Big Bruce Chapman wears his loyalty to UNLV’s Runnin’ Rebels basketball team on his sleeve.
He played power forward for the Rebels at the end of the 1960s and has spent the past four decades watching the team’s games and vocally boosting the program through good and bad years alike. When he talks about the team, he makes no pretense of being unbiased. At times he sounds like he’s ready to check into the game and take a charge for the team.
He’s even more outspoken these days as UNLV prepares to search for a new head coach to replace Dave Rice, who was let go in January after a disappointing start and failing to raise the program into the national rankings. Rice assistant Todd Simon was inserted as interim coach, a change which failed to produce much in the way of improved results.
Chapman represents what he describes as a group of longtime friends of the program, basketball and business people who have been with it through thick and thin and want to make sure the next Rebels coach is the right person for the job for years to come.
“We’re all Rebel red guys,” he says. “We’ve been here forever. We know what works and know what doesn’t, and we just decided to get together and try. We think we should keep it in house. They don’t need to spend $4 million for a coach when there’s a gold nugget in the front yard. They need to pick it up and look at it.”
There’s no shortage of rumors of the UNLV administration’s interest in conducting a national search, or at least interviewing a few high-profile veteran coaches. That strategy has met with mixed results in the past, but then so has going with Rice, a former Rebels player and an All-American when it comes to quality of character. The fact is, there’s no guaranteed formula for success.
People associated with UNLV’s program like to talk about the caliber of everyone’s character and the quality of the education players are afforded, but the bottom line is they all want to win basketball games in great big bunches in the style that made the late Jerry Tarkanian the program’s controversial patron saint.
While some dream of attracting a marquee coach, Chapman says it would be a shame to pass up the “gold nugget” right in their own front yard in the form of assistant coach Stacey Augmon, who was passed over for the interim head coaching assignment. (The snub generated a blistering tweet from Augmon’s irate spouse, Leslye: “Stacey is getting (expletive) just like the last time he was here,” the Review-Journal reported her saying.)
Chapman is only slightly less emotional as he makes a strong case for Augmon to get the chance at the top job. Aside from the fact that Augmon’s never been a head coach, he would appear to be more than qualified in just about any category imaginable.
He played four years at UNLV, earned All-America status and helped the Runnin’ Rebels win the 1990 NCAA championship. He was a perennial defensive player of the year.
Augmon played 15 seasons in the NBA. He was an NBA defensive all-star who successfully guarded some of the greatest scorers of his generation. The 3-point-shooting gunslingers receive most of the attention, but defensive intensity is the most underrated part of the game.
Chapman is occasionally given to overstatement, but he’s accurate when he calls Augmon one of the best defensive players in college and NBA history. If a college basketball program were to place defense as its foundation, it would be hard pressed to find someone who better understands what it takes to get the job done than Augmon.
After retiring as a player, he immediately began coaching in the NBA with specialties in defense and player development. He returned to UNLV as an assistant coach.
That’s a winning resume.
And there’s something equally important, Chapman argues.
“He bleeds Rebel red,” he says. “We need someone who understands the program and will be dedicated to our university and who will build the program up and make it proud again. We think that person is Stacey Augmon.”
To that end, Chapman and friends are seeking a sit-down with UNLV President Len Jessup in hopes of making the case for Augmon.
No one can doubt his credentials as a player and coach. Nor can his loyalty to UNLV’s inconsistent program be questioned. It would be a mistake to sell Augmon short.
Question is, in that politicized atmosphere, will he get a fair hearing?
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Contact him at 702-383-0295, or email@example.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith