In the narrative that is UNLV basketball, Stacey Augmon is royalty, the greatest player in program history not named Larry Johnson.
Augmon is the ultimate of Rebels, beloved by generations of fans as the consummate team player. Elite doesn’t begin to describe his defensive skills in leading UNLV to two consecutive Final Fours, including the school’s only national championship in 1990.
No one has started or played more games for the Rebels than Augmon, whose No. 32 jersey hangs in the rafters at the Thomas & Mack Center. He is a member of the school’s athletics Hall of Fame as well as the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame.
He’s the Plastic Man.
Now, he wants to add another section to his scarlet and gray resume: head coach.
“I want this job,” Augmon said. “I don’t want it because I’m Stacey Augmon. I don’t want a token interview. I want it because I am qualified, have the experience and would be the best choice.
“I want to be very clear on this: I want this job. This is my school. This is my program. I love it more than anything. I have so much love for this university. I know that I’m going to be a college head coach, and I want it to be here.
“I’m the man for this job, from the coaching side of it, the business side of it, the recruiting side of it. I have faced challenges my entire life and met them. This has nothing to do with anyone else. This is about me and my love for UNLV.”
Augmon is in his fifth season on UNLV’s staff, and during that time, he has spoken little to the media — more on that later — but talked exclusively with the Review-Journal this week on why he believes the administration should look first in his direction when deciding on its next head coach.
Whatever the real reasons behind a decision to fire Dave Rice three games into the Mountain West season, the move has proved to be ill-advised given the team’s state today. Hindsight, at this point, doesn’t in any way support the firing.
Rice was ensured the entire season by UNLV with certain parameters to meet — most specifically to return the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament after missing the field the previous two years — and yet the university then reneged on its pledge, firing him Jan. 10 and naming assistant Todd Simon as interim head coach.
At the time, athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy said Simon had certain “intangibles” that made him the right choice to assume control of the program over other assistants with far more experience. Such things were never detailed. Simon’s only head coaching experience was one season at Findlay Prep.
It would be disingenuous for those at UNLV to deny that certain outside forces wanted Simon to be given a period to audition for the full-time job.
They did, and he has been.
“I’m excited to hear Stacey wants the job,” former UNLV point guard Greg Anthony said. “From a basketball acumen standpoint, his knowledge is comparable to anyone associated with the game. No player has had more impact on UNLV basketball than Stacey Augmon. Period. The end. He symbolizes what the program is all about. I have the upmost respect for him as a human being and can’t think of a stronger person to go into homes of prospective student-athletes and sell UNLV to parents. He has paid his dues. He has been the good soldier, and yet the powers that be there — whoever they truly are — haven’t seemed to give him the respect he deserves.
“It seems outside forces are at work there, and that’s very disappointing. It’s odd to see Stacey not being valued in the way he should be. The fact he wasn’t considered for the (interim head coaching) position is mind-boggling. He has played and coached at the highest levels. A lot has transpired with the UNLV program the last 20 years, and I’m not sure some there have a great grasp about those who did the most for it. Stacey is at the top of that list.”
Said Johnson, UNLV’s greatest player: “It’s more than Stacey being the ultimate Rebel. It has to be more than that when hiring a head coach. But given who he learned under and how he can relate to young kids and his basketball IQ, Stacey is an obvious choice. You can’t put a value on what Stacey Augmon means to UNLV, but more than that, and more importantly, he knows the game as well as anyone.”
Augmon wouldn’t talk specifics in regard to the current staff, but it became obvious friction existed after Rice’s firing and Simon’s promotion. Instead, Augmon focused on how he felt seeing a former teammate not be able to finish what they started five years ago and how he would build the program if given the chance.
“It hurt,” Augmon said. “It hurt a lot. I was loyal to Dave. That’s who I am, no matter the situation. I commit all the way to the end and do what I can to help. It was very emotional.
“I was never asked to be the interim, and that was very disappointing. Maybe they didn’t realize I wanted it, but nobody asked. When I first took the job here, I was an assistant in the NBA (with Denver) and in a really good situation. If I had stayed in the NBA, I believe that I would have been a head coach by now. That’s how the trend is going up there with former players. You hardly ever hear of making the jump down to an assistant’s job in college. But it was something I did out of my love for UNLV and for Dave Rice.
“I committed to come here and coach at this level. If it were any other place, I would have never even thought about it. I wouldn’t have taken the call. (Then-Nuggets coach) George Karl asked me, ‘Are you sure you want to do this? This is unheard of.’ But he knew what my family and I thought about Las Vegas and how much I loved UNLV.”
He is 47, played 15 seasons in the NBA and was a member of the 1988 Olympic team, and yet Augmon since his return to UNLV hardly has been viewed as the most approachable sort by the media.
There is a reason, he says, for such a standoffish nature.
“It has been by choice mostly, because I respect the role of a head coach, and he is usually the one who talks on behalf of the team,” Augmon said. “That’s how it should be. But my last couple years in the NBA, I gave all the pregame and halftime interviews. I understand what the role of a head coach at UNLV means on and also off the court — talking to the media daily, engaging fans, raising money, being out in the community at all times, shaking hands, and most of all representing God and the program in the absolute best of ways. I watched Dave Rice for years and how he handled himself with such professionalism at all times. He was as loyal and professional a man as there was, and you can’t say that about everyone.
“I wouldn’t want this job if I didn’t understand the incredible time commitment that comes with it.”
He learned the game from the likes of Jerry Tarkanian and Lenny Wilkens and Larry Brown and Tim Grgurich and Karl, some of the brightest minds basketball has known. Augmon is a defensive expert, and yet his grasp of all X’s and O’s has been formed by the tutoring of all-time greats.
He absolutely has been more vocal and animated during games since Rice’s departure, and if there is one area in which UNLV has remained somewhat consistent the past month, it’s the defense that Augmon coordinates.
He says his recruiting approach would differ somewhat than what the Rebels have employed lately, meaning while he understands the desire of UNLV fans for the program to sign the sort of highly decorated classes that have landed on campus in recent years, there is also this: The Rebels need fewer kids who can win the news conference and more who can help win, well, the conference.
“We need more program guys, ones who will stay here three to four years,” Augmon said. “It’s great to sign a few big-time recruits and one-and-done talents every year, I get that part, but the next several guys on your team need to be in it for the long haul.
“Everyone talks about San Diego State in our league. Do you know why they win all the time and are so good? Because they have program guys who get better each year and are coached well and grow into men. We can’t keep having seven to eight new faces every year, always saying we’re young. So when we play a team like San Diego State, that becomes the excuse. Men against boys. You build a program and win consistently with program guys. You sign them and coach them and win with them.”
Translation: They need more guys in the image of Augmon, a four-year player at UNLV after redshirting his first season.
It’s unknown who ultimately will have the final say on the coaching hire, if UNLV president Len Jessup will simply receive a list of recommended names from Kunzer-Murphy and then assume control of the process before making the ultimate decision.
That’s how most believe things will play out.
Augmon said he is talking now because coaching searches have a way of accelerating as a season winds down. He wants his thoughts known, and yet understands there are games remaining.
“Our players have been victims of circumstance in all of this,” Augmon said. “They had nothing to do with any decision. I’m going to continue putting my heart and soul and everything I have into coaching them and doing whatever is needed to make them better players and young men. They’re all great kids. I’m very close to all of them. I’m still very much about this season and getting better.
“If you tell me UNLV can step forward and hire a Hall of Fame coach like (Rick Pitino of Louisville), I’d be all for it. I get that. I would never argue with that. I just don’t think they would ever come up with the money and all the other things it would take to get it done. It’s more than salary with guys like that. It’s an entirely different level of commitment throughout a program. So if we’re being realistic about things now, if we’re talking about the direction this will likely go, people need to know how passionate I am about this.
“I can build a program that UNLV fans would love.
“I can win here.
“I want this job.”
Stacey Augmon, like never before in his time at UNLV, has spoken.
— Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Twitter: @edgraney.