Now that Tony Sanchez’s UNLV team has reached seven losses and is not bowl eligible, his future and that of the football program is very much in question.
Athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois put Sanchez on notice after last season when she released a statement saying she expected bowl eligibility in this, his fifth season. That meant the Rebels needed to win at least six games. With three games remaining after Saturday’s 37-17 loss at Colorado State, that is no longer a possibility. UNLV is 2-7 and idle this week before finishing the season at home against Hawaii and San Jose State and on the road against UNR.
The best Sanchez and the Rebels can do is finish 5-7. Should UNLV win out, Sanchez figures to argue that he deserves an extra season to finally recruit with a completed Fertitta Football Complex and Allegiant Stadium as prime selling points.
Sanchez was the driving force behind the football complex, his relationship with the Fertitta family making the 73,000-square-foot, $34.8 million facility a reality that other UNLV coaches didn’t come close to achieving. His backers would argue he deserves another season because of the long-term impact the complex could have on the program.
But Sanchez’s detractors will point to his 18-39 record at UNLV, a record that includes no postseason appearances.
‘Where I am supposed to be’
“I tell myself I’m where I’m supposed to be,” Sanchez said recently. “The Lord wants me here right now doing what I’m doing. If I worry about all that stuff (job security), how am I good for those kids anymore?”
If Reed-Francois, who would not comment for this story, decides to move on, UNLV would owe Sanchez the remaining base pay of $300,000 per year. He has two years remaining on his contract after this season, which pays $600,000, including $300,000 annually for media appearances.
A short stint is the norm for UNLV coaches. Only Tony Knap (1976 to 1981) and John Robinson (1999 to 2004) lasted more than five seasons. Sanchez is the 11th coach in program history.
A question is how much money Reed-Francois would be willing to spend for a new coach. She has said in private and public settings that she wants UNLV to pay in the upper third of the Mountain West. Reed-Francois did just that in March in making T.J. Otzelberger the conference’s top paid men’s basketball coach. Otzelberger makes $1.1 million this season and will average $1.3 million over the span of his five-year contract.
The upper third among Mountain West football coaches, according to USA Today, begins with the $1.6 million that Fresno State’s Jeff Tedford makes. Wyoming’s Craig Bohl is the highest-paid league coach at $2.1 million.
If UNLV is to be highly competitive financially, those big dollars along with the new facilities could draw strong interest for the job, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Reed-Francois would seek a big-name hire.
She has stuck to a hiring philosophy of searching for what she considers up-and-coming coaches. In addition to hiring Otzelberger to coach men’s basketball, Reed-Francois brought in Kristie Fox for softball and Dawn Sullivan for volleyball. Otzelberger was the coach at South Dakota State, Fox led Texas-Arlington, and Sullivan was the associate head coach at Iowa State.
So Reed-Francois’ history makes it unlikely she would turn to a well-known football coach such as Lane Kiffin at Florida Atlantic or Jay Gruden, who was recently fired by the Washington Redskins but whose brother, Jon, coaches the soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders.
Expect Reed-Francois to consider three types of candidates: head coaches at smaller-conference FBS schools, head coaches at FCS programs and assistant coaches at Power Five teams.
As for the first option, she could look at someone like Alabama-Birmingham coach Bill Clark, 51. He was the national Coach of the Year last season according to several publications and received the same honor from CBS Sports in 2017. Clark has gone 25-9 since UAB revived its program.
Two FCS options could be Weber State’s Jay Hill and North Dakota State’s Matt Entz.
Hill, 44, is 43-28 and has made the playoffs the past three seasons and won back-to-back Big Sky Conference championships, turning around a program that went 2-10 in his first year.
Entz, 46, is in his first season as North Dakota State’s coach after serving as defensive coordinator the previous five years. The Bison are 9-0 and have won seven of the past eight national championships.
If Reed-Francois goes the Power Five route, she could try to land someone like Louisiana State passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach Joe Brady or Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Bill Bedenbaugh.
Brady, 30, is considered a rising star and is in his first season at LSU after spending the two previous years as an offensive assistant for the New Orleans Saints. His work has helped turn Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow into a strong Heisman Trophy candidate.
Bedenbaugh, 47, is in his first season helping run Oklahoma’s offense and in his seventh as offensive line coach.
Rivals named him one of the nation’s top 25 recruiters in 2017 and 2018, and he was a finalist for the 2017 Broyles Award, which goes to the country’s top assistant.
Reed-Francois could consider none, some, most or all of those candidates. If the basketball search showed anything, it’s that she figures to run a close-to-the-vest operation in which leaks are few.
And Sanchez still hopes to have a say in who’s coaching UNLV next season.
Mountain West coaches’ salaries
Craig Bohl, Wyoming, $2.14 million
Mike Bobo, Colorado State, $1.80 million
Bryan Harsin, Boise State, $1.75 million
Jeff Tedford, Fresno State, $1.62 million
Gary Anderson, Utah State, $900,000
Rocky Long, San Diego State, $878,228
Bob Davie, New Mexico, $822,690
Nick Rolovich, Hawaii, $600,004
Tony Sanchez, UNLV, $600,000
Brent Brennan, San Jose State, $599,184
Jay Norvell, UNR, $500,000
Troy Calhoun, Air Force, N/A
Source: USA Today