Sanchez, Rebels spoiling for fight

Tony Sanchez delivers a lot of messages. He’s a courier with a whistle, a columnist’s dream for notebook material, a guy who talks about eating elephants one bite at a time and walking into an alley to rumble.

He doesn’t seem the type to make excuses, and appears big on loyalty.

He might know which nonconference opponents await UNLV football in 2016 and ’17 and ’18 and beyond, but you won’t hear him talking about it. It’s not his sort of message.

“One of the biggest things when I first walked into the room with the players was that we weren’t going to talk about a four- to five- year plan,” Sanchez said. “I wanted to ensure our seniors that we’re going to do everything we can to help them win right now.

“It’s easy to say no one expects much and we have a tough schedule and we’ll just take some things on the chin and build for the future, but that’s the last thing I want to hear as a senior or if I’m being asked to buy season tickets and sit in the stands. I understand it. I just don’t want to hear it.

“We’re going to have to push some of these guys. We’re going to find out real quick about our kids and how tough they are, and all I want to see is them dig in and fight. You can’t be afraid to walk into the alley when you have been called out. So let’s go fight.”

His first spring practice as UNLV’s head coach has concluded and Sanchez now begins to prepare for a 2015 season, where his Rebels will enter most weeks as decided underdogs and an opening slate of games best described as overly challenging awaits.

At Northern Illinois.

Vs. UCLA.

At Michigan.

Welcome to college football, Coach.

It’s a pretty big elephant.

On the face of it, you would surmise that while coaching Bishop Gorman High the past six years, Sanchez rarely needed to adjust much during games, that because the Gaels almost always owned a substantial edge in talent each week, lining up and snapping the ball usually was enough.

Sanchez doesn’t remember things occurring so effortlessly.

He remembers Booker T. Washington from Miami in 2013.

His teams at Gorman spent the nonleague portion of a season engaging other nationally ranked sides, and there were actually weeks when he looked at film and knew the Gaels couldn’t match up in a specific area. Booker T. Washington had 17 Division I prospects that October evening, while the Gaels had a mere handful. Bishop Gorman lost 28-12, but it was a two-point game with four minutes remaining.

Sanchez had adjusted, going conservative offensively to give his team a chance in the fourth quarter. Sometimes, as he did in beating then-No. 1 ranked St. John Bosco 34-31 last year, he did so to protect an early lead.

He did whatever was needed to win.

That mindset won’t change at UNLV, but to start it will be dictated mostly by a lack of talent and depth and experience. Somehow, Sanchez and his staff need to discover how best to compete.

“We have to find that fine line for us this year where between offense and defense and special teams we can go about winning football games,” Sanchez said. “I remember playing college ball and our offense was ranked third in the country and yet we only won four games. Do you know how many times you read about, ‘We’re ranked this on offense and this on defense.’ Who gives a (bleep).

“If we have to be conservative on offense or control the clock or kill it to sustain drives to help our defense, if we have to be more aggressive defensively, whatever it takes. We have to figure out what works best for us. You have to understand who you are going into any game.”

It’s one reason he hired the type of coaching staff UNLV now employs.

Sanchez certainly didn’t want a group of assistant coaches defined by youth, not with the mountainous task UNLV faces merely to be competitive within the Mountain West.

He wanted mature, veteran coaches whose egos weren’t such that they couldn’t visualize a big picture that might demand sacrifice on their part and from their position group. He wanted coaches he could lean on for insight and experience, who agreed with his belief that the team’s seniors deserve every chance at some success come fall.

“We’re chasing perfection,” Sanchez said. “Very few times in life do you get there, but that’s the goal. Chase perfection on a daily basis.”

That’s some message.

Best part is, he believes every word.

I have a feeling this guy would eat an elephant … while rumbling in the alley.

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 100.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney

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