Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2004 | 10:04 a.m.
UNLV guard Romel Beck didn't expect anything out of the ordinary when the team gathered for a meeting before Tuesday afternoon's pregame shootaround at the Thomas & Mack Center.
"I just thought we were going to go over some plays," Beck said. "I thought we were going to talk about how we could still turn the season around. But then Coach came in, took the ball, and just started saying what was going on."
What was going on was that Rebels head coach Charlie Spoonhour, 64, had tendered his resignation effective immediately because of heart-related problems.
"It was a big shock," junior forward Odartey Blankson said.
"A couple of guys (were crying)," Beck said. "But we did a good job of talking to each other, telling everybody to step up and that the season is not over yet. It was still a big shock. I've never had a coach resign in the middle of the season before."
Spoonhour, who leaves UNLV with a 54-31 record and two NIT appearances in his two-plus seasons, did not speak with the media and said he would take some time off away from Las Vegas. He said he would be unavailable for interviews.
But in a prepared statement released by the school, he said: "I am physically unable to do this right now."
Spoonhour had lost a noticeable amount of weight during a trying 13-9 season that included back-to-back blowout losses at Utah and Missouri as well as player unrest. He took a stress test last week and got the results on Tuesday morning.
"The thing that bothered him the most (was) that this happens after a terrible loss (94-60 at Missouri on Sunday)," son Jay Spoonhour, who was named interim head coach, said. "And after all the things that we all know about that went on. In fact, he told the doctor, 'I can't do it now. I don't want to do it now.' And he said, 'Well, you don't have a choice.' "
Both UNLV athletic director Mike Hamrick and school president Dr. Carol Harter said they didn't have any inkling that Spoonhour would step down.
"Absolutely not," Harter said before Tuesday night's 68-65 victory against San Diego State. "I was just shocked and surprised and just so hoping that he gets well. Whatever is best for him is best for us."
"I was surprised," Hamrick said. "I knew that Charlie had had some health issues that he discussed with me earlier. Was I surprised that he came in and told me this morning (he was resigning)? Yes. Would I have been surprised if he had come in at the end of the season and told me? No.
"I just know that he doesn't look well. I'm not a doctor, though. He was giving it all he had. I admire him for realizing that his health is more important than anything else in life."
Hamrick said he would begin immediately putting together a list of potential candidates and "start doing our homework and take it from there. Any names being mentioned now are just pure speculation."
And unlike last summer when the school put together a committee of students, faculty and athletic department personnel to try and form a list of athletic director candidates, Hamrick said he will handle this duty himself.
"At this point the president and I don't see a need for a search committee," Hamrick said. "(Harter) has encouraged me to start the search immediately which I will do. I will make a recommendation to her as to who the next head basketball coach should be."
That more than likely won't come until the end of March.
"Obviously you're dealing with three or four weeks left in the season," Hamrick said. "Teams are still playing and it's inappropriate to contact coaches while their teams are still playing. You need to wait until the season is over ... and go through their athletic director and ask for permission. And no AD is going to give permission while his team is still playing. I wouldn't."
When asked if it would be important for a candidate to have UNLV connections in his background, Hamrick replied simply: "To me it's important to be a successful head coach."
Harter, who said she had already received "about 18 phone calls" from interested coaches within an hour of the news of Spoonhour's resignation, said she doesn't believe money will be a problem in trying to lure a big-name coaching candidate to UNLV this time around. Spoonhour was making about $500,000 per year, a number that likely will have to at least be doubled to be in the running for a big-name national coach.
"I'm optimistic that if we need it we'll get good community support," she said.
"We want to get the very best person we can. We want to be in contention for a national championship. There's no question in my mind we want the absolute best. I think UNLV has the potential to be the absolute best as it has already shown. And we're anxious to get that kind of coach."
And, as in the case of Spoonhour, one who has a clean slate with the NCAA and no off the court problems as well.
"I think (Spoonhour) has brought maturity and stability and absolute integrity to this program which is so important," Harter said. "That's the base from which we have to start."