Mike Sanford was not a college football head coach.
There is nothing wrong with that. I’m not expecting a call from Hanes any time soon to stand as its next underwear model.
We all have our strengths and weaknesses.
Sanford was an accomplished offensive coordinator at Utah and had favorable reviews as a position coach in the NFL. These are levels at which he can attain the most success in his profession. But for five seasons at UNLV, being the guy in charge didn’t prove a beneficial formula for anyone.
It’s official now. Five seasons. Five losing records. Zero bowl games.
Change has occurred.
Sanford will coach his final game for the Rebels on Nov. 28, following the school’s announcement Sunday night that his contract will be terminated Dec. 5.
They had to say something now. Otherwise, every question directed at Sanford and the team these next two weeks would have pertained to the coach’s lame-duck status. Time would have limped along like sitting through 13 consecutive showings of “War and Peace.”
I wasn’t here when Sanford was named head coach in late 2004, but from afar (or as far as San Diego can be considered), the move made more sense than not.
UNLV football is a tough job, tough to recruit to, tough to assemble a quality staff given the financial limitations on salaries, tough to win in a climate that just doesn’t pay coaches on a Bowl Championship Series level.
(More on that in the coming days, because if UNLV can’t somehow raise enough funds to hire a competent coach and staff this time around, I might as well table this column and run it again in five years with only the names changed. You either give yourself a chance to be good and find the money, or continue to stink and pay for below-average coaches. Choose one.)
In hiring Sanford, former athletic director Mike Hamrick plucked from an unbeaten team and original BCS buster the coordinator who directed an offense that ranked third nationally while averaging 43.3 points.
I never thought much of Hamrick as AD. The man had the people skills of a monk. But anyone who now says hiring Sanford was incorrect at the time doesn’t understand the landscape of UNLV football or doesn’t want to admit they, like most everyone, were wrong.
The hire was the correct one in 2004.
It just turned out terribly wrong, is all. It happens.
It has been a popular stance that UNLV’s difficulty under Sanford proves then-Utah coach Urban Meyer had more to do with the Utes’ offensive success than anyone. Perhaps. Only those who lived inside the walls of Utah’s program know for sure.
None of that matters now, and neither do the bold and somewhat misguided proclamations Sanford made at his introductory news conference, the ones about immediately contending for league championships and bowl games and Top 25 rankings.
Too much was made of that, anyway. What was he supposed to say to a local college football fan base that can annually be described as lukewarm — that he wasn’t sure the Rebels could win, and that it might be four or five years before they could challenge for a bowl? Yeah, that would have sold season tickets by the bunches.
Sanford’s biggest problems came on the field. He went through three defensive coordinators, and not because he hired such skilled and capable people that other programs stole them away. Hardly.
It is amazing how poor defensively UNLV remained under Sanford, no matter who was in charge of that side. His offense was productive for stretches and yet far too inconsistent over five years, especially this season, when you would have thought it would be at its best.
They never ran the ball well enough, never had a 1,000-yard rusher (and not because there was a stable of great backs sharing carries), and Sanford’s switching of quarterbacks during games the last few seasons seemed more bizarre than sensible.
His offensive lines were nothing to brag about. The Rebels somehow lost track of the most productive wide receiver (Ryan Wolfe) is school history too much this year, and a sophomore wideout (Phillip Payne) who was dynamic as a freshman disappeared most weeks.
They never came close to tackling well under Sanford. They weren’t physical enough. They were just so confused defensively most of the time, you sort of felt sorry for them being so out of position when trying to stop others. They didn’t have a clue far too many nights.
Look. It comes to this: You can’t successfully explain away an overall record of 15-43 and a Mountain West Conference mark of 7-32, with only one league road win in five years. It’s impossible.
Sanford didn’t recruit well enough, certainly didn’t coach well enough and never had a good enough staff to overcome both truths.
I’ll say it again. Mike Sanford is a really nice guy. A really good man. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as an assistant in college or the NFL next season.
But he is not a college football head coach. Never was.
I am also not expecting a call from Hanes.
It’s life. It’s nobody’s fault.
We all have our weaknesses.
Nearly five years and five losing seasons later, change has occurred at the top of UNLV football.
It was time. It had to be done.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.