Rebels basketball:

Hutson returns to SDSU, leaving vacancy on UNLV coaching staff

UNLV assistant says it was “just time” for change that sends him back to the Rebels’ Mountain West rival


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV coach Justin Hutson talks to forward Khem Birch during their game against Boise State Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 68-64.

Justin Hutson is an Aztec. Again.

San Diego State coach Steve Fisher officially announced Hutson’s return Monday afternoon, a few days after news leaked that the UNLV associate head coach would return to his previous position on the Aztec coaching staff. Hutson spent two seasons with the Rebels, helping coach Dave Rice amass a 51-19 record. UNLV was 3-1 against SDSU during that time.

“Very tough decision,” Hutson said. “I had a great time in Las Vegas, worked with a great staff, great administration and a great fan base who really knows a lot about basketball. Most importantly, a lot of great players who I’m very close to. We accomplished a lot in the two years we were there.”

Hutson said he met with the team Monday to tell them about his decision.

“It was just time for me,” Hutson said. “At the end of the day it was a decision that was best for my family and it was a program I’m very comfortable with. This was something that I knew I had to do at this time.”

Hutson spent five years (2006-11) on the San Diego State coaching staff, helping to recruit and coach the players who would break through with the school’s best season in program history in 2011. That team, which included current San Antonio Spur Kawhi Leonard, went 34-3 and reached the Sweet Sixteen.

Hutson came to UNLV just after that for a new job title and the chance for a new challenge that would likely lead to his first head-coaching job. He recently missed out on the Cal State Fullerton job, although Hutson said there were other possibilities, too. In August, Washington came calling about an assistant’s job while the Rebels were playing an exhibition tour in Canada. He also recently heard from Arizona, telling him he was on a short list to replace assistant James Whitford, who left to take over Ball State.

“You always listen,” Hutson said. “I turned down Washington because I felt it wasn’t the right time. For this one it was a special situation.”

Hutson is replacing Tony Bland, who had originally replaced Hutson after living with and learning from the elder coach while he was an Aztec graduate assistant. Bland recently left to become Andy Enfield’s associate head coach at USC, opening the door for Hutson’s reunion with the same staff that helped him build a reputation as an up-and-coming coach on the west coast.

Click to enlarge photo

Assistant head coach Justin Hutson from the UNLV Men's Runnin' Rebels Basketball Team poses Aug. 31, 2012 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Hutson will work with the same three guys as his first five-year run — Fisher, head-coach-in-waiting Brian Dutcher and Fisher’s son, Mark — and will likely slide back into his role as defensive coordinator and lead recruiter. A Cal State Bakersfield grad, Hutson is also moving closer to the family he has in California.

“Justin did a great job of helping us build the foundation of our program, we’re very confident moving forward,” Rice said Friday. “Justin’s a friend and we wish him the best.”

The news wasn’t yet official at the time Rice made those comments but he had said he was operating as if Hutson would leave. Rice, who always keeps a short list of potential assistants in mind, also said he doesn’t have a timetable in mind for hiring another coach.

It’s possible UNLV assistant coach Heath Schroyer will take over the associate head coach title as he and Hutson were already at the same pay level — $175,000 base salary, according to UNLV’s online human resources department — and Schroyer already sits the closest to Rice on the bench. Assistant coach Stacey Augmon makes more ($212,000 base salary) because the Rebels made an offer competitive with his NBA salary.

While Hutson came in with an excellent reputation as a recruiter because of his work at San Diego State, Schroyer has had as much if not more to do with the team’s recent recruiting success. Schroyer was big in getting guys like Savon Goodman and 2014 commit Dwayne Morgan, a five-star prospect, among others.

This is the first hire Rice will have to help make since assembling his staff in 2011, although there were other close calls. Schroyer recently turned town an assistant’s job at UCLA and Augmon last summer turned down a job with the Charlotte Bobcats. The NBA could again come calling for Augmon, meaning there’s a chance this isn’t the only search Rice would have to do this offseason.

When the Rebels played at Viejas Arena the past two seasons, members of the student section held up signs referring to Hutson as a traitor. While that group was quick to welcome Hutson back with open arms, it remains to be seen if UNLV’s fans will do the same this upcoming season.

Whatever the public reception it likely won’t bother Hutson. Leaving the players he helped bring in to the program and helped coach on a daily basis is the hardest part, he said. As long as they smile when they see him, that’s all that matters.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at

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  1. He left for less pay and a lesser title. Who out there knows the real story?

  2. CDR fired him porbs.

  3. The real story could be seen during timeouts where Rice looked to Schroyer for all of his advice and the clear lack of control over the bench.

  4. "It was just time for me," Hutson said

    Uhh, ok...

    Yes, if someone could get us the 'real' story that would be great. Seems to me like the program is unraveling a bit. Both guys can be replaced but Moser and Hutson seemed to be cornerstones of what was being built here and now it seems like either one couldn't wait to get out.

  5. Hutson and Moser glad to see you go. Moser was a selfish leftover from Kruger days. Hutson was a joke! He moved back to SDSU because he knows CDR is here for at least 10 years! and SDSU is open in 3-5 years. I know local media is uninformed, but this is no mystery. No PT for Moser so they sent him packing, it will be hard enough spreading time as is!

  6. Next years rotation= D. Smith PG. K Reinhardt SG. BD Jones and Jelan Kendrick sharing time at SF and SG, but Savon Goodman starting at SF. Roscoe Smith PF. Khem Birch C. D Moorant and Lopez Sosa and C Wood resting bigs, D. Cook and returning from his mission Dantley Walker sub PG and SG/ zone buster

    Daquan Cook/Kendall Smith/Christian Wood some combo of this group may/will redshirt

  7. sometimes you can't help but laugh at the nonsense in the comment section.

  8. @lostintheRicefields (Ray Lasky) - If Dantley Walker decides not to redshirt, then he will probably regret it midway through the season. Do you really think he can compete with Deville Smith, Katin Reinhardt, Bryce Dejean-Jones, and Jelan Kendrick for minutes? Dantley Walker is small, unathletic, and dominated against lesser competition.

    Going into next season, I think the program is fine. I'm positive Dave Rice will find a qualified new assistant. It would be nice if they could establish a new recruiting pipeline in the South or Midwest.

  9. I personally do not know how much of an impact Hutson has had on the recruiting as opposed to Rice, Schroyer, and Augmon but my guess is that he had a significant hand in our upgrade in talent. Certainly a good recruiter is very valuable. I agree that this is a strange decision since this is at best a lateral move. However our biggest problems the last two years have not been recruiting, they have been coaching the team and getting the most out of the talent on hand. Whatever coach comes in, it would be nice if they were accomplished at X's and O's. Coch Rice could really use someone who understands game planning and decision making during games. Maybe a guy like Bob Cantu from USC. Certainly he would have solid connections in Southern California and the Trojans played a much more loose and up tempo style once he took over for O'Neill in mid season, and the Trojans were able to beat UCLA in Pauley, and beat Arizona and Washington at home. To me that would be the kind of guy we should zero in on.

  10. Not sure he would have any interest, but since he lives here, what about adding Gary Payton to the staff?

    Would be nice to see him work with the guards and teach them (and everyone else on the team) how you can be a nasty defender and competitor, while also getting teammates involved and scoring on offense.

    One of the greatest of all time. No doubt about it.

  11. Get the thoughts of Bob Cantu and Bill Comardy out of your mind, we play up-tempo, they are slow-down coaches (the second even runs the Princeton offense)

  12. He left because he was named Associate Head Coach and was told he was in charge of the defense. However, he was never given control of the defense, and Heath was Rice's right hand man. That was not the deal sold to Hutson, and he wasn't happy with it. I don't blame him, and I am schocked that Rice believes in Heath as he does. The guy was a terrible X and O's coach at Wyoming and continues to be.

  13. Maybe they should go after Grg...just a thought.

  14. Guru makes sense cause coach Hutson had a title but no real power. I am real surprised he would go back for a lower salary and no title.

    Guru's point about the coach with the fake tan is also true. He did a horrible at Wyoming. The coaches before and after him did much better and the current coach has won a lot more with less talent too.

    I would like to know what was going on within the staff that caused coach Hutson to flee back to San Diego and a step down.

  15. @ Audentes: love the Gary Payton idea, one of my favorite Super Sonics!

    I heard that Hutson leaving also had to do a lot with his family as well, his wife loved SD (and probably hated LV) and family can have a large impact on decisions.

    Plus I think he would be considered a replacement for Fisher should he leave for another job or retire in the near future. I think it was a combination of location, family and opportunity that worked better if he were in San Diego.

  16. I see Rice hiring someone he can feel comfortable with that will be loyal and he can trust. Improving the team chemistry as well as the coaching staff's chemistry is a big off-season goal of coach Rice.

    Maybe a coach Dave Rice or Heath Schroyer has worked with in the past. A defensive coach who's style of defense is more conducive to creating turnovers. While Hut's defense was decent, it did allow teams to hold the ball for 30 seconds and slow down the game. We need a coach who is well versed in trapping and pressing the ball. Maybe one of those IHCC coaches will do well. Both the head coach and the assistant worked with Rice and Schroyer in the past.

    If you can read body language you can tell coach Rice and Hutson didn't have a whole lot of chemistry together during games. Hut failed to haul in any big recruits to UNLV and didn't show the kind of work ethic the rest of the staff showed. SDSU fans were claiming Hut was unhappy at UNLV as early as last summer, so their was probably some truth to those rumors. Some reports say Hut was forced out by coach was definitely a mutually welcomed departure by both the entire UNLV staff and Hut. Some Rumors surfaced say Stacey Augmon did not like Hut as all. Other reports claim Hutson didn't do anything do earn his hefty salary. While head coaches were trying lure Heath Schroyer none of them were going after coach Hutson. Justin was actively trying to secure a head coaching position but did not get any where near being a finalist in any of the jobs he applied for. What does that tell you? SDSU was the only place for him to go and taking a step down back to where he was two years ago tells a telling story.

    Coach Rice will drastically improve his coaching staff by adding a member of the staff that fits in and is willing to give everything he has to make UNLV a better team. Coach Hutson showing up 10 minutes before the MWC tournament final against the Lobos shows how committed he was to being a member of the Runnin Rebel coaching staff.

    At the time when Coach Rice assembled his initial staff he needed a recruiter that knew California well. Now two years later, and a roster that is pretty much set (for 2 years) with a big improvement in the talent level, we now need a coach that can help get the best out of that talent. Some say the staff needs a coach that will challenge the players and get the most out of their potential. Their is a certain coach that led the College of Southern Idaho JC to a national title a few years ago and gets his players to play hard and gets them to give it their all. Coach Rice, Augmon, and Heath aren't necessarily hard asses that ride players. In the past coaches like Ralph Readout or Max Good complimented other coaches well and served a purpose playing that "bad cop" role. I believe we now need someone on staff that will challenge the players and hold them accountable. Year 3 will be the year CDR puts it all together.