Published Friday, April 22, 2016 | 3:04 p.m.
Updated Friday, April 22, 2016 | 5:15 p.m.
Standing just inside the Mendenhall Center gym, Marvin Menzies listed some of the programs that have told him thanks, but no thanks. Tulsa, Colorado State and even Texas Tech, which provided the most bizarre turn in UNLV’s coaching search, came calling a few years ago before choosing Tubby Smith.
All of them picked someone else, and so did UNLV. Two weeks ago, the Nevada Board of Regents approved a contract and UNLV held a celebratory news conference for Chris Beard. A week later, Beard, a longtime Texas Tech assistant whose three daughters till live in Texas, returned to Lubbock for a contract that reportedly pays nearly double his five-year, $5.75 million deal at UNLV.
While some might have a problem pursuing a job they were just passed over for, there was never a second thought for Menzies, a former Rebel assistant who had been leading New Mexico State since 2007. In fact, UNLV Athletics Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy said that her first text message after Beard’s departure was from her old friend offering to do anything he could to help.
That man, Menzies, is now the 13th full-time coach in program history.
“I’m not new to rejection, so it wasn’t anything that was going to be life threatening,” Menzies said. “… I think we’re good to go, we’ve just got to get to work.”
Menzies’ deal is for five years and $3.7 million. Although Menzies has been a Division I coach much longer than Beard (nine years to one) the disparity in contracts is a reflection of their relative market value, as evidenced by Texas Tech swooping in to nearly double up Beard. This was a point of contention from some public commenters and regents during Friday’s meeting, but it never mattered much to Menzies.
“I don’t know what his contract was, I didn’t care what his contract was, I still don’t care what his contract was,” Menzies said. “There are other people that will fight that fight, I’m sure, and those larger social issues and political dynamics that exist in Nevada are complex, and I understand that, but I’m happy to be here. I mean, I doubled my pay (laughs). I’m sitting in the seat I wanted to sit in for a long, long time.”
Menzies, 54, spent one season at UNLV (2004-05) before a two-year stint at Louisville under Rick Pitino. Menzies told a story at the Board of Regents meeting, saying he was hesitant to leave UNLV but Lon Kruger told him that Pitino would be able to pay him more and help Menzies become a head coach.
“That’s what happened,” Menzies said.
Now he’s back. Prior to UNLV, Menzies was an assistant at USC (2003-04) and San Diego State (1999-03) under Steve Fisher.
When Beard left, UNLV had to start its search again. George Karl, who was recently fired by the Sacramento Kings, was a possibility, but things progressed quickly with Menzies.
The administration had a contract ready to present by 9 a.m. April 19 in order to get the approval through quickly and allow Menzies to officially start working.
“Clearly this has been a marathon, not a sprint, but ultimately we’ve achieved our goal, hiring a great basketball coach,” UNLV President Len Jessup told the board.
At the news conference, Menzies announced his first staff hire, Providence associate head coach Andre LaFleur. New Mexico State is expected to announce its new coach by Monday, and if the Aggies don’t promote associate head coach Paul Weir, he would likely join UNLV’s staff, too.
As far as current players, sophomore Dwayne Morgan was working out in Mendenhall prior to attending Menzies' news conference upstairs. Morgan recently decided to reverse course and stay, which gives UNLV at least four players: Morgan, junior Tyrell Green, freshman Jalen Poyser and freshman walk-on Austin Starr.
When asked about expectations for this season, Menzies said he couldn’t realistically answer anything until the roster comes into focus. But recruiting has always been his specialty, and the same goes for LaFleur, so Menzies expects to put at least a competitive team on the court next season.
“I do know that we’ve got to get players, and that’s kinda what I do so I’m pretty comfortable we’ll lock some guys up shortly,” Menzies said.
As for style of play, Menzies gave the small crowd what they wanted to hear. New Mexico State’s teams recently slowed down significantly with the Bhullar brothers in the program, but Menzies said he wouldn’t recruit that same way because UNLV requires something different.
“If you could visualize how (Louisville) plays in terms of pressing and making teams uncomfortable defensively and getting out and running the way we did our first few years at New Mexico State, that’s who we’re going to be,” Menzies said. “We’re going to be the Runnin’ Rebels. We’re not going to walk it up the floor.”
That drew a cheer from the crowd, as did Menzies' Ree-beells chant to close his news conference. He called this a dream job more than once, and while the Rebels don’t know what this new era will look like yet they’re all confident it will last more than a week.
“The bottom line is, I wasn’t the first choice but I guarantee I was the coach that wanted this job the most,” Menzies said.
The day started over at the Nevada System of Higher Education building near UNLV’s campus, where entrants were welcomed nearby by about half a dozen paid protestors. One longtime fan, Jonathan Haas, paid a few people to carry signs demanding UNLV to fire Kunzer-Murphy, while a juggler and a clown on stilts were meant to reflect the circus atmosphere of this prolonged coaching search.
“Tina has made us into a national joke,” said Haas, who brought one of the same signs to the home finale and had it quickly confiscated. “… What she’s done the last four months, the NCAA’s been trying to do the last 25 years. Kill us.”
Haas, who said he supports Menzies, listed the payments still due to former coaches and the handling of this search, specifically the dealings with Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, as reasons to fire Kunzer-Murphy, whose contract is up in December. During the public comments section of the meeting, UNLV Rebellion member Alex Pereszlenyi didn’t directly call for anyone’s job but asked the board to look at the college athletics landscape and recognize that the Rebels must quickly improve to try to get on solid ground.
“Invest in the appropriate leadership,” Pereszlenyi said. “I feel like we need to rebuild the athletic department from the ground up with Coach Menzies.”
Later at Mendenhall, Kunzer-Murphy reacted to some of the comments about UNLV’s search and her role.
“I think sometimes people forget that I’m born and raised here and I have two degrees from this great institution and I love it just as much as everybody else but you know what today is about?” Kunzer-Murphy said. “Today is about Marvin Menzies and moving forward.”
During the meeting, three members of the NAACP raised the issue of the disparity between the contracts for Beard and Menzies. Regent Cedric Crear backed that up, calling Beard a “gypsy, at best” because of his many coaching stops and said that the only reason he wouldn’t vote against the contract is because it would further disrupt the process.
“I do not believe that we have done justice to our community and to the institution,” Crear said. “And as a chairman of our (Cultural Diversity and Title IX Compliance Committee) I think we’ve let the system down today.”
Regent Trevor Hayes disagreed, saying that both sides negotiated, and agreed to, the deal so it was irrelevant for the regents to nitpick the specifics of the differences between two different candidates.
“I’m insulted by some of the comments,” Hayes said. “… This is a time we should be celebrating, not being demeaning.”
That backed up the sentiments from Kunzer-Murphy and Menzies. Friday’s gathering at Mendenhall was toned down from Beard’s introduction, but not by a lot. The Rebels are happy, or at least trying to sell that idea, with their situation.
“Somebody told me sometimes it takes a left turn to make a right,” Kunzer-Murphy said. “… It feels right.”
Menzies put that another way: “I’m no John Wooden, but he wasn’t their first choice either.”
Menzies doesn’t mind how he got here, because here feels like home.