Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, July 25, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Maybe Bobby Hauck should have told everyone his team had no chance of being competitive, or explained how building a winning football program wouldn’t happen overnight.
He certainly knew there would be more bad times than good in transforming UNLV into a winner, but couldn’t have imagined how painful some of the defeats would be. He probably underestimated how impatient supporters could get.
This is a day and age where fans aren’t willing to wait, where immediate results are expected and rebuilding projects not tolerated. A minor setback is blown out of proportion.
Three years ago, when Hauck greeted reporters before his initial season as the UNLV coach at the Mountain West preseason media day, he put on a smile when asked about his team’s chances.
The Rebels were young. They had an impossible schedule. Losing would be expected. Nick Saban wouldn’t have won with the players Hauck had in 2010.
But Hauck, knowing the schedule included sure-thing defeats against ranked schools Wisconsin, West Virginia, TCU and BYU, couldn’t say what he was feeling. Coaches are always optimistic; they won’t admit to having an awful team — at least not publicly.
“The first two years, I wanted to walk in the door, and say: ‘Have you guys seen our schedule, we’ve got no chance,’” Hauck told reporters Tuesday at the 2013 Mountain West media day. “But you don’t get to say that at these things, so I didn’t. For the first time, I feel comfortable with our team. I like where we are at.
“I don’t know if my gauge or compass on things is correct or not,” he said. “Nobody does. You can’t foretell the future. But I like our team and I think we have a chance to have a good football team.”
He replaced struggling or injured freshmen with other underdeveloped freshmen those initial two seasons — players not physically ready to compete against the grown men they were lining up against.
This year, UNLV returns 19 starters. Primarily upperclassmen, these are players who have spent three or four years in a college weight room. That will make an immediate difference.
And, more important, the schedule is manageable.
They have winnable home games against Central Michigan, Western Illinois, Hawaii and San Jose State. They play New Mexico on the road — if UNLV is going to snap its 22-game losing skid on the road, it better happen against the lowly Lobos.
With the exception of a road game in mid-October against Mountain West favorite Fresno State, UNLV should be competitive in its other 12 games.
It’s not like 2010 when two UNLV opponents played in a postseason Bowl Championship Series game, or 2011 when UNLV had road contests at Wisconsin and TCU, and also played powerhouse Boise State.
Seven games in 2013 are at home; at the most, two games will be against ranked opponents. There is a four-game stretch in late-September to mid-October where UNLV should run the table. That’s right, they could win four straight.
Despite the struggles under Hauck, which included unexplainable home defeats the past two seasons to lower-level Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, and an ugly stretch of games to close last year when the Rebels fell to less talented teams, it’s not too far-fetched to assume UNLV will have a 4-2 record heading into the Oct. 19 game at Fresno State.
That’s assuming they lose the opener at Minnesota, a team they were a penalty away from beating last year before losing in overtime, and the home opener against an Arizona team that will likely start a first-time Division I quarterback and lost some key players to injury in the spring. UNLV is a double-digit betting underdog in both those games, but Hauck seems to think they could pull off the upset.
Finally, he’s confident in the players he’ll be putting on the field. Hauck built Montana into a power before coming to UNLV, building a 80-17 record in seven seasons and winning the Big Sky Conference title each season. Trust me, he didn’t suddenly forget how to coach.
Hauck has just six victories in his three years with the Rebels and will likely need to equal the win total to keep his job. He’s a good coach — and even better person — but hasn’t been able to overcome the long odds at UNLV.
While being blown out in winnable games last year is inexcusable, it’s part of the building process. Quarterback Nick Sherry was banged up late in the season, which explains part of the awful finish.
But UNLV didn’t show up ready to play against Hawaii and had no interest in putting forth a good effort. That falls on Hauck — he had lost the team.
But this is a different year and a different team. And Hauck believes the outcome will be different. If the Rebels do win, he’ll be smiling — because he delivered on his promise to deliver Las Vegas a winning team. Some projects just take longer to complete.
“People have hung with us when we haven’t been all that lovable,” he said. “For me, the most important thing, if I get what I want this season, is our fans and the people who have hung with us get to enjoy college football, and to enjoy some success with Rebel football.”