Friday, Dec. 18, 2009 | 2:40 p.m.
UNLV has lined up two interviews in the next three days for its vacant head football coaching position, a source close to the situation confirmed to the Sun on Friday.
Montana coach Bobby Hauck led the Grizzlies into the Football Championship Series title game Friday night in Chattanooga, Tenn., where they finished the season 14-1 with a 23-21 loss to Villanova. He will be in Las Vegas on Sunday for an interview, while Dennis Franchione, who last coached at Texas A&M in 2007, will be in town Monday for his interview.
The quick turnaround from the school's Thursday hiring of athletic director Jim Livengood falls right in line with what the former Arizona AD preached at his opening press conference in terms of immediacy in filling the post.
Franchione has been a known, top candidate for the job since late November. He most recently worked a five-year stint in College Station, Texas, where he was 32-28 with three bowl appearances in the loaded Big 12 South.
His most notable work, however, came in reviving a pair of programs now in the Mountain West Conference — New Mexico and TCU.
Franchione took over a dormant New Mexico program in 1992 and capped his six-year run in Albuquerque with a 9-4 campaign in 1997. He then headed to TCU, where in three seasons he went 25-10. The Horned Frogs went 10-1 in his final regular season in Fort Worth. He left before the bowl game that season to take over at Alabama, handing the reins to Gary Patterson, who this season led the program to a 12-0 record and a berth in the upcoming Fiesta Bowl against undefeated Boise State.
"I'm really familiar with the conference and the area, and I feel like (UNLV) is kind of a sleeping giant," Franchione told the Sun in November. "And there's no reason I can see right now that it couldn't be successful and win some games.
"Well, you know, it's got a marquee town. It's close to population for recruiting. I think that's always important. I know that the state is not heavily populated, much like New Mexico was for me, so I'm familiar with that. I think they would like to have a college football program, and it's in a conference that I know well, and I think UNLV has somewhat of a national name out there maybe because of Jerry Tarkanian and what he did and the basketball program and how successful it's been, as much as anything. When I was even in Texas, I would see them have the ability to go in and recruit, and their name identity was very good."
Franchione took over at Alabama in 2001, but left after just two seasons when the program was facing NCAA sanctions because of infractions during the Mike DuBose era, prior to Franchione's arrival. In his second and final season in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide went 10-3.
Since his buyout from A&M, Franchone's worked for ESPN Radio as a color analyst on college football broadcasts.
He said in the same interview that the break has helped refocus him and allowed him some breathing room, priming the 58-year-old for a return to the Football Bowl Subdivision ranks.
"It's been good," he said. "It's been a little bit of a sabbatical from coaching, but I've still been involved with football and Friday practices and see a lot of different programs and how people do things and see a lot of different games. It's been really great from that standpoint. I've kinda recharged my batteries, and I've enjoyed doing the games with ESPN, and I have a great love for college football."
Franchione may have a leg up on Hauck in one aspect, and that's recruiting for next season. Whoever is named UNLV coach will have a small amount of time to deal with, as the dead period for recruiting ends Jan. 1 and signing day is only a little more than a month away.
Franchione's son, Brad, led Blinn (Texas) Junior College to the National Junior College Athletic Association Championship on Dec. 6. The program is stocked with talent, and the elder Franchione surely would have a good in.
He carries a lifetime record of 187-101-2, with a 4-3 mark in bowl games. UNLV, which announced during its November bye week that coach Mike Sanford and his staff would not be retained for the 2010 season, hasn't made a bowl appearance since 2000.
Meanwhile, as Franchione looks to get back into FBS coaching, the 45-year-old Hauck is simply looking for his first crack at it.
UNLV fans were able to catch a glimpse of him on Friday night, as Montana battled Villanova on ESPN2 in the FCS title game.
A Missoula, Mont., native, Hauck is 80-17 in seven seasons with the Grizzlies, including three berths in the FCS championship tilt.
Prior to landing at his alma mater as a head coach, Hauck served as an assistant under Rick Neuheisel at both Colorado (1995-98) and Washington (1999-02).
Livengood hinted Thursday that a coaching hire could be made before the end of next week, and that now appears to be the likely scenario.
"The most important thing right now, just from an immediacy standpoint, is to have a head football coach hired yesterday," he told the assembled media. "Not today, not tomorrow, not by Tuesday, but yesterday. That has to happen immediately, and we're working on it right now."
He added that the decision would be made by a small, core group, including himself, university President Neal Smatresk and Jerry Koloskie, who served as interim athletic director prior to Livengood's hire and laid a good amount of groundwork on the search.
"Any consensus you try to build right now in a short period of time just doesn't happen," Livengood said. "And you know what? What's amazing about coaching searches is that if they turn out great, everyone in the free world takes credit. When they don't work out, you can't find someone who was on that committee. The timing of this dictates that it needs to be done right now."
For more on this story as it develops, stay tuned to lasvegassun.com.