Hauck under undeniable pressure to win

There might not be any bigger hermits in college athletics than head football coaches, secluded from society in dark film rooms and often absent from social events that don’t include glad-handing those boosters with deep pockets.

A coach’s focus is mostly on the here, now and how best to succeed on third down.

This is a particularly important role for Bobby Hauck as the coming season approaches. If his seat indeed is hotter than the temperatures under which his UNLV team often competes, fretting about things he neither can control nor change would be counterproductive in the pursuit of more wins.

The athletic director (Jim Livengood) who hired Hauck to rebuild the Rebels has been fired and replaced with another (Tina Kunzer-Murphy) who, for the time being, carries an interim tag.

His team is picked fifth in the six-team West Division of the Mountain West, predicted by local bookmakers to flirt with an over-under of 3½ victories.

He has coached UNLV for three seasons and has six wins opposite 32 losses to show for it.

The Rebels have yet to win a road game under Hauck.

Imagine those storms that passed through the valley over the past week. They have nothing on the underlining and yet undeniable pressure on Hauck to show vast improvement this year in the only category that matters.

“I’ve never worried about any of that stuff and shouldn’t, because it’s distracting and unproductive,” Hauck said. “You come up for air at the end of a season and see where you are. Obviously, we hope that everyone who pays attention this season will look back at the end and say, ‘Boy, UNLV had a pretty good year.’

“Our guys have taken their lumps. In this day and age, nobody cares that we have to this point played a lot of young guys, and that’s OK, too. But we have a pretty good football team.”

If he uses the word young to describe any portion of UNLV’s team this season, those media members present should be afforded five consecutive minutes of laughter. UNLV has the most starters returning of any team in the nation. More than anyone.

That can be a good thing if those players who suffered through the growing pains of winning just two games in each of the past three seasons have improved enough to compete at a higher level. It can be a bad thing if what we have seen from their talent level thus far is more reality than not.

The schedule offers seven home games as opposed to five away from Sam Boyd Stadium, a positive percentage for a coach whose team has treated the road as a never-ending horror flick.

The Rebels had every chance to win all seven games in Las Vegas last year but managed only two victories because they resembled what has become Tiger Woods at a major on Sunday.

Couldn’t finish.

Couldn’t make a play when one was needed most.

“Our guys have put their time in, continued to have good offseasons, and learned,” Hauck said. “When you’re good enough, you win. I think everyone knows what the expectation is, for sure. But it’s also understanding how you get there. Guys have to be motivated to be good as a team and individuals, and I think we have that. Part of it is growing up. Our guys want to be good.”

He won’t put a specific number on the wins he believes will allow him to continue as coach, and that’s a smart approach. Hauck will say only that UNLV’s primary goal is to compete in the program’s first bowl game in 13 years.

That likely would mean winning at least six games, which is difficult to find glancing at UNLV’s schedule.

But four and maybe five aren’t.

You would hope such progress would convince whoever is sitting in the athletic director’s chair come December that a fifth year for Hauck would be warranted.

Progress should be evaluated differently from one program to the next, and the idea that a coaching change would deliver more good than bad should UNLV fall just short of reaching a bowl this year is a shortsighted view of what has been a long-term rebuilding project.

You could sell a minimum of four wins with as many players as Hauck would return in 2014. You could sell that sort of potential for a fifth season. People who understand what Hauck inherited should buy into that level of progress.

Anything short of it would, well, turn Hauck’s seat from hot to a blazing inferno he likely couldn’t survive.

“My first three years as head coach at (Montana), I had three different athletic directors,” Hauck said. “I’m not as worried about that and more concerned with winning games. My vision is not clouded by what I want as opposed to what I see.”

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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