Rebels football finally catches glimpse of hope

Do you know what hope looks like?

It is a few hundred people crowded in a board room days from Christmas with smiles wider than a child awaking to discover what Santa Claus left.

It is a group of faithful college football fans hanging on every word and nodding with every vision offered by their new head coach.

Bobby Hauck is their hope today.

Hope that things will be different, that theirs no longer will be a losing program in a city mostly uninterested by its existence, that at a basketball school, football finally will own a legitimate place in the minds of those who follow UNLV athletics.

“We are starving for a winner,” said Steve Stallworth, a former Rebels quarterback and now South Point Arena’s general manager. “You look in (Hauck’s) eyes, and he’s a football coach — a down-and-dirty, tough, strong, attitude, energetic, passionate football coach. If he were a basketball player, we’d call him a gym rat.

“Right now, we’re all undefeated. But I really believe he is going to take the kids we have and get a little something more out of them and then bring in kids with a little edge and attitude who are really going to compete.”

Attitude. It was a word mentioned often by many before and after Hauck was introduced as the man who would replace Mike Sanford.

It also is a quality UNLV’s program has lacked for years.

Jeff Horton was a nice man. So was John Robinson. So was Sanford. But teams have a way of reflecting their coach’s personality, and you can make an argument that nine straight nonwinning seasons has had something to do with UNLV needing more of that edge Stallworth mentions.

Hauck has it, and given I might need to see an orthopedist after shaking the guy’s hand Wednesday, my guess is his UNLV teams also will. His teams at Montana, which went 80-17 and reached three national championship games in seven seasons under Hauck, had it.

You have to know where the line is as a coach. How far you can push young men before what is meant as motivation to extract from them a maximum effort becomes a negative reaction. How hard you can drive them before they go from playing their guts out for you to not playing at all for you.

UNLV players weren’t pushed hard enough during the week in recent years, and it showed on Saturday. Hauck will push them plenty. It’s football, for heaven’s sake.

“When you have core values in your program — mental and physical toughness, work ethic, attention to detail, character in the locker room and on the team — then the wins will come,” Hauck said. “Being seen as (the hope of many) is a good thing, and as far as it involves UNLV football, that falls on my shoulders now. People here are anxious for us to get to work and build a team. They are just waiting for a reason to be excited.”

The message is all we have to go on today, more for its meaning than delivery. Hauck won on both counts Wednesday.

He did not promise immediate conference championships but did promise his team would work to improve daily. He did not make the mistake of predicting instant bowl games and Top 25 rankings but did pledge to “go to the ends of the earth to find a player and spend every waking hour preparing to play.” He did not talk in pipe dreams but rather in basic principles for building a program.

He did not complain about facilities but instead said it was on him to help raise money for improving them. He spoke of being a week-to-week coach, of not thinking beyond the immediacy of how much work this will take. He wants to win championships. He believes it will happen. He just doesn’t feel a need to talk about it.

“It’s not appropriate because no one knows how long it will take,” Hauck said. “I’m focused on recruiting and then spring practice, then (the season opener against) Wisconsin. I’m a big believer in focusing on what we have and not what we don’t have, and what we have here is a great opportunity.”

This is Hauck for UNLV today: All upside and potential, and yet there is no way of knowing whether the Rebels just hired the next Jim Tressel or Joe Glenn, the latter of which went 39-6 and won a national title at Montana before fizzling to a 30-41 record at Wyoming and getting fired after six seasons.

But the message was strong and on point Wednesday.

The board room was packed with wide grins and nodding heads.

Do you know what hope looks like for UNLV football fans today?

Bobby Hauck does.

He sees it in the mirror each day.

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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