The situation was clear entering this season: Mike Sanford needed to go at least 6-6 and take UNLV to a bowl game or he was out as the Rebels’ football coach.
Any chance of reaching those goals died in the snow in a 45-17 loss at Air Force on Saturday, and Sanford was told on Sunday he would not return next season.
Sanford, 54, will coach the Nov. 28 season finale against San Diego State at Sam Boyd Stadium and stay on until Dec. 5. UNLV has a bye this week.
His five-year record is 15-43. Sanford has never had a winning season, and the Rebels are 4-7 this year.
“It’s performance-based, absolutely,” UNLV interim athletic director Jerry Koloskie said. “We needed to have more success on the field, and that’s it.”
Sanford told his players the news Sunday, and Rebels defensive end/linebacker Jason Beauchamp said though it was an emotional meeting, many saw it coming.
“There’s empathy for him and his family,” Beauchamp said. “At the same time, there are so many ways to look at it.
“Everyone has something different to say, but for myself and after having gone through all the years and all the work I put in, I feel like something needed to change. I don’t know if that was necessarily it, but something needed to change. He had his time, we had our time, and not too much improved from the 2-10 days. Not much changed.”
Beauchamp said change was better if it came “at the top” rather than the bottom.
As for who next will lead the Rebels, Koloskie said he would begin the search for a new coach rather than wait for a permanent athletic director to be hired. The search committee for the next AD is scheduled to meet Dec. 1.
“Right now, I am the AD, so I’ll start looking at potential candidates, and who those candidates will be is my job,” Koloskie said.
Koloskie said UNLV president Neal Smatresk would “better answer the process that takes place.”
In an e-mail, Smatresk wrote, “I think the first order of business is to identify who the next AD will be, and then take it from there.”
An attempt to reach Sanford was unsuccessful. He will meet with the media this afternoon.
Perhaps Sanford will shed light on his struggles as well as that of the program’s. UNLV’s last winning season and bowl berth came in 2000.
“(Sanford) was a class act,” said James Dean Leavitt, chairman of the Board of Regents. “It’s unfortunate the program wasn’t able to have success on the field.”
Another regent, Ron Knecht, said he wasn’t “particularly surprised” by Sanford’s firing. Knecht expressed hope the program would progress, but questioned during tough economic times how much money should be devoted to improving UNLV football.
One of the decisions UNLV will have to make is how much of a commitment it will make to the sport. Sanford was earning $425,000 a year, which is low compared to many other schools.
If UNLV greatly ups the amount it is willing to pay not only for the new coach but for the staff, that could attract a rich field of candidates.
Because Sanford technically is being let go after Dec. 4, the school will pay him a $225,000 buyout as opposed to $287,500 under the terms of the contract.
Asked how Sanford agreed to stay on until that date, Koloskie said, “It’s per his contract. That’s the option that’s there. We want him to coach the rest of the season and the seniors to go out with a victory.”
Sanford was hired by former athletic director Mike Hamrick in December 2004 after two successful seasons as Utah’s offensive coordinator. The Utes finished No. 4 in 2004 and won the Fiesta Bowl.
At his introductory news conference, Sanford said he would take UNLV to such heights, but the Rebels never came close.
“I know he’s done everything he can to provide a good team for the university,” UNLV student body president Adam Cronis said. “I think it’s a matter of the university needing to see if there’s a different approach for the upcoming season.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson @reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Read the latest UNLV football updates at lvrj.com/blogs/unlv_sports.