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UNLV taking big chance by hiring young, unproven Marcus Arroyo

Updated December 11, 2019 - 6:34 pm

I had hoped that when Desiree Reed-Francois said she wanted to hire a ball coach, it meant the UNLV athletic director would be recruiting Steve Spurrier off some golf course.

Now, the odds of that ranked up there with a majority of UNLV fans having a clue about who Marcus Arroyo was before this whole football coaching search began, but it sure would have been a hoot having Spurrier around.

As it is, Reed-Francois, in naming Arroyo the program’s coach Wednesday, followed a similar pattern as when she hired T.J. Otzelberger to direct the men’s basketball team in March.

Only difference is, Otzelberger had head coaching experience and Arroyo doesn’t.

It’s what you get when you have a hiring philosophy that favors the unknown over more established names and accomplishments. In other words, the upside of a young coach such as the 39-year-old Arroyo might indeed prove plentiful over time, but the risk factor is absolutely more enhanced.

I don’t know if Arroyo is a win-now coach or win-ever coach.

Nobody does. He’s never been one.

Hires like those of Otzelberger and Arroyo either work out and an athletic director looks like a genius or they don’t and, well, then coaches aren’t the only ones looking for a new job.

Arroyo won’t move the needle much across Southern Nevada to start, and his name isn’t selling one ticket beyond close friends and family, but he also arrives having coordinated one of the more well-known offenses nationally at Oregon.

The latter will intrigue some recruits. Nothing says sexy in the eyes of young players like a certain swoosh plastered across all those neon green and yellow uniforms. A coach with Oregon on his resume will get a kid’s attention in 2019.

And, really, nothing else matters.

He won’t walk into the Fertitta Football Complex full of Oregon-level players and might never produce a roster with several players having such skill, but it’s imperative Arroyo continues to upgrade talent that can compete at a much higher level in the Mountain West than what UNLV has done.

Arroyo has experience in the conference, having played at San Jose State and coached with the Spartans and Wyoming, and that can’t hurt. It’s just not near the most important factor. Finding better players is.

But he also will inherit the best opportunity to win of any football coach in UNLV history, and it’s not close.

Facilities are now on par with all Group of Five programs and many from the Power Five, with former coach Tony Sanchez’s teams having excelled in the classroom and, while everything is relative when talking UNLV, his recruiting classes ranked among the highest in school history.

But now the latter has to be even better, meaning a coach who had the luxury of tutoring a first-round NFL prospect at quarterback (Justin Herbert) while on the Oregon staff of Mario Cristobal must prove he can recruit and win while being the guy in charge.

Oregon fans ‘relieved’

“(Arroyo) is going to need help with who he hires as a staff, so the salary pool for those spots will be critical,” said John Canzano, sports columnist for The Oregonian. “They’re definitely not getting Bill Walsh as a play-caller. Fans up here had grown frustrated that (Arroyo) never really took advantage of having a talent like (Herbert), who didn’t even make first- or second-team All-Pac 12 this year.

“A lot of Ducks fans will be relieved he’s leaving, if only to see if it was more him or him being handcuffed by (Cristobal) with the offense. I suspect it was both.

“I think (Arroyo) is a good recruiter. It’s an exciting time for UNLV with (Allegiant Stadium) opening. I think they swung pretty high getting him. He knows how things are done. He’ll be fine, but to thrive, he really needs the right staff.”

So there it is. Young. No head coaching experience. Been at a lot of places for someone not yet 40.

And now in charge of trying to do something at UNLV that nobody has done consistently in 30 years.

Welcome to the Marcus Arroyo Era.

Let’s see what kind of a (head) ball coach he is.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.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.

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