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October 1, 2022

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Sanford places blame elsewhere for UNLV’s shortcomings

Fired head coach says more commitment is needed from administration, community

Mike Sanford

Ryan Greene/Las Vegas Sun

UNLV coach Mike Sanford, who was told on Sunday that he will not be brought back for a sixth season in 2010, addresses the media at the Lied Athletic Complex on Monday, Nov. 16, 2009. Sanford is 15-43 overall in four-plus seasons at the helm, and he will coach the Rebels’ finale at home against San Diego State on Nov. 28 to close out his tenure.

Sanford Out as UNLV Coach

After a 15-43 record in five seasons as head coach, UNLV put an end to the Mike Sanford era.

The Rebel Room

Sanford out, and what's on deck for Kruger's club

Ryan Greene and Rob Miech dive into the issue of Mike Sanford's firing from UNLV, plus what went down at his Monday press conference. Also, a look at a big week ahead for the Rebels hoops squad, as it hosts UNR and Southern Illinois.

The Rebel Room

Mike Sanford press conference — 11-16-09

UNLV football coach Mike Sanford, who was told on Sunday that he would not be brought back for the 2010 campaign, met with the media on Monday afternoon to answer questions. Here is the sound from the press conference in its entirety.

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Sanford at UNLV

  • Record: 15-43 (.259)
  • MWC Record: 7-32 (.179)
  • Best wins: It's a tie between a 27-0 victory at home over Utah on Sept. 22, 2007, and a 23-20 overtime triumph over then-No. 15 Arizona State in Tempe on Sept. 13, 2008. Both lost some luster, however. On the heels of the victory over Utah, the Rebels lost their final 10 games of the season. In 2008, the ASU win was the highlight of a surprising 3-1 start, but UNLV fizzled quickly, finishing 5-7.
  • Worst losses: Sanford's teams took some brutal beatings in his early years, such as a 51-3 loss at TCU in 2005 and a 52-7 thumping at BYU in 2006. But it was in years four and five, as the program appeared to be on the verge of a turnaround, when a couple of losses stung a little more. The two worst were a 42-28 loss at San Diego State to close out the 2008 campaign, then a 63-28 embarrassment in Reno this fall. At SDSU, the Rebels needed only to topple a two-win team to earn their first bowl berth since 2000, but stumbled early and couldn't recover. In the debacle against UNR, a brutal four-game losing streak was highlighted by a 773-yard offensive performance from the Wolf Pack.
  • Best moment: Sanford was rightfully emotional following the victory at Arizona State. He took a Gatorade shower in the postgame locker room, and it appeared that the program was truly on the cusp of a turnaround following his signature win at UNLV.
  • Worst moment: Desperate for a review of a controversial loss on the final play of a 16-10 loss at Iowa State in his second season, Sanford went on a frantic search for either the game officials - who had already left the field in Ames, Iowa - or the ISU athletic director. Unfortunately for Sanford, his lap around the Cyclones' football complex behind the end zone was caught on film by a local news crew and turned into a popular view on YouTube.

A day after his firing as the head football coach at UNLV, Mike Sanford sat in front of more microphones and recorders than he had seen at almost any point in his five-year tenure.

He used that rare forum to proclaim that, in his mind, the program's failure to get off the ground had nothing to do with who was the head coach.

"In the last 20 years that UNLV has played close to or at BCS-level competition, no football coach has left this program with a winning record, which includes a man — John Robinson — who is being inducted into the college football Hall of Fame next month," he said. "In my opinion, this must be a systemic, infrastructure and commitment issue, and not a coach issue.

"There's a mentality (within the community) of 'Well, let's see if they win, then we'll jump on the bandwagon and help them.' And that's not going to work. It hasn't worked, like I said, for 20 years. UNLV keeps changing coaches, and that's not the answer."

Sanford chose to begin his face time talking about positives the program had experienced under his reign rather than accepting blame or fault for glaring performance issues, such as a perennially porous defense or an inability to consistently win games away from Sam Boyd Stadium.

Interim athletic director Jerry Koloskie said Sunday night and again Monday that Sanford's firing was a performance-based issue.

Yes, there were positives to his tenure, which Sanford pointed out early in his 26-minute session with the local news media. He indicated that the team's overall GPA improved, how the program's Academic Progress Rate went from an unimpressive 889 to 934 and how the program's graduation rate rose from 36 percent to 60.

But good grades and character improvement didn't translate into wins.

He then shifted to how facilities, such as the Rebels' off-campus stadium, are part of the problem.

"I think there needs to be support from the top-level administration at UNLV to being successful in football," Sanford continued. "There needs to be money spent at the level that it's spent. In my opinion, they call it the 'Big Three' in this conference, but really it's the 'Big Four.' It's TCU, BYU, Utah and Air Force. Those four programs are true, in my opinion, BCS programs.

"All I want to do is, I have an opportunity to say some things hopefully that will make this program better."

Sanford went on to call the locker room at Sam Boyd Stadium the worst in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision ranks, discussing how some of the program's aesthetic shortcomings affected the way UNLV recruited.

"I'm not saying that anybody was dishonest with me," Sanford said. "But at the same time, I will say that there are projects and things that were talked about that were going to be done that still aren't done and, probably from the way I'm hearing, are never going to be done.

"You look at the Strip, the money that's there, the resources that can do it. If Boise State can do it, TCU can do it in Fort Worth, then UNLV can do it in Las Vegas."

Sanford also made sure to point out that UNLV is the only Mountain West Conference school without a dedicated student-athlete support center. Still, he clearly stated that the program had seen a major upswing in its academic improvement.

Mixed signals came across at times, and Sanford was asked toward the end whether he was speaking from frustration. Instead — agree with the timing or not — he said he was using the forum to stick up for his current players in terms of difficulties they've faced.

"I wouldn't say that I'm frustrated at all," he said. "Here's my purpose in what I'm saying: My first thing is to be honest about what I've gone through, how much I appreciate this job and the opportunity that I had here. I think that I'm pretty dang positive about this, and I've been positive through a lot of adversity over the course of this job.

"My other purpose in this is I just think it's important. To me, I believe I would be selling our players short, not be doing what our coaching staff and I believe is right if I did not bring out the truth about where this program is and what it needs to do to be successful, and it's not changing coaches."

Still, no matter what the extenuating circumstances were behind the scenes during Sanford's five-year run, Koloskie — who ultimately made the decision to let go of Sanford and passed his recommendation on to President Neal Smatresk — stuck by his word this season that no change would be made until the Rebels could no longer attain bowl eligibility. That fate was sealed with an ugly 45-17 loss at Air Force on Saturday, dropping UNLV to 4-7 this season.

Under Sanford, the Rebels are 15-43 overall and 7-32 in Mountain West play.

"I don't think I said the coach is the problem," Koloskie said. "I just said we have to be more successful, and it starts with your head coach. Ultimately, they're responsible for the program. Again, I believe we have the resources in place to be successful here, and I think we can be, and that's my goal, if it lies on my shoulders, is to find that coach who will make us successful.

"I think Mike's done a great job here, he's entitled to his own opinions, it's just time to move on."

The 54-year-old Sanford said he has not yet thought of what the next step in his career will be, and won't worry about it until after UNLV concludes its season Nov. 28 against San Diego State at Sam Boyd Stadium.

"When I took this job, I laid out goals that were very high for this program," he said. "I don't regret the high standard that I set. I came from a university community — the University of Utah — which I believe understands the commitment necessary in the area of finances, facilities and community support to truly compete at the BCS level. I had high hopes and expectations to bring that level of a program to UNLV.

"I do not for one second believe that I failed in this pursuit. I just wasn't given enough time or resources to do it."

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