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Gordon: Next UNLV coach must win and win quickly

Updated November 30, 2022 - 6:57 am

It will be the defining decision of Erick Harper’s tenure as UNLV’s athletic director.

To this point, anyway, after he dismissed football coach Marcus Arroyo following a 5-7 season that leaves the Rebels on the brink of their first bowl game since 2013.

Whom he hires as the next football coach must do what Harper believes Arroyo did not: guide “the trajectory of the program to where we want it to go,” Harper said Monday inside the Fertitta Football Complex. “Which is winning championships.”

Any chase for a Mountain West championship begins with Harper, who boldly set the expectations for Arroyo’s successor. He must win and win quickly. Within three years, apparently, as Arroyo’s firing would suggest.

That, while maintaining the academic excellence that has the Rebels positioned for a bowl bid despite their losing record.

“The ultimate goal is to win and win consistently and graduate student athletes,” Harper said. “It’s important to get the right person at the right time for this program to lead it with this building that you’re standing in right now, $35 million. A $2 billion stadium over there. There’s a lot of interest across the board and we’re going to pick the best person possible for our program.”

Imminent success?

That, Harper decided, was not Arroyo, who addressed on Tuesday his dismissal via Twitter.

In a statement posted to his account, the 42-year-old graciously thanked UNLV and its community while expressing disappointment and wishing the next coaching staff “all of the very best.”

“UNLV football is now set up for imminent success,” Arroyo wrote.

Indeed, the program’s Academic Progress Report is at an all-time high. The roster is stocked with Power Five caliber players, a 1,000-yard rusher in running back Aidan Robbins and an experienced dual-threat quarterback in Doug Brumfield.

The Fertitta Football Complex and Allegiant Stadium are gems that helped Arroyo construct some of the best recruiting classes in the Mountain West. They are the job’s defining assets and should serve Arroyo’s successor well.

Several key Rebels players, according to a person closely connected to the program, are considering entry into the NCAA’s transfer portal, and Harper said “those that want to transfer, I’m sure they will.”

But a timely hire would allow the new coaching staff to re-recruit prospective transfers before constructing a 2023 recruiting class, for which senior prospects can sign national letters of intent beginning Dec. 21.

“Hopefully they can find the right coach who can come in here and energize the fans, energize the students and the boosters to get back involved in the program,” said UNLV booster Tom Jingoli. “I have all the faith in Harp to get it done. He’s a football guy. He played for a Division I program. He understands football. I put my faith in Erick that he will get the right person for the job. He has all the things in place to do so. I trust he will make the right decision.”

‘Biggest hire’

Harper indicated a preference for candidates with head coaching experience. A call to NFL great turned Jackson State coach Deion Sanders should be mandatory — imagine Coach Prime in Las Vegas — regardless of what other opportunities may await him.

Among other viable coaching candidates that fit Harper’s preferred criteria: Gary Patterson, Kevin Sumlin, Mike Stoops and Bryan Harsin.

Whomever Harper tabs will be, as he acknowledged Monday, his “biggest hire.”

“I just referenced the two facilities that we have an opportunity to practice in and compete in. With the right person here,” Harper said, referencing his lofty goals, “we can get that done. This is going to be the biggest decision because it’s my first gigantic decision that I’m going to have.”

The chase for championships is underway.

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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