Hauck: No place like on-campus home

Bobby Hauck didn’t immediately return a phone call this past weekend.

"Sorry," he said. "But you’re not 17 and you can’t rush the passer."

I take offense. The man has never timed me going from a bucket to the circle when a 10-year-old softball pitcher has lost the zip on her fastball.

Hauck these days is spending every waking moment pursuing those who might one day change the fortunes of UNLV football. He is on mile 24 of the most important marathon a coach runs each year, as months and weeks have dwindled to days and hours in the recruiting season.

Here comes the first Wednesday in February, when everyone from Alabama to Western Michigan and all Division I football stops in between act as if they just signed the Heisman Trophy winner and enough talent to guarantee Bowl Championship Series glory.

This time arrives each year and people perceive the number of stars attached to a kid’s resume more important than good ol’ Galileo did the Milky Way when first peering through his newly designed thingamajig.

But while players ultimately decide how good a team will be over time, other factors play major roles in shaping a program’s fortunes or, in the case of UNLV lately, misfortunes.

Take, for instance, facilities.

The interview process Hauck underwent when pursuing the UNLV job didn’t include much banter on where the Rebels play now and might in the future. Hauck took the coaching position knowing Sam Boyd Stadium was where his team would host games, that in the life of a college student, traveling seven miles to support any team is often considered more traumatic than a shortage of beer at a fraternity party.

"In the back of my mind when going through the (interview process) and thinking about the long-term health of the program, I knew how huge it would be to have an on-campus facility," Hauck said. "We didn’t discuss it much at all, but something like that can take your program to another level. It could be the best thing to ever happen for us.

"I like Sam Boyd Stadium. It hasn’t been a detriment to us in recruiting. But having a stadium on your campus lends yourself to big-time college football. It makes that Saturday experience all the better for everyone involved."

Hauck didn’t have much to be excited about his first season — 2-11 records offer few chances to smile. But now comes news of a proposed 40,000-seat domed stadium and entertainment complex that would be built on and around campus grounds.

University officials are in talks with business associates Ed Roski and Craig Cavileer to form a public-private partnership, and it’s no surprise that the public part of that statement has many concerned, because any hint of a facility being paid in part via a new tax district or other public means is akin today to telling a Bears fan that Jay Cutler’s knee was 100 percent all along.

They are numbers for politicians and university presidents to haggle over. None of it diminishes how valuable an on-campus stadium would be for a football team with the identity right now of an overseas telemarketer.

A new stadium isn’t going to score the touchdown or make the tackle that wins UNLV a conference championship or secures a bowl bid, but it could help land the players who do.

It’s not that Hauck hides Sam Boyd Stadium from recruits, but it’s not the first (or perhaps fifth) thing they are shown during a 48-hour visit. It’s just another stop of a tour of the city and some of its main attractions, and yet where a young man could potentially play the next four years should be more than that.

You can’t fake big time. UNLV hasn’t been good in football in what more and more seems like forever and its fan base predictably shrinks each season as the losses pile.

I attended a commuter school where the football stadium, an NFL venue, sat one freeway exit from campus. You would have thought it was in a different state when it came to generating student interest.

Bottom line: It’s true winning solves most issues when it comes to sagging attendance, but you can’t overstate the value of what an on-campus stadium could mean to UNLV.

"It’s not that we can’t manufacture a big-time atmosphere without one, but anything you can do to enhance the attractiveness of your program helps," Hauck said. "Having one is a big deal. It improves campus life across the board. It would be monumental for our program and university.

"Obviously, I hope it happens."

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday and Thursday on "Monsters of the Midday," FOX Sports Radio 920 AM.

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