As UNLV searches for a football coach and athletic director, more is on the line than simply the immediate future.
Those hires will impact the football program specifically and athletic department generally for years to come, and they will send an immediate signal to the community about which direction UNLV is heading.
The ramifications are not lost at the top of the university.
“I think we have to have a concrete plan,” UNLV president Neal Smatresk said. “We have to say out loud what our expectations are, and then we need to raise funds to reach those expectations.”
UNLV could name an athletic director by next week, though there is no timeframe. The new AD will hire the football coach.
Interim athletic director Jerry Koloskie said long-term plans already are in the works, such as replacing the synthetic grass on the football practice field. Recently fired coach Mike Sanford blamed the turf for star wide receiver Ryan Wolfe’s broken foot.
“We’re not going to be complacent,” Koloskie said. “We’re going to continue to improve and move the program forward so it can be successful. The resources are there to be successful. We’ve got to continue to grow them.”
Former state university system chancellor Jim Rogers recently voiced concerns to Smatresk and Koloskie about athletics’ long-term health, saying UNLV should undertake a 10-year business plan that includes a $50 million capital campaign to fatten the athletic department’s $24 million budget.
Rogers said the importance of UNLV’s current job searches pale in comparison to taking a hard look at the fundamentals of athletics.
“I think the answer to future success is not to get a new athletic director or get a coach,” Rogers said. “You have to take a look at the football program and see where you’re going.”
Rogers and Koloskie disagree about the state of the football program. Rogers thinks it needs a complete makeover, but Koloskie argues it’s not far from becoming successful.
Going strictly by on-field results, each side has a good case.
The football program has not fielded a winning team or made a bowl game since 2000, indicating a “systemic” problem Sanford alluded to in his post-firing news conference.
But the Rebels had chances the past two seasons to end their bowl drought, finishing 5-7 each year. Losses in close games each season kept them out of the postseason.
“The football program has a chance to be successful,” Koloskie said. “It’s not something we need to stall in any way, shape or form.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914.