Football hire can’t be bungled

Experiments can be dangerous. My son was 2 when he tried one at home, only to discover sticking a penny into an electrical outlet wasn’t as enjoyable as watching "Barney." To this day, nine years later, the kid lives in a perpetual state of bed hair.

They can also be costly. The experiment that was Mike Sanford and UNLV football comes to mind. That one was more fizz than jolt, Sanford’s alibi being that the university didn’t provide him with one of those shiny new pennies with Lincoln reading on a log, but rather a bunch of those 1943 silver doodads.

It’s an experiment the Rebels shouldn’t repeat now. It’s one they can’t afford.

The man who will hire UNLV’s next football coach could be introduced today, and from a group of three — Bill Moos, Jim Livengood and John Johnson — will hopefully surface an opinion that the search should not reach beyond those with head coaching experience.

The finalists for athletic director spoke before campus groups the past several days and all said the right things when asked about the football program and who should next run it, meaning this is not a time to gamble on a coordinator.

Let’s hope they mean it.

There has been far too much bed hair around the program, and not much of anything resembling a defense.

This isn’t meant to discredit those coaches around the country running offensive and defensive schemes with dreams of running their own program. Most great head coaches at one time or another strictly oversaw one side of the ball.

It’s the natural progression of things, like falling in love once you discover your lifetime partner or a golfing icon’s incredible fall from grace beginning with 13 (and counting) mistresses and now having his name associated with the letters HGH.

But UNLV can’t survive another coach who needs on-the-job training. It needs someone who knows how to run a program from the moment he walks into the Lied Athletic Complex and enters what I’m sure he will publicly state are stunning locker rooms at Sam Boyd Stadium.

It won’t guarantee success. It won’t instantly provide a conference championship or bowl berth. But it will bring steadiness to a rocking vessel that last knew a winning season in 2000.

The good part: There are capable people ready to take the job today.

They are names most have floated since Sanford’s dismissal because they make the most sense. The new athletic director needn’t make things hard on himself. If he gets past the three listed below, something is amiss. If there isn’t a head coach hired within the next week, someone hasn’t been paying attention or doing his homework.

Any of these three would be an immediate upgrade. Any would immediately make UNLV football better.

Dennis Franchione: He knows the Mountain West Conference landscape, having been head coach at New Mexico for six years. He knows the league’s best team, having been head coach at Texas Christian for three. He knows what’s it like to coach one of the more storied programs in history, having led Alabama for two years. He knows the big-time atmosphere of the Big 12, having coached Texas A&M for five more. He has the name, the resume, the desire.

Bobby Hauck: He will coach Montana on Friday in a third national championship game since 2003 at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. The Grizzlies have won 12 straight conference titles, the last seven under Hauck. He understands West Coast recruiting circles well, having held assistant roles at programs such as UCLA, Colorado and Washington. His record in Missoula: 80-16. He probably can’t make the jump from I-AA and have the kind of success Jim Tressel has, but I’m pretty sure he could figure out a way to tackle Colin Kaepernick and win six games every now and then.

Dirk Koetter: He was head coach at Boise State for three years and Arizona State for six, reaching six bowls in all. He now serves as offensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Koetter’s most important move (and really that of the other two mentioned) would be identifying the correct defensive coordinator. As for the offense, Koetter would do just fine.

All three come with baggage of different levels, but find me a coach without any who has been around the game for any period of time and I’ll thank you for renting "Remember the Titans" on movie night.

On the day UNLV hired Sanford, the thought of landing an offensive coordinator from a BCS-bound program seemed the perfect move. It turned out not to be.

Franchione, Hauck or Koetter might also prove wrong. The future remains impossible to gauge. But today, in this moment, with UNLV football stuck in neutral, hiring someone with extensive head coaching experience is the only move the Rebels can make.

And any athletic director would be foolish not to realize as much, because isn’t one time of sticking a penny in the outlet enough?

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He also can be heard weeknights from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on "The Sports Scribes" on KDWN-AM (720) and www.kdwn.com.

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