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Big-name coaching hire for UNLV football could benefit basketball

They have not crossed paths much over the years, football and men’s basketball at UNLV, certainly not in the way two major sports might intertwine at many universities.

It’s important that changes now.

On Tuesday night, a day after football coach Tony Sanchez was fired, the basketball team of first-year coach T.J. Otzelberger hosted Jackson State, a poor Southwestern Athletic Conference team.

It was your standard sparse gathering at the Thomas & Mack Center, an announced gathering of 7,164 to see the Rebels post an 80-57 victory.

It was mostly hard to watch, and not just because UNLV missed its first seven free throws and turned the ball over 11 times in the first half against the No. 322 team in Kenpom.

But that sure didn’t make things any better.

This thing was absolutely brutal in parts.

I’ve never been one to promote the hiring of a big-game coach for the sake of winning a news conference or hoping it might increase attendance.

For starters, coaches don’t sell nearly as many tickets as many surmise.

People don’t attend games to see them.

Just hire a guy who can win. Yes. Sounds easy. It often isn’t.

But landing a coach with supreme name recognition is exactly the path athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois should travel in football, one that could ultimately affect all other sports in a positive manner.

Especially basketball.

Think about it: Football is the rising tide that trickles down to all teams at a school, and when separation between the haves and have-nots continues to grow each year, a Group of Five program needs to do all it can to one day be included at the main table of riches.

I have no idea if UNLV would ever be seriously considered for membership in, say, the Pac-12.

But it can arguably make the best case of any West Coast school hoping for such inclusion.

A football program playing its home games in an NFL stadium and having its players work in the state-of-the-art Fertitta Football Complex suggests a commitment to becoming better.

So does continued improvement on the academic side of the ledger.

Hiring a big-name coach in football would be another major step in strengthening the assumption that you’re committed to making such a massive jump in conference and stature.

Reed-Francois needs to go for broke with this hire.

It would show UNLV cares, that football is important to its future.

Kansas can stink at football and be great in basketball and it doesn’t matter, because it’s still going to receive near $40 million in Big 12 revenue annually.

As a Mountain West school, UNLV gets a little over $1 million.

Ohio State can be down $500,000 at the gate for football and merely shrug. Whatever.

UNLV is down that much in anything and it’s a major problem.

Power Five schools make most of their money off TV and bowl games, followed by donations and ticket sales.

A school such as UNLV counts far more on the latter, on putting actual butts in seats.

Basketball at UNLV hasn’t been good in some time, and nothing so far this season suggests much has changed, the Rebels 3-5 and having lost to some teams of which the school names on the front of jerseys were far more impressive than the players wearing them.

But while more talent might over time improve Otzelberger’s goal of returning the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament, winning in football also would add indirect benefits.

Continuing to lose only trickles down bad news about things like budgets.

Big-name interest?

Hey, you hear big names for the UNLV football job.

Jim Mora. Jay Gruden. Mike Stoops.

Rod Woodson (?).

You hear about different levels of interest. Some would be obvious to consider.

Some (?) would be enormous risks.

But for many reasons, the path should conclude with a big-name hire. Show you care. Show you’re serious not only about the present but also what the future might deliver in terms of becoming a Power Five school.

It might be a 1 percent chance of happening.

It might be much more.

But it’s UNLV football.

What does it have to lose?

It could end up helping all other programs as the tide potentially rises, especially the team that struggled like crazy to put away … Jackson State?

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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