There is a big problem with this theory about Bobby Hauck building his UNLV football program in the same manner Brady Hoke has at San Diego State: It doesn’t make sense.
Not when it comes to how the Rebels hope to one day win on the scoreboard. Credit to Hoke. The team that at times made the Rebels appear more junior college than Division I on Saturday night has in only two seasons under its coach been transformed from one of the worst outfits in the country to one with eight wins and making bowl plans.
The Aztecs rolled UNLV 48-14 at Qualcomm Stadium, meaning only one game remains in Hauck’s first season of trying to resuscitate the flat-lined Rebels, a date at Hawaii that almost assuredly will end with the team’s 11th defeat against two wins.
There is a reason Hoke is being mentioned as a candidate for head coaching jobs at many major programs. The first thing he did upon inheriting a 2-10 mess at San Diego State was assemble one of — if not the best — coaching staffs in the Mountain West Conference, with coordinators (Al Borges and Rocky Long) among the finest in college football.
Hoke’s staff then did what so many coaches in San Diego State history haven’t — taken the type of skill that usually makes its way to playing on Sundays and coach it into a winning program.
San Diego State has always had great individual playmakers. It finally has a group of coaches who get more than gaudy statistics out of them. There is a purpose to what the Aztecs do now, the kind UNLV hopes to one day know under Hauck.
Hoke inherited the majority of players who ran over UNLV, including a quarterback (junior Ryan Lindley) who could one day wear an NFL uniform and two receivers (seniors DeMarco Sampson and Vincent Brown) who definitely will.
Hauck didn’t inherit near the same level of talent at UNLV, and it’s anyone’s guess whether his staff is close to the caliber of that working under Hoke.
Those are questions to be answered after a few more recruiting seasons and by watching what UNLV does with those who sign. It’s a process, and if you watched the difference in teams Saturday, you realize there is no quick-fix in UNLV’s future.
Here’s the thing: Hauck is trying to build an offense based on more power than flash, of moving away from the spread attack and recruiting to a more traditional look.
That’s going to take longer than if he had players such as Lindley, Sampson and Brown playing catch-and-run against the type of overmatched defensive backfield UNLV offered. The Aztecs under Borges also offer their share of power — Ronnie Hillman is now the all-time leading freshman rusher in conference history, and the Aztecs ran for 250 yards against UNLV– but until proven otherwise, Hauck isn’t trying to create a winner in the same manner.
“They’re not a lot different from what we do in terms of stuff,” Hauck said. “They do it better, I guarantee that. Al and Rocky are great coordinators. Brady and his staff are awfully good at what they do. Shoot, good for them. They have a good team and have done a nice job.”
One thing Hauck could and should mimic when it comes to how Hoke took a team that in coach Chuck Long’s final season allowed 63 points to New Mexico to one that this season won the program’s most games since 1996 is this: Be singular in message.
Those closest to San Diego State’s program insist Hoke’s greatest strength has been his ability to establish an environment of toughness that might rival any other conference team. There is no division in the locker room, no mixed signals relayed, no voice that speaks on behalf of San Diego State football other than Hoke.
Hauck has done a good job of the latter — he does most of the talking, and while he purposefully doesn’t offer much substance, it’s no secret who’s in charge.
But singularity in message also means unity within the ranks, which also means UNLV has to move away from things such as one of its best offensive players (Phillip Payne) getting suspended for two games for tweeting negative remarks about the program and coaches.
Toughness is also an issue. You need it to be good. You can’t win on the road without it. The Rebels are 0-6 away from Las Vegas and have been outscored by a combined 263-58 in those games.
There is no mental toughness to stay and fight when things go bad early. It’s almost impossible to be 263-58 bad.
“(San Diego State) has good players on offense,” Hauck said. “The running back is for real. The quarterback is for real. They’ve got good receivers. They are maybe the best in our league. They’ve done a great job here.”
Bobby Hauck didn’t walk into the same situation as Brady Hoke, but he still dreams of taking a similar path to respectability. It probably won’t happen as fast and probably not in the same manner.
Hawaii and 2-11 awaits.
Mercifully, the end is in sight.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday and Thursday on “Monsters of the Midday,” Fox Sports Radio 920 AM.Aztecs 48, Rebels 14