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Herbstreit: Hauck’s work only just begun

Football fans are accustomed to watching analyst Kirk Herbstreit on the set of ESPN’s popular “College GameDay” at noted football locales around the country.

But he follows more than just the big boys.

Herbstreit spoke to the Las Vegas Review-Journal about UNLV football, which at 2-9 continues to struggle, and he touched on the changes to the Mountain West Conference.

He offered his thoughts as part of a promotion for an Allstate-sponsored contest that includes a trip to the Bowl Championship Series national title game in Miami to meet Herbstreit.

Question: What do you think about the job coach Bobby Hauck has done at UNLV?

Answer: I think one of the things you have to do early when you get to a new place is create an identity – and get people excited about what you have to offer as a coach.

I think he’s still in that stage of trying to build it back up and get them to have that identity and the direction he wants to take the program. Obviously, it’s going to take a lot of work. There’s great high school talent in the area, and you’re going to have to do the best you can to try to sell them on what he has to offer.

Q: Athletic director Jim Livengood has said Hauck is coming back next year. How much of a difference does that make?

A: It’s one thing publicly to say that, (but) his actions and the way he’s able to offer that support behind closed doors I think is probably even more important.

If you look at the history of the program, there have been a lot of tough years. So I think people have to be pretty realistic with what (Hauck) is trying to accomplish and what he’s trying to do there in the Mountain West, and hope the people in the community can get behind him and support him. But it’s not going to happen overnight.

One of the easy things to do is say, “Oh, we need a new coach.” One of the toughest things to do is say, “We need staying power. We need a guy we believe in. We need a guy we’re going to try to get this thing turned around with and can build that vision of trying to get this program to compete at a higher level.” And I think that’s what they’re trying to do.

Q: UNLV has some good pieces in place – Nick Sherry at quarterback, a good running game. Do you see where it could be heading in the right direction?

A: I think if you ask (Hauck) what the team’s been able to do and what his accomplishments have been up to this point, he’d probably tell you that they’re not to the point to where he can hang his hat on it and say this is a team we know we can compete at a high level and get to bowl games. …

At this point, they need more than just a talented running back and a quarterback that’s doing it for him. They need some guys that up front can play better for him. Nick Sherry is a freshman, which I think helps as far as the future is concerned. That helps you out a lot. With (running back Tim) Cornett coming back for another year, at least there are a couple of guys that are your leaders on the offensive side that you can build around.

Q: How big would an on-campus stadium be for this program?

A: I think it’s big. I come out there to call the Las Vegas Bowl, and the stadium is nice, but it’s removed from campus. It’s out there kind of on its own. It’s hard to create a home-field advantage. There are few programs around the country that face that same dilemma, and I think it’s challenging to not allow your students to be able to get to the game just by walking over to the stadium. If (legislators) ever do pass that, I think that could be a difference-maker, and not just with what Coach Hauck’s trying to do, but really for the program in general.

Q: UNLV thinks with the stadium, if it can improve its football program to go with its outstanding basketball team, maybe in the next round of realignment, the Pac-12 or Big 12 will look at the Rebels. Do you see that for UNLV?

A: Realignment seems to be in the future, but whether or not that’s realistic for UNLV, I don’t know. I think at this point it would be a long shot.

If the first step is trying to build a facility, something they can be proud of that’s on campus, the second step would be to try to get back to winning football games. This program hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2000, so to me they’ve got a lot of work to do before they start thinking about trying to get into a BCS conference.

Q: What do you think about Boise State and San Diego State going to the Big East next year?

A: You take two of the better teams in the conference and you take them out, I think that’s really going to affect the identity of this conference. You continue to lose better teams from the conference.

I think from a national perspective it’s very frustrating and confusing how San Diego State and Boise State fit into the Big East. I think a lot of people don’t get that, but it’s kind of where we are in 2012 moving forward with intercollegiate athletics and most especially college football.

Q: There is confusion in the Mountain West about that, too. Do you believe those schools are making a mistake?

A: It’s easy to say that because I think the Mountain West Conference traditionally has good football. If I was a Mountain West Conference fan, I would say, “Wait a second, the Mountain West Conference might be better than the Big East.”

But the reality is for now the Big East is one of the BCS conferences. If they had knocked on UNLV’s door and said, “Hey, we want you to go to the Big East,” they would pack their bags and be gone. So it’s not about joining the quote, unquote, better football conference. It’s more about getting an access card to the BCS. That’s all the move is about, and it’s about money.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.

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