variables such as strength of schedule, injuries, bad calls, which way the wind is blowing. But when the wind stops blowing, all people remember is the wins and losses.

That is how coaches - and athletic directors - ultimately are judged, regardless of how many of their players make the all-academic team, how many visit the children's hospitals. Because if there's two things that can be said about college sports, the first is that Duke always gets the calls. The second is that college sports never have been accused of having priorities in order.

As for UNLV and pink slips, it bears noting that Lon Kruger left for Oklahoma of his own volition (and a $16.6 million contract) after rebuilding men's basketball.

The others essentially said they were resigning to "pursue other opportunities." This is what a lot of coaches say after they go 3-14 and meet with their athletic directors to discuss contract extensions.

The reality: Virtually all of these dismissals were based on performance.

And though budgets have been slashed in Jack the Ripper fashion and a lot of people don't give a flying Frisbee if the women's tennis team wins, Livengood expects all of his coaches to win because, let's face it, in its current tattered state, the Mountain West mostly resembles the Whitechapel District in London during Jack the Ripper's day.

Plus, some of that $1 million the Rebels will receive for playing football at Michigan in 2015 eventually may trickle downward.

Aim a little higher, as Jim Livengood says. Win a few more games. Make sure your players go to class and visit the sick kids in the hospitals and be model citizens.

Beat Michigan.

Make the new sheriff in town happy.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

 

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