Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Tim Hauck didn’t need to be informed about UNLV’s defensive woes. Ever since his older brother, Bobby, took over the program, Hauck had been following along closely. He even dug through the history book.
“Defense here has not been good ever since the program started,” Hauck said.
A couple of days after the Cleveland Browns cut Hauck, along with the entire coaching staff, Hauck accepted his brother’s offer to come to Las Vegas and try to change that.
There are a lot of reasons UNLV was able to break through for a 7-5 season and only the fourth bowl game in history. It’s possible none are more important than Hauck and Timm Rosenbach joining the staff as coordinators.
Both guys have NFL experience — Hauck played defensive back for six teams and Rosenbach led two organizations at quarterback — and Hauck was also on two NFL staffs. In their first year, the improvements on both side of the ball were drastic, and though it’s debatable how much credit to give each guy, it’s clear they made an impact.
“It’s crazy how a bunch of little things can actually make a big difference,” senior defensive tackle Tyler Gaston said.
On the practice field, in the film room and on game days, the defensive players seemed to enjoy being around Hauck. He can yell just as good as the next guy, but Hauck was also “relentlessly positive,” according to Gaston.
“I try to create a little emotion every day,” Hauck said. “They feed on that.”
Last year’s defense allowed 32.6 points and 445.2 yards per game. While the numbers weren’t significantly better this year — 31.5 and 436.2 — they did rank higher in league standings. Basically, while many defenses slipped because of the prodigious point totals in Mountain West games this year, the Rebels got slightly better.
And the defensive backs, which are Hauck’s specialty and also the most maligned group on the team, actually helped the team lead the league in pass defense a year after ranking ninth. The Rebels gave up 214.5 passing yards per game this season versus 238.2 last year.
“I don’t want to say fixed, but him improving the DBs, that carries over to the linebackers and the line,” Gaston said. “With every part working together you’re a better team.”
That sentiment also applies to the other side of the ball, where Rosenbach had solid weapons such as Tim Cornett and Devante Davis at his disposal. Of course, he also had a quarterback change midway through the second game, and the second best receiver (Marcus Sullivan) wasn’t available until the fifth game.
The offense’s single-year turnaround was more drastic statistically: UNLV went from 22 points and 367.9 yards per game to 31.2 points and 423.8 yards per game. Like many others, Rosenbach points to the Rebels’ 21-point comeback against Central Michigan as a key to this season playing out the way it did.
“There was going to have to be something that happened to get us to take the next step,” Rosenbach said. “Whatever that something was, whether it was getting Caleb (Herring) in there or going after it more with deep balls, that was the turning point.”
Herring said a big difference for him was working with someone who had as much experience at quarterback as Rosenbach does. Before an injury-shortened pro career, Rosenbach finished seventh in the 1988 Heisman Trophy voting while playing at Washington State.
Hauck and Rosenbach’s pedigree was a reason many around the program were excited to get them on the staff last offseason. Their first-year results have people hoping they stick around.
Maybe it’s because he just dropped into the program and wasn’t following along like UNLV fans or even Hauck, but nothing about the Rebels’ season shocked Rosenbach. He expected to do well, and the players did, setting numerous school records along the way.
Next year he wants to dig more into his playbook, which was limited this season.
“I think it can go well beyond where we were,” Rosenbach said.