Thursday, Sept. 3, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
- Steve Stallworth, South Point Arena's general manager, former UNLV quarterback and likely Rebels athletic director candidate, talks about the state of the UNLV athletic department.
- Stallworth on talking with new UNLV president Dr. Neal Smatresk about the athletic director position.
- Stallworth on how important it is to him to have an athletic director with intimate ties to the university
- Jerry Koloskie named UNLV’s interim AD (8-27-2009)
- UNLV leader weighs options in selecting athletic director (8-18-2009)
- With exit of athletic director, UNLV sports heavyweights ponder future (7-22-2009)
- Who might take Hamrick’s place? (7-21-2009)
- Let’s be frank: This royal alienator of an A.D. stayed step ahead of ax (7-21-2009)
- Hamrick leaves Las Vegas with 'mixed emotions' (7-20-2009)
Not even Orleans owner Michael Gaughan believed Steve Stallworth could secure a basketball game between Kansas and Florida inside his arena.
“Quit messing around with these guys,” Gaughan told Stallworth three years ago. “We’re not going to get college basketball to a casino with a sports book.”
“We will,” said Stallworth, who was running the arena for Gaughan, “but we might need to fire up that big bird.”
Gaughan’s private jet wasn't required to bring Kansas Associate Athletic Director Larry Keating to Las Vegas for a tour of the Orleans and its operations.
Keating bought in, convinced Florida brass to play the Jayhawks and the landmark game shattered a myth that it was verboten for college hoops teams to play in an arena linked to a sports book.
The Orleans will play host to the West Coast and Western Athletic conference tournaments next spring, and Stallworth nearly lured the Big West and Big Sky tourneys to Las Vegas.
His outgoing demeanor, aggressive nature and rich ties to the community likely will land Stallworth on a short list of local athletic director candidates at UNLV.
“You can see how the dominoes fell,” Stallworth, who now runs the South Point Arena for Gaughan, said of his college hoops coup. “It was done very strategically and systematically. It was great for our city.
“Those are the things that excite me, things we can do to excite our city. Certainly, in an athletic director’s role, the university is first. No question. But what else can we do to help our city? Those things help.”
Keating is a big fan of the former Rebels quarterback known as “Strip” when he beat Wisconsin in 1986 before a record Silver Bowl crowd.
“I couldn’t speak more highly of anyone,” Keating said. “He’s one of the best persons I’ve ever dealt with, and I’ve dealt with a lot in 40-plus years in athletics. I’d suggest he’s a prime candidate.”
Gaughan has told Stallworth what he thinks about his protégé’s chances of being the next boss of the UNLV athletic department.
“Steve, you better not pack your bags,” Gaughan said. “There’s one reason why you won’t get that job, because you’re the right guy for it.”
There is a reason Stallworth signs everything — legal contracts, checks, memos ... everything — in red ink.
“They know that’s coming from me” he said. “Someone once questioned it. Red ink on a contract? That’s Rebel red. For me, that’s the passion and conviction. It’s thinking that way every day. It’s very important.”
Stallworth, 45, beams as he sits in a custom Oakland Raiders golf cart in his garage in the gated Rancho Bel Air section of Las Vegas.
The doorbell of his home chimes “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” He never knows which of the scores of tunes daughter Savannah or son Stetson will program into it.
He calls everyone Brother.
He insists he’s never had a bad day.
His family’s dog is named Sunny, and the Stallworths have a “No Drama” policy under their roof.
So how can such a mild-mannered, pleasant guy be a fan of an NFL team with such a notorious eye-patched image? Just meant to be, he says. He was a Criminal at Yuma High in Arizona and a Rebel, so ...
Inside the foyer, past the suit of armor wife Stephanie inherited from her late father, Stallworth leads a tour of his comfortable confines to a backyard table and padded chairs.
He is asked few questions in the first hour of a three-hour chat. He has a vision and a plan to reconnect the community and attract new stakeholders to UNLV athletics.
That will be challenging in an economic climate that seems to tighten by the day. “The biggest thing is to understand where that athletic department funding is coming from and how it works with the UNLV foundation,” he said.
Stallworth considers himself to be a business guy in a sports world, not the other way around.
“I love the business of sports,” he said. “Taking the same sports principles and applying them in business, that’s where my strengths are.”
He spent most of 1991 to 2001 as either the associate director of the Thomas & Mack Center or the director of UNLV’s sports marketing team.
He made a savvy move when Gaughan hired him in September 2001 to build and run the Orleans Arena. Gaughan taught him to be decisive, keep it simple and always – ALWAYS – focus on the customer.
“I learned there’s a whole other universe of people in our community who have money,” Stallworth said. “There’s a whole other world out there we need to touch. That was the best move I’ve made.”
It’s a world that former Athletic Director Mike Hamrick shied away from so frequently he drew the constant ire of Jim Rogers, the high-powered ex-chancellor of the Board of Regents.
“It’s too easy to say, ‘Let’s go out and ask George Maloof to write a $10 million check,’ ” Stallworth said of his former UNLV football teammate who runs the Palms. “It’s not that easy.
“There are a lot of stakeholders. The biggest one is the president. What is his vision for the athletic department? Where does he want the athletic department to go?”
He hopes to hear from Dr. Neal Smatresk, the new UNLV president who will assemble a committee to form a list of candidates. The process figures to take the entire school year.
“I’d love to visit with Neal when the time is right,” Stallworth said. “If they’re looking for someone who is sales- and marketing-focused, and results-driven ...
“I’m sure it wouldn’t take long for him or me to figure out whether or not it would be a great fit.”
Stallworth also has not spoken with Rogers or prominent UNLV booster Cliff Findlay, both of whom figure to be influential in the process.
However, Stallworth has spoken with Rebels basketball coach Lon Kruger, who has talked with Smatresk about the post and will be another major player in the search.
“I wanted to make sure (Kruger) knows that I’m not just the former quarterback who ran the Orleans Arena,” Stallworth said. “I think he knew that from the time we’ve spent together over the years.”
Kruger said he’s long been impressed with Stallworth and that he’s one of several qualified local candidates, which includes interim AD Jerry Koloskie.
Las Vegas Bowl Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy also is highly regarded by many whose input matters.
“It’s most important to get the best person possible,” Kruger said. “If that person has local ties, I think that’s a big bonus.”
Stallworth, who has put together three college basketball tournaments at the South Point in December, is cognizant of his weaknesses, too.
He doesn’t have a master’s degree.
Seven of the Mountain West Conference’s current athletic directors, including Koloskie, have master’s degrees. San Diego State’s Jeff Schemmel has a law degree. Kunzer-Murphy has a master’s degree.
However, College of Southern Nevada Athletic Director and baseball coach Tim Chambers doesn’t possess a master’s degree, so it doesn’t appear to be a system prerequisite.
In addition, Keating downplayed Stallworth’s lack of experience in NCAA collegiate athletic administration.
Most important, according to Keating, is boosting community interest that was so prevalent during the Jerry Tarkanian glory days and which Kruger has begun restoring.
“They have to get someone who will bring back the community,” Keating said. “It would make sense to get someone who has worked in and for the community.”
Stallworth is sensitive to perception. He hopes his dedication and loyalty to Gaughan isn’t misinterpreted, or mitigated, in his interest in the UNLV position.
But make no mistake about that interest.
“This is the ultimate job,” Stallworth said, “for someone in my world.”