Updated March 14, 2019 - 9:50 pm
Here we are again — what, has it been 10 minutes, a season, three? — and UNLV’s basketball program is apparently at another crossroads with its coaching position.
The second season (OK, third officially) under Marvin Menzies ended Thursday with a 63-55 loss to San Diego State in a Mountain West Tournament quarterfinal before an announced gathering of 7,309 at Thomas & Mack Center, and so now the waiting begins for what athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois will do and the reasoning behind it.
Some truth: She in no way could sell a change based on coaching performance. None. I mean, she could try to sell it. No one in the room would believe her. No one who knows basketball.
I’m not even sure she could say it with a straight face.
Not with what Menzies inherited (nothing) when hired.
The Rebels won 11 conference games this season for the first time in eight years and under Menzies have improved in the league from 11th to a tie for seventh place to a tie for fourth. They did so this season with their best returning player, Shakur Juiston, lost to injury in early December.
It would reason, then, that should Reed-Francois move on from the current staff, she would point most to the dark cloud of apathy and thousands of empty seats that now define home games and the city’s lack of appetite for UNLV basketball.
More truth: Anyone not named Gonzaga or in a Power Five conference or the Big East is a midmajor program in the current college landscape.
So when you don’t have the revenue streams of major programs — when you’re receiving about $1.2 million in conference money annually as opposed to the $40 million of others — and you’re not hitting ticket projections for a season, attendance becomes incredibly important.
But this is where Reed-Francois needs to take a hard look in the mirror as the leader of athletics.
Is the drop in attendance strictly based on the team’s record under Menzies?
Is it coaching? Is it style of play?
Is it the town’s love affair with the Golden Knights?
Or, more plausibly, did that forgettable coaching search that ended with Menzies getting the job enrage fans to the point that they got out of the habit of supporting the Rebels? She wasn’t here for it, but it’s her ship to steer now.
Is the program still feeling the negative effects?
(Um, the correct answer is yes.)
AD needs to do more
Reed-Francois might fire Menzies based on the attendance, but his culpability in that area is ridiculously small.
Yes, winning helps. Yes, he can do a better job. Yes, he has recruited some kids who can’t play at this level and who need to find better fits elsewhere. Yes, he would need to sign a higher level of talent. Like, now.
Yes, UNLV needs to play a much tougher nonconference schedule.
And, yes, Reed-Francois needs to improve what has been over the years a disastrous marketing plan at UNLV.
She has tried implementing some packages to draw fans. She has made an effort. She needs to do a lot more. Her marketing folks really need to do a lot more.
Do whatever you must to put butts in seats. Nothing is too dramatic. Free isn’t too dramatic. The first charge must be to get people in the building.
Even more truth: If she has already decided to make a change or is leaning that way, one news conference saying goodbye to a coach better be followed the same week introducing her new one.
She can’t possibly make a move without having someone in place to take over.
Not after the last search. Not after that buffoonery.
If she doesn’t have a lockdown coach committed to the job that she truly believes is a big upgrade (a lateral move can’t be made), then she needs to take a breath here.
Who does she get?
She won’t pursue, for legitimate reasons, the one person who would assuredly win right away and pack the arena.
She won’t go down the road of Rick Pitino.
I don’t care for lists of potential candidates. They’re made for wannabe journalists on social media. I just know nobody buys a ticket to watch some guy walk up and down a sideline calling out plays.
If not Pitino, no new coach would immediately draw huge crowds. Not before winning big.
How much, also, would she risk yet another mass exodus of players by firing Menzies?
There are so many tentacles to this. Some of it has to do with Menzies. A lot has to do with Reed-Francois and her own future.
UNLV has lost 15 of its past 16 games against San Diego State.
During that time, the Aztecs have had two coaches, and one, Steve Fisher, led them for 18 years. It’s still basically the same staff, for goodness sake.
The Rebels have had eight coaches — nine if you count Chris Beard — in that span.
It might be done. She might have already decided to fire Menzies.
But if so, know this: UNLV basketball still has a ton of problems, and yet the current coach is far from the biggest one.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at email@example.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.