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UNLV AD wanted to change more than a football coach

Updated December 19, 2019 - 4:36 pm

UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois thought that by inviting acting president Marta Meana and football coaching candidate Marcus Arroyo to her home early in the morning on Dec. 9 she would be keeping a lid on any potential leaks.

But then Arroyo showed up earlier than expected, before Reed-Francois’ son, Jackson, had left for school at Bishop Gorman.

“He comes to me and says, ‘Mom, the offensive coordinator for Oregon is in our living room. What do you have to tell me?’ ” Reed-Francois said, laughing. “I thought I was keeping it pretty covert, but I was busted by my 15-year-old son.”

Reed-Francois made Jackson swear he wouldn’t tweet or tell anyone about Arroyo’s presence, allowing the secret to last two more days, until UNLV offered Arroyo the job and he accepted.

Arroyo, 39, is the latest coach to try to turn around a UNLV program that has experienced just three winning seasons over the past 27 years.

Beginning the process

It is that losing history that prompted Reed-Francois to take an in-depth look at the program and not just search for a new coach. Even before announcing Nov. 25 that she had fired Tony Sanchez, Reed-Francois did the legwork to prepare herself should she have to make the decision to let her coach go.

“We really wanted to find out why we haven’t had a pattern of continued success,” Reed-Francois said. “It wouldn’t be enough just to change leaders and expect to have automatic success. … I didn’t want to create this revolving door of coaches and be in this situation in five years. We wanted to fix the foundation first.”

She looked at how Cincinnati, Kansas State, Virginia Tech and Mountain West rival Boise State built their programs and what lessons could be applied at UNLV. Reed-Francois had firsthand knowledge from having worked in the athletic departments at Cincinnati and Virginia Tech, and she spoke with former Kansas State athletic director Steve Miller about hiring coach Bill Snyder in November 1988 and sparking what many consider the greatest turnaround in college football.

Reed-Francois also consulted with former Rebels quarterbacks Randall Cunningham, Steve Stallworth and Glenn Carano, as well as Michael Lombardi, who covers the NFL for The Athletic and has worked in several front offices, including the Raiders’.

“I think there was a lot of back and forth on different subjects before (Reed-Francois) conducted the search,” Lombardi said. “She did a great job identifying traits in people and using other schools’ success. It was a real key to understanding what she needed. A person could have X, Y and Z, but you need C, D and E.”

From her research, three takeaways emerged for Reed-Francois:

■ Direction. What is the vision for the program? That was something she wanted to hear from the candidates.

■ Alignment. Are the coach, athletic director and president on the same page? Success elsewhere underscored the importance of this occurring. Reed-Francois insisted there are no issues in that regard at UNLV, even though Meana is temporarily in her role.

Reed-Francois’ own future has been subject of speculation about whether she will move to a Power Five school, but she pointed out her contract runs into 2022 and her son is a high school sophomore. “We are really happy in this community,” Reed-Francois said.

■ Resources. UNLV already had made big strides with the construction of the $34.8 million Fertitta Football Complex, and the Rebels begin play in the $2 billion Allegiant Stadium next season.

Reed-Francois said UNLV’s football recruiting budget, which last fiscal year was $503,000, tops the Mountain West. UNLV also is in the top half in assistant coaches’ salaries at $1.98 million, which will rise to $2.2 million for the new staff. Arroyo was given a five-year record-shattering contract. beginning at $1.5 million and ending at $1.6 million.

Conducting the search

Armed with information she collected and after dismissing Sanchez, Reed-Francois went to work. Her list included 10 coaches, even though agents would try to force their ways into having their clients considered.

“She did an incredible job,” Lombardi said. “She started with a list. She stayed with it. She had contingency plans in place.”

Reed-Francois wouldn’t discuss candidates other than Arroyo, and she was careful with the specifics even with the process that led to his hiring.

Though Reed-Francois wouldn’t say that Arroyo was the leading candidate from the beginning, he emerged as the one who best embodied what she wanted in a coach. Arroyo was the only coach, she said, who was offered the job and the only one who met with Meana.

Arroyo flew to Las Vegas on the night of Dec. 8 and toured the campus and the Fertitta Football Complex. He met with Reed-Francois and Meana the next morning at the athletic director’s home, with the surprise encounter with Jackson Francois thrown into the mix.

The process was nearing the end, and Reed-Francois was nearly exhausted, having stayed up 40 hours in a row. By Dec. 11, the deal was done.

“We went through a really comprehensive process,” Reed-Francois said. “(Arroyo) had to earn this, and it was a very talented field. … In the end, it came down to fit, and he fit what we were looking for.”

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Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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