Las Vegas Sun

May 17, 2021

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Ron Kantowski chats with former Rebels football coach Harvey Hyde about talking sports here and in California

It's hard to believe it's been 22 years since Harvey Hyde led UNLV to its only 11-win football season and its first victory in a bowl game, a 30-13 drubbing of Toledo in the California Bowl that was later ruled a forfeit. The Rockets were back home apologizing to Jamie Farr when it was determined that the Rebels had used ineligible players during the regular season, none of whom played in the bowl game.

Forfeiting a game for not using ineligible players?

That could only happen to Harvey Hyde.

A colorful character from UNLV's rogue athletic past, Hyde's Rebels led the old Pacific Coast Athletic Association in fun and mischief during his four years as their coach.

Discounting the forfeits, his teams won 26 games, lost 19 and tied 1. That 1984 team, led by Randall Cunningham and featuring freshman running back Elburt Woods you probably remember him as "Ickey" - lost 16-12 at Hawaii and 38-21 to Eric Dickerson and SMU. Otherwise, the Rebels would have finished 13-0, at least until the NCAA gumshoes started examining their transcripts.

"We had a great mix of kids," said Hyde, who still spends three days of every week in Las Vegas, where he and his longtime engineer Chuck Wagner do a twice-a-day sports talk show on KSHP-AM 1400. He spends the other four days in his native Southern California, where he talks more sports and hosts the USC football pregame show.

"Some went on to become doctors, some went on to become lawyers, some went on to become police lieutenants "

And some went on to break the law. Several of Hyde's players had run-ins with the authorities during his tenure, which, in retrospect, was probably a bigger problem for the program than their transcripts.

"There are always going to be a few who don't take advantage of the opportunity you give them," said Hyde, who still wears his hair like one of the Kinks during the British Invasion.

When that happens, it's the coach who usually takes the fall. Whereas most of the players who were ineligible or handcuffed wound up playing at other schools, Hyde wound up fired.

He would coach just once more, serving as George Allen's associate head coach, recruiting coordinator, running backs coach and program salesman at Long Beach State. He also would make Allen's coffee, when asked. While the 49ers' program no longer exists, I swear that Hyde had nothing to do with it.

After signing off Tuesday afternoon from his remote "studio" - actually, a tiny table in the middle of the Sahara Saloon, which is roughly 10 miles from the Ghostbar at the Palms but as far as you could possibly get from it in every other way - the youthful-looking Hyde began telling stories as only he can.

I couldn't write fast enough. One story that sticks out is how he beat the Pac-10 recruiters to sign standout wide receiver Tony Gladney - "I helped his mother cook dinner." Another is about the tactic he used on kids who thought they wanted to play for Oregon State.

"I'd tell them to get a chair and an umbrella and go sit in the shower," Hyde said. "That's what the next four years are going to look like."

Hyde could sell a carton of throat lozenges to Marcel Marceau, but he couldn't sell the Long Beach administration on his idea to keep its football program solvent:

Play only road games.

There was so little interest in Long Beach State football that Hyde thought it made sense to permanently hit the road. He proposed the 49ers become football mercenaries.

"I told them I didn't want to put our show in a theater where nobody was in the seats," he said.

And what a show it would have been. Hyde said he would have recruited only junior college players - "Men, no boys" - and set up a schedule of mostly Western Athletic Conference-type opponents they could intimidate. Then he would add the finishing touch: One set of uniforms. White ones. Or maybe camouflage.

"I told them we would be the Long Beach 49er Seals. We would invade somebody. Blow 'em up. Then send the choppers for us," Hyde said with a maniacal glint in his eye.

It's one of those crazy ideas that sounds like it might even work, at least when you are talking football in a bar where secondhand smoke can give you a firsthand case of emphysema. Trouble is, this is what Hyde told the Long Beach administration during his interview to be its head football coach.

He didn't get the job.

But he's not complaining.

For Harvey Hyde, telling it the way it should be is so much better than telling it like it is.