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Ex-UNLV, Gorman coach Tony Sanchez returns to his roots

With an all-time winning percentage of .390, UNLV ranks 123rd among the NCAA’s 131 top-level football programs — just eight spots ahead of No. 131, New Mexico State, the caboose at .328.

So if one were to move on from coaching football at UNLV to doing it at New Mexico State, it would be like going from the outhouse to … well, another outhouse, only farther into the woods.

Tony Sanchez doesn’t look at it that way. He looks at it as going home.

The former Bishop Gorman and UNLV coach spent this season as an assistant at Texas Christian, which once was close to being a penthouse program under Gary Patterson. But when Patterson resigned in October, Sanchez followed Jerry Kill to New Mexico State, where Sanchez was a wide receiver.

Kill, Patterson’s “special assistant” at TCU, is renowned for turning around moribund programs such as Northern Illinois and Minnesota. Sanchez believes Kill also is the right guy for the difficult job in Las Cruces.

“TCU was such a great experience. Coach Kill kind of ran the offense, and I spent the whole year working with him,” Sanchez said about spending part of his holidays trekking to the Mesilla Valley in southern New Mexico, where he will coach wide receivers. “He just so happened to get the job at the school where I played.”

New Mexico State’s abject futility notwithstanding, the Aggies are only four years removed from a 26-20 victory over Utah State of the Mountain West in the Arizona Bowl. It was their first bowl game appearance in 57 seasons.

“The hardest thing is they’ve been an independent,” said Sanchez, who compiled a 20-40 record at UNLV after leaving the juggernaut he built at Gorman and coming closer than most to making the Rebels competitive on and off the field with additions such as a football training complex.

“They went to the bowl game and all of that, but how you survive as an independent, I have no idea.”

New Mexico State will endure one more season as an independent before joining evolving Conference USA in 2023. That will make scheduling easier and provide new revenue streams for things such as decent wages for assistants, Sanchez said.

“We’ve got a handful of (coaches) who have a variety of experience, and all of us will walk in having had some success and having gotten knocked on our (rear) and gotten back up,” he said about having to climb another mountain. “We totally get the situation we’re in and are excited about the challenge.”

Around the horn

— Patrick Harden, a former UNLV standout offensive lineman whose blocking helped Ickey Woods earn an NCAA rushing title, has died in California. His life will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Jan. 22 at the Love and Unity Christian Fellowship in Compton, California.

“He was a great teammate, friend and family man who became a minister,” said South Point Arena director and former Rebels teammate Steve Stallworth. “The Big Man upstairs just got a great left tackle for his dream team.”

— Kelze Howard, a defensive lineman at Spring Valley High, is this week’s recipient of the NFL’s Way to Play high school award.

Howard was feted for using his hands to shed blockers and displaying proper tacking technique (i.e., not using his helmet) in making a quarterback sack. Spring Valley will receive a $1,500 equipment grant in Howard’s name.

— Despite being hindered by COVID restrictions, Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the seventh time since 2013 was named Speedway of the Year among the eight Speedway Motorsports-owned NASCAR tracks.

“General manager Chris Powell and his entire staff deserve this special recognition not only for their performance under challenging circumstances but for showing the ability to accomplish so much more than what was expected or anticipated,” Speedway Motorsports president Marcus Smith said in a statement.

0:01

UNLV football information director Mark Wallington, on the return of the Allstate Mayhem guy to college football commercials:

“So Mayhem is back in Allstate ads in ’22. Did he opt out last season?”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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