I read with interest the news that the Nevada Test Site is more contaminated than previously believed. Hundreds of atomic blasts have turned the soil and groundwater into a radioactive mess.
The good news is I’ve found the one place it’s reasonably safe to store UNLV’s football program under Mike Sanford. While the risk of further contamination is possible, I have to believe it’s the best we can do in the wake of the calamity Sanford has generated in the past five seasons.
I forget which is worse, a shambles or a laughingstock. UNLV’s program started as one and degraded into the other under Sanford, whose 15-43 record actually looks better on paper. On the field, it was like watching the Zapruder film in an endless loop.
UNLV is 4-7 this season, but it easily could be 2-9 or worse. The Rebels beat up on Division II Sacramento State in the first game of the season. They would have scheduled an easier opponent, but Pop Warner kids have curfews. UNLV also beat winless New Mexico, which has been scored on more than Pamela Anderson.
On defense, the Rebels don’t give up yards. They give up acres. The Italian army held more ground.
UNLV’s defense has cured more sore-armed quarterbacks and knock-kneed running backs than Ben Gay and acupuncture combined. I don’t blame the players, who at least in theory aren’t professionals.
I blame the coaches and Sanford most. For heaven’s sake, man, at least wear a mask before absconding with your paycheck. Witnesses might identify you.
On second thought, Sanford’s probably safe. For most fans, his act was too painful to watch.
At a Monday news conference, the nuttiness continued. Sanford said, “This is not a coach issue. This is a system, infrastructure and commitment issue that I am concerned about.”
But apparently not so concerned that he plans to return a portion of his $425,000 annual salary out of good conscience.
Sanford has been wrong about most things the past five years, but he’s actually right about the football program and Athletic Department under previous administrations. Trouble is, his hand-wringing in the face of his own monumental failure in key areas — little stuff such as the win-loss record, offense, defense, special teams and recruitment — comes too late to bring tears to my eyes.
Here’s how detached from reality UNLV is when it comes to football. If Sanford had found a way to beat Air Force on Saturday — hey, every official has his price, right? — the Rebels technically still would be in the hunt for one of the growing number of meaningless bowl games that litter the holiday season like scraps of discarded Christmas wrapping. Forget that this is one of the worst head coaches in America, that the program hasn’t measurably improved in five years and this year’s team has been painful to listen to, much less watch. If the Rebels had reached a 6-6 record and made it to the Bean Dip Bowl, Sanford would still be around to collect his $450,000 salary next year. Unbelievable.
Up north, UNR proves every year that success can be had for less. While Sanford was adding to his big book of excuses Saturday, Chris Ault’s Wolf Pack was pummeling Fresno State. The Wolf Pack is now 7-3 and headed toward its fifth straight bowl invitation.
If the Rebels want to experience a bowl game, they’ll first have to pay their cable bills.
Ault makes $375,000 a year, but there’s one thing I can say about his record. In the past four years, his teams have gone 1-3 in bowl games. Oh, what Sanford would have given to have that problem.
Sanford was right about one thing. UNLV’s Athletic Department is dysfunctional.
There’s no other way to explain how Sanford lasted this long.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.