ARIZONA ALUMNI TAILGATE INFORMATION IN LAS VEGAS: Join Wilbur, the Arizona Cheerleaders and Vice President for Athletics, Greg Byrne, at the official Arizona tailgate party on Saturday from 5-7:15 p.m. on Star Nursery Fields next to Sam Boyd Stadium. Admission into the Arizona Fan area is free but food is $33 per person and includes your choice of cheeseburger or grilled Italian herbed chicken breast and red russet dill potato salad, tossed green salad, fresh fruit, chips, cookie, and water/soft drink. A cash bar is available.
LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas residents, a transient lot, are apathetic to the struggling football program so much that UNLV seems like the road team during some games.
College Football Hall of Fame coach John Robinson could not win here. Randall Cunningham, a 17-year NFL quarterback, led UNLV to its last double-digit victory season with an 11-2 mark way back in 1984 when the Rebels were in the now-defunct Pacific Coast Athletic Association.
Instead of garnering All-American honors as a quarterback that season, Cunningham earned that selection as a punter.
The football program at UNLV just can’t seem to get it right.
Arizona comes to town Saturday with the hope that it does not fall asleep against a dormant program.
The number of double-digit defeat seasons since Cunningham’s last season at UNLV is seven, including the last three under coach Bobby Hauck. The Rebels are 2-11, 2-10 and 2-11 in Hauck’s first three seasons since his hire from Montana by former UA athletic director Jim Livengood in 2010.
Looking back, keeping Mark Sanford as the head coach was the wiser move. Sanford, a Robinson protege, did not post a winning season in five years from 2005-09, but he achieved consecutive 5-7 seasons after failing to win more than two in his first three seasons. Only seven times in the last 30 years have the Rebels won at least 10 games in consecutive years.
The 10 wins in 2008 and 2009 — including an upset over No. 15 ASU in Tempe in 2008 — were one of the best stretches in Rebel football since former NFL head coach Ron Meyer coached here from 1973-75.
Hauck, a former Rick Neuheisel assistant at Colorado and Washington, is in the same predicament as Sanford with three consecutive two-win seasons to start his UNLV tenure. After last week’s 51-23 loss at Minnesota, those who follow the team here are not optimistic about a five-win season, let alone a two- or three-win season.
Hauck fired his offensive and defensive coordinators after last season, so he is fair game for criticism and questions about his job security. Moveover, Hauck hired his brother, Tim Hauck, to be UNLV’s defensive coordinator. Fair game, indeed.
The whole program should be on the cutting block, according to some Las Vegas residents. UNLV and its Board of Regents have considered in the past — most seriously in 1982-83 — to disband the program because of lost revenue.
The late Sam Boyd, a major casino manager and developer, stepped forward to fund renovations for UNLV’s stadium at that time. The 40,000-seat venue became Sam Boyd Stadium in 1984 and the program had a stay of execution.
One UNLV fan posted this comment after an Ed Graney column at Las Vegas Review Journal the other day: “The Rebels are so woefully inept, and have been for so long, that maybe it is time to throw in the towel. What is there here that is going to attract anyone? A fine gridiron tradition? Great stadium and facilities? An awesome college environment? Do we really want to invest the millions of dollars necessary to make this a viable football program?”
Because of UNLV’s woes, Arizona followers might question the worth of not only playing the Rebels, but also traveling to Las Vegas this weekend. The Wildcats can stay in the same region and get game experience on the road. Recruiting in the Las Vegas area is also a factor, but not a substantial one.
— Although they play in the same region, Arizona and UNLV have played only once before, in 2001. Arizona won that game 38-21 at Arizona Stadium. Jason Johnson passed for 247 yards and three touchdowns. Tremaine Cox, a former Tucson High standout, rushed for 111 yards on only eight carries for Arizona. He ran 80 yards for one TD. Cox transferred to Southern Utah after that season.
— The Rebels and Wildcats play each other next season at Arizona Stadium.
— The top three Las Vegas products to play for Arizona:
1. Juron Criner, wide receiver, 2008-11. Prepped at Las Vegas Canyon Springs.
2. Keola Antolin, running back, 2008-11. Prepped at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman.
3. Garic Wharton, slot receiver, 2011-present. Prepped at Las Vegas Valley.
Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne, reportedly at the request of Livengood, looked into the possibility of the game being moved to the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. Negotiations fell through and the game remained at Sam Boyd. Livengood, knowing the Rebels would get a better payday — $1 million to be exact — in Glendale, resigned suddenly after news came out of the game’s potential move.
UNLV president Neal Smatresk and Livengood reportedly did not see eye to eye about this matter and others. Livengood thought he was doing what was best for the UNLV athletic program. Remember, the football and men’s basketball programs largely fund the other sports. Averaging 15,000 fans a game at Sam Boyd — which the Rebels did last year — is not going to cut it.
The Rebels disbanding their football program is a risky proposition in that regard. Other sports will go down with it. Basketball would become the lone money maker and attendance at the Thomas & Mack Arena is not the same since when Jerry Tarkanian coached the Running Rebels.
The bottom line with UNLV is accept what you have. If Hauck is fired, an established coach will not take the job. Another young coach without the demand for a high-priced salary will take over.
That’s a major reason why Livengood stuck with Hauck after winning only six games in three years. What better can UNLV do?
WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.