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Kunzer-Murphy picked to become UNLV’s first female athletic director

UNLV’s search for a new athletic director is over and Tina Kunzer-Murphy is staying put.

University president Neal Smatresk will extend the contract of Kunzer-Murphy, who took over for Jim Livengood in July on an interim basis, through Dec. 31, 2014. Her appointment was scheduled to expire on Dec. 31. She will get a slight pay increase from $170,00 to $180,000 a year.

The hiring of Kunzer-Murphy, who was the executive director of the Las Vegas Bowl from 2000 to 2012, is subject to approval of the Board of Regents at its Oct. 18 meeting in Las Vegas.

Kunzer-Murphy, 60, a 1975 graduate of UNLV, is the school’s first female AD in its 55-year athletic history. Technically, she will retain her interim title but Smatresk said there’s no doubt who is running the department.

“It takes some of the pressure off,” Smatresk said of the move to retain Kunzer-Murphy. “She has the support of everyone and in looking at the things she did in stabilizing the athletic department, working with the Thomas & Mack and with the coaches, it made sense to keep her and allow her to continue to do what she’s been doing.”

Kunzer-Murphy said she gets to implement her vision for UNLV athletics, which is to give all her coaches what they need to succeed, bolster the academic support system, form partnerships in the community and be accountable to Smatresk, both fiscally and ethically.

“There’s a laundry list of things to do,” she said. “Our coaches are looking for support. We want to re-engage with the community and continue our work with the Thomas & Mack. So I’m very excited about getting to continue in this role and I’m not going to worry about a title. I’m going to focus on our 450 student-athletes and our coaches and make sure they have everything they need to be successful.”

Her coaches fought for Kunzer-Murphy when they met with Smatresk last Friday. He said that meeting helped his decision.

“I think that’s what tipped it,” Smatresk said. “It wasn’t just that they liked Tina. It was the specifics. They said she had a plan for each of their teams and they were supportive of that. She has a vision for athletics at UNLV and the coaches shared that vision and so do I.”

Men’s basketball coach Dave Rice said: “Tina brings great credibility to the position and the community will feel her passion the same way the coaches feel it. She has done a terrific job in the short time she’s been in charge of continuing the progress of the past few years under Jim.”

Baseball coach Tim Chambers said Smatresk did the right thing staying in-house.

“I’ve been in this town a long time and I’ve watched UNLV and how the process works,” Chambers said. “But with the economy the way it is, you need someone who understands this community, someone who bleeds Rebel red. Tina bleeds it.”

Women’s basketball coach Kathy Olivier said it was a no-brainer to keep Kunzer-Murphy, who played tennis and volleyball at UNLV and later coached the tennis team before moving into athletic administration as an assistant AD and later a senior women’s administrator at the school.

“I’m ecstatic,” Olivier said. “With her passion for the university and the community — where are you going to find that? Plus, she doesn’t want to be good; she wants to be great. As a coach, you’ve got to love that.”

Mike Newcomb, executive director of the Thomas & Mack, said Kunzer-Murphy has a different perspective on how his operation works than any athletic director.

“Tina has been doing business with us for years as a promoter with the bowl game,” Newcomb said. “She’s easy to work with and she understands what we do and we want to work with her for the betterment of athletics (at UNLV).”

But while running a bowl game was a great experience, this is a job Kunzer-Murphy has always hoped for. And after being run out of the school by then-AD Jim Weaver in 1993, she now sits in his office and gets to guide the athletic department of her alma mater.

“It’s a dream come true,” she said. “I love this school and I love this city. I want us to be great across the board and I’m grateful to Neal. he took a chance on me and I don’t want to disappoint him or the community.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter @stevecarprj.

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