Crime does not pay, but sometimes it will help get the laundry done.
The start of fall football practice at UNLV always reminds Terry Cottle of the nine years that inmates at Ely State Prison made it possible for Rebels training camp to go mobile. And they say politics makes strange bedfellows.
Before he joined the College of Southern Nevada as an athletics coordinator and fundraiser, Cottle was a fixture in the UNLV football office. As director of operations, it was his responsibility to make arrangements when former coaches Mike Sanford and Bobby Hauck thought it would be better to move two-a-days to a place cooler than Las Vegas in August.
Which would be anywhere but the equator and Palm Springs.
It was decided that Ely, with its pine trees and average August temperature of 84 degrees, would be a good place to set up the blocking sleds so the Rebels could bond and develop esprit de corps before losing to Southern Utah and Northern Arizona.
But Cottle said the Rebels might not have toasted a single marshmallow around the campfire were it not for Nevada’s most notorious penitentiary.
A priority of training camp is keeping the players’ practice gear smelling April fresh in August. The Ely Soak-N-Suds said it couldn’t handle the demand. So a call was placed to Warden Brubaker (or similar) at the maximum-security holding pen north of the sleepy little town with a population of 4,255 law-abiding citizens, and about 1,125 who could take the law or leave it.
“If they weren’t there, we might not have been able to go up there,” Cottle said. “There were a couple of little laundromats (in town), but you needed the industrial stuff.”
In addition to the Mean Machines at the correctional center, Cottle said, “there was quite a bit of laundry expertise within the prison walls.”
After a background check on longtime equipment manager Paul Pucciarelli revealed he was only armed with a kicking tee and not considered dangerous or a flight risk, identifying markings were put on the Rebels’ equipment trucks. Once inside, one also had to be aware of the threat posed by Miami Hurricanes assistants on recruiting trips.
“When you go in there, that’s the worst of the worst (prisoners),” Cottle said. “Those guys aren’t getting out. So needless to say, security was tight. You drove in the gate, the gates closed. They had the dogs come out and brought out the wands. It was top level (security).”
The state pen is nine miles north of Ely, a barbed-wire fortress in the middle of nowhere — or at least unincorporated White Pine County, which is pretty much the same thing. Cottle said it wasn’t like a guy who went over the wall was going to go unnoticed.
“The easier way out might have been in one of Pooch’s trucks,” he said.
When the story about Ely prison was shared with former Rebels coach Harvey Hyde, whose teams were known for administering a personal foul when the situation called for one or several, the reaction was almost predictable.
“I would have liked to practice there,” Hyde said about the prison yard. But barring that and in all seriousness, he felt his teams were better served putting on pads in the summer swelter instead of the cool pines.
“We wanted everybody to realize if we practice in the heat, we’re gonna be in better shape than (our opponents), because when we go to their place to play at higher altitudes and in colder weather, then they would have the advantage,” Hyde said from a boat on Long Beach Harbor.
A boat on Long Beach Harbor? It would seem the Rebels’ ol’ ball coach has mellowed.
There’s still a bit of Junction Boys mentality to sending a football team away to train in seclusion, though the days when Bear Bryant drilled his players without mercy or a drink of water under the guise of building character have thankfully gone the way of leather helmets.
But because the cost difference between training in Ely and doing it at home was almost negligible, Cottle thought two-a-days among the pines with limited distractions made much more sense than some of Sanford’s and Hauck’s fake field-goal attempts.
“Wasn’t there a brothel within walking distance of the practice field?” an inquiring mind wanted to know.
“I have no idea,” Terry Cottle said. “But I heard there were two.”
Be on the lookout
Notable inmates with a sporting past who were incarcerated at maximum security Ely State Prison, where UNLV laundered practice uniforms during football training camp:
— War Machine: The former MMA star is serving a life sentence related to an assault on his ex-girlfriend, porn star Christy Mack.
— David Casper: The adopted son of PGA great Billy Casper was serving a sentence for armed robbery before being transferred after multiple escape attempts.
— Ike Ibeabuchi: The former heavyweight boxing contender was released from custody in 2015 after being convicted of battery and sexual assault.
Source: Nevada Inmate Tracking Information System