Published Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013 | 5:40 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013 | 9:30 p.m.
There was no shortage of well-wishers for Tina Kunzer-Murphy on Tuesday night. Standing outside of Rebel Park as the football team wrapped up practice, Kunzer-Murphy exchanged handshakes and hugs with a gaggle of Rebels coaches. Their support is a big reason why she’ll continue to oversee UNLV athletics for the foreseeable future.
This evening UNLV President Neal Smatresk announced he’d called off the search and would recommend Kunzer-Murphy’s contract as interim athletic director be extended through Dec. 31, 2014, at a special Board of Regents meeting on Oct. 18. Earlier today Smatresk responded to a text from the Sun, saying, “I will finalize my decision tomorrow.” Once word leaked he decided not to wait, the university went ahead and made it official with a release.
“Everybody knows my love has always been to get back to UNLV and to be in college athletics,” Kunzer-Murphy said. “… Now I do have the job. I’m excited about it and I’m honored. It’s a dream come true for me.”
Kunzer-Murphy was announced as the interim in May and has been in the position since July, taking over for Jim Livengood. Kunzer-Murphy will keep her interim title through this new contract and UNLV could decide to eventually give her the full-time position or begin another search.
Prior to this post, Kunzer-Murphy served as executive director of the Las Vegas Bowl for 13 years before resigning in August 2012. She then took a job with UNLV Alumni Relations in January, where she helped with fundraising for things such as the Jerry Tarkanian Legacy Project. That project has broken ground outside of the Thomas & Mack Center and a Tarkanian statue will be unveiled at a ceremony on Oct. 30.
Smatresk said he made his decision Friday after getting unanimous support from UNLV coaches. He added he was impressed with Kunzer-Murphy's plans for furthering development within the athletics department.
“She is conducting an infrastructure assessment and building a vision for UNLV athletics,” Smatresk said in a statement. “In my opinion none of the candidates we interviewed had a greater demonstrated ability to run UNLV athletics at this time than Kunzer-Murphy.”
UNLV’s athletic director finalists included former Florida State athletic director Randy Spetman, current Arkansas-Little Rock AD Chris Peterson and Washington State senior associate AD John Johnson. The university did not pay for an outside consulting firm and instead used a local search committee.
Kunzer-Murphy was making $170,000 in her interim position and will get a bump to $180,000, Smatresk said. Livengood was making $350,000 annually and is still being paid by UNLV as a consultant through the end of 2013.
UNLV closes search for athletic director
The department’s relationship with the Thomas & Mack Center, which is often contentious, was also cited by both Smatresk and Kunzer-Murphy as a positive during her time as the interim director.
“I really believe that the Thomas & Mack is an important component to success and we’ve been working closely with them,” Kunzer-Murphy said. “My goal here was to work with everybody on campus.”
Both Smatresk and Kunzer-Murphy had said since May that she wouldn’t be considered for the full-time position. While this extension technically doesn’t go against that, it does make her the leader long term with a significant chance of taking over officially as UNLV’s 12th athletic director.
“I don’t think I ever said I didn’t want it,” Kunzer-Murphy said today, “I said it wasn’t mine to get. I wasn’t a candidate.”
Her previous comments on the situation include: “I took this job with the understanding it wouldn’t be for the full-time position” and “You won’t see me sitting in that chair.”
Whether this was a surprise, as she said, or the expectation all along, Kunzer-Murphy has been making decisions during her tenure like someone getting comfortable in a new chair, not keeping it warm.
“I didn’t sit still for three months,” she said, “we’ve been working really hard.”
Kunzer-Murphy and Smatresk reorganized the athletics department in July, suggesting it was to streamline workflow for the incoming athletic director. One administrator whose salary was cut in that reorganization, Julio Freire, has since left. A Livengood hire, Freire was a senior AD and director of the Rebel Athletic Fund.
There has also been significant changeover within the department dating to around the time of Livengood’s departure. Currently at least six positions are listed as unfilled on UNLVRebels.com’s staff directory.
Kunzer-Murphy said she’s been able to perform well because she hasn’t been worried about the job, which she assumed was going to someone else. Now that it’s hers, Kunzer-Murphy must not only continue to succeed in the eyes of her coaches and administrators, but also convince the public that the department is worth fully supporting.
“There’s a lot of hard work to do with fundraising and development, and we’ve got to get the Las Vegas community engaged with what we’re doing,” Kunzer-Murphy said. “There’s a whole laundry list of things to do.”