With Vitale backing his candidacy, Theus didn’t stand a chance

Any reservations UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood might have about hiring Dave Rice as his new basketball coach instead of, say, Reggie Theus, should have been alleviated Sunday afternoon, provided he follows Dick Vitale on Twitter.

Nothing against a sharp young guy David Rice but I thought REGGIE THEUS WAS THE MOST NATURAL CHOICE 4 the UNLV JOB!

That’s what Dickie V. wrote. This is where it should be noted there were 67 games played in the NCAA Tournament, and Vitale had the wrong side winning in approximately 66 of them. Having picked against Butler the entire way, he finally got one right.

But it also should be noted that a lot of UNLV fans, and people with a lot of money, share his view.

Rice or Theus? Theus or Rice? Fans began to choose sides, began to put a "vs." between their names on message boards, on Twitter, in bathroom stalls with magic marker, if you cared to look there.

That’s unfortunate. That’s Rebel on Rebel crime.

A lot of people blame this vitriol on Jim Livengood’s dog and pony show. That’s how his "thorough" coaching "search" was characterized. Then the dog and pony show became a circus. A two-ring circus. Rice or Theus? Theus or Rice?

Livengood tried to make it a four-ring circus. He brought in Ernie Kent, the former Oregon coach, and Mike Dunlap, the former Arizona assistant, for interviews. The bearded lady wasn’t buying it.

Often in times such as these, a search committee is assembled. It meets once or twice to pore over resumes, inquire about Rick Majerus’ weight and to tell the media "no comment." But somebody usually does comment. Then the dog and pony show becomes a circus. Then somebody orders pizza and after hours of deliberation, provided "Dancing With the Stars" isn’t on, the committee recommends its choice for taking State U. to the "next level."

Then the athletic director usually hires the guy he was going to hire in the first place.

So yeah, Livengood might have handled this differently, and it still might have wound up exactly the way it did.

Rice or Theus? Old Coke or New Coke? Ginger or Mary Ann?

The people with the money wanted Ginger. The people with the patches on the elbows of their sports jackets wanted Mary Ann.

Those people wanted substance over style. People with patches on the elbows of their sports jackets almost always want substance over style. It’s in their DNA.

If there’s anything to be learned from the past 10 days, it’s that people with money truly embrace the Rebels’ glory days, and that people with patches on the elbows of their sports jackets truly do, too.

Up to a certain point.

Sure, they’ll retire a jersey, raise it to the rafters even. Especially if the opponent is Southern Utah, or one of those schools from back east with a hyphen in its name that helped Lon Kruger get to 20 wins every year. Jerseys usually don’t get raised to the rafters when the opponent is Brigham Young and advance ticket sales are brisk.

Yes, you can come back and wave to the crowd.

Yes, you can be part of the family.

No, you can’t be coach.

Dave Rice played for the old Rebels, too. However, I never saw him dunk over Bill Cartwright in the NCAA Tournament. I saw Reggie Theus do that. This is why Jerry Tarkanian likes Dave Rice, but wanted Reggie Theus to be the new coach. Coaches generally like all of their former players. They generally like the ones who could dunk over Bill Cartwright a little more. 

I generally admire Jim Livengood for sticking with his man. It was Dave Rice from the start, it was Dave Rice in the middle, it was Dave Rice, despite a lot of hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth from the people with money, at the end.

If you were at Monday’s news conference, it was hard not to agree that Rice was the right choice, especially when James Dean Levitt, the chairman of the Board of Regents, enthusiastically introduced the new coach with capital letters and exclamation points before he was supposed to. I thought J.D.L. was going to jump right over the podium and front the assembled media in their collective low post.

I admire Jim Livengood for sticking with his man when so many people — people of influence, people of wealth, people who need people (check that last one; that was Barbra Streisand) — wanted The Other Guy.

I would have admired him a little more had he or somebody else with elbows on the patches of his sports jacket told The Other Guy he really wasn’t a serious candidate for the job, when he really wasn’t.

As for Dick Vitale, well, he was going to pick against Butler regardless of who the Rebels named coach. 

Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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