Brad Horn / associated press
Monday, Oct. 5, 2009 | 2 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Alex Adeyanju clean up the last bits of UNLV's devastating 63-28 loss at UNR and spin it forward, as life gets no easier for the 2-3 Rebels in the coming weeks.
- Opponent: BYU
- Date: Oct. 10, 7 p.m.
- Where: Sam Boyd Stadium
- TV: The Mtn. (Cox ch. 334)
- Radio: ESPN Radio 1100 AM
It was just three weeks ago that the UNLV football team almost beat Oregon State of the Pac-10. Two weeks ago, it did beat Hawaii. Both games were close, and exciting. Sure enough, the defense looked suspect. The defense always looks suspect at UNLV. But you could argue progress was being made.
I know I did.
Then the Rebels lost a game they had no business losing, at Wyoming. Then they got folded, spindled and mutilated — heavy on the mutilation — at Nevada-Reno on Saturday. The final score was 63-28. It could have been 84-7 had the Wolf Pack not lost four fumbles.
This just might be the nadir of a program that specializes in nadirs.
I have been watching UNLV lose football games for 22 years. I can’t think of a worse defeat, or a more humbling one.
Yes, the Rebels lost 62-3 to Tennessee in 1996. But Peyton Manning was the Tennessee quarterback. They lost 69-0 to Houston in 1989. But Andre Ware was the Houston quarterback. Ware won the Heisman Trophy that year. I also remember a couple of games where Air Force scored in the 60s, but that’s Air Force. It runs the option. The Rebels never could defend the option.
Back in 1991, there was a season-opening 50-8 setback at UNR that also was pretty humiliating. The Rebels had a guy named John Ma’ae playing quarterback. I’ll never forget one play where the Wolf Pack chased him around in circles before a backpedaling Ma’ae, by this time in his own end zone, flung the ball backward over his shoulder for a UNR safety. It looked like something out of the Keystone Kops.
But if memory serves, at least the Rebels made the Wolf Pack punt once or twice. They did not allow UNR to gain 773 yards by running the same two simple plays it had run in the previous year’s game.
As I said, the Rebels never could defend the option.
Even more frightening is that nearly halfway through the season, it appears they can’t defend any other play, either.
I don’t know what Athletic Director Mike Hamrick was thinking last year when he tacked on three more years to Rebels coach Mike Sanford’s contract. As far as lovely parting gifts — Hamrick ran off to Marshall this summer before UNLV could run him off — that was the home game of Concentration and what’s behind the curtain on “Let’s Make a Deal” all rolled into an extension worth about $425,000 per year.
Let me be the 29th person in the local media who has said that Mike Sanford is a nice guy. But after his defense was torched for 773 yards Saturday, it would have been appropriate had he dumped that contract extension in a snowbank in the Sierra Nevada. That way, at least he would have something in common with John C. Fremont, since he has never known what it’s like to possess his cannon.
Sanford’s contract includes a $225,000 buyout that, unless he has a couple of Sherman tanks masquerading as redshirt freshman defensive ends and activates them soon, figures to be utilized at the end of this season.
There goes paving the parking lot at Sam Boyd Stadium.
There’s a bit of a sticky wicket in firing Sanford because there are an acting president and an acting athletic director who might be reluctant to act. And there is that buyout, which costs money, and then you’d have to hire a new coach, which costs even more money that UNLV doesn’t have.
But one of the Nevada System regents told me the other day there’s no way Sanford can survive without going to a bowl game and implied that he, himself, would stand in the median on Maryland Parkway and Tropicana with a fireman’s boot if that’s what it takes to buy Sanford out.
Rebels fans, of course, want him out now. Turn the team over to offensive coordinator Todd Berry, they say. He seems to know what he’s doing and has head coaching experience (5-36 at Army). They truly believe Jim Rogers or Cliff Findlay or Steve Wynn can write a check that would lure Urban Meyer away from Florida, or that the next Amos Alonzo Stagg is coaching the D-line at some Division I-AA school and all we gotta do is find him and pay him what we’re paying Sanford.
Maybe so. Stagg’s first coaching job was at Williston Seminary. So perhaps Jerry Koloskie, the Rebels’ interim athletic director, needs to get on the next bus to Easthampton, Mass. Or schedule Williston Seminary instead of UNR, should Sanford stay around until 2012, the expiration date on his contract.
But, seriously, what coach do you get to replace him if this season continues to spiral out of control?
I’ve seen the Rebels promote from within (Wayne Nunnely), hire the offensive coordinator from the national champion (Jim Strong), steal UNR’s head coach (Jeff Horton), entrust the program to a coaching legend (John Robinson) and hire the godfather of the spread offense (Sanford) — at least according to him.
Their combined efforts have produced three winning seasons in 22.
I’m not saying that it can’t be done at UNLV. I am saying the thought has crossed my mind once or twice.