Saturday, April 23, 2016 | 2 a.m.
The arching column of more than 100 red, white and black balloons hanging above the stage shrunk to a pair of miniature bouquets on each side. A row of 20 cheerleaders welcoming guests diminished to a scattered set of less than 10.
UNLV crammed new basketball coach Marvin Menzies’ introductory press conference Friday into the overhang of the Mendenhall Center, a much different scene from two weeks ago when Chris Beard held court over the spacious practice floors.
There was no hiding that UNLV went from spectacle setting with its first hire for the same position this month the to settling with the second.
“Bottom line is, I wasn’t the first choice,” Menzies admitted. “But I guarantee you I was the coach who wanted this job the most out of the candidate pool.”
That’s the thing about settling — Sometimes it spells success. Rebels’ fans have largely derided the hiring of the former Lon Kruger assistant away from New Mexico State.
The pessimists could use Friday’s proceedings to bolster their case. Menzies didn’t speak with the same lightning bolts of magnetism as Beard.
But those strikes have already passed without ever touching ground. Menzies’ continuous thunder of assertions regarding how badly he wanted the UNLV job should have been every bit as convincing.
In the end, he sounds like he could be the one to weather the looming storm of struggles long enough to get UNLV back towards its sky-high potential.
“I’m no John Wooden but he wasn’t their first choice either,” the UCLA alumnus laughed. “I don’t know if you guys know your history books. I’ll try to be John Wooden.”
It was a joke, but Menzies doesn’t need to be John Wooden. Doesn’t need to be Kruger, either.
He can be almost exactly who he was at New Mexico State, and surprise at UNLV. Some of the people declaring the Menzies hire a disaster are undoubtedly the same ones who complained when Dave Rice got the gig over Reggie Theus five years ago.
Theus’ only selling point at the time was a flash of success in two seasons at New Mexico State. Menzies succeeded Theus and exceeded his accomplishments, reaching five NCAA Tournaments in nine years.
That his Aggies teams never won a game once there borders on inconsequential. Guiding New Mexico State to a No. 13 seed or better four times, and coming within three points of knocking off eventual Final Four team Michigan State in 2010, is perhaps more difficult than getting UNLV through to the Sweet 16.
Las Vegas versus Las Cruces; think about it.
“I think we have several advantages here that we didn’t have there,” Menzies said.
Menzies peered out over the Mendenhall Center shortly after that statement, and a pair of fans remarked on the emotion in his eyes. Menzies’ actions outshined his words in illustrating his excitement about UNLV.
Here’s a coach who got passed on for the opportunity the first time around and signed a contract extension at his existing post. New Mexico State was coming off of a conference title and required no recruiting for next season with every player returning.
From afar, he watched a circus at UNLV that the stilted clown campaigning for the firing of Athletic Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy outside of Friday morning’s Board of Regents meeting couldn’t come close to mimicking. Beard departed after a week, leaving UNLV’s roster situation — currently comprised of only three scholarship players — even more dire.
And yet after it all, Menzies never hesitated or experienced second thoughts about pursuing the UNLV job again when it reopened. He claimed there wasn’t another college in the world where he would rather coach.
“Somebody told me, ‘Sometimes, it (takes) a left turn to get it right,” Kunzer-Murphy said.
Kunzer-Murphy has rightfully taken a lot of heat for the mess that’s played out with the coaching position, but that might have been one of the more accurate messages shared on Friday. The circuitous route may have yielded neither the most electrifying result nor the desired endpoint for the majority of fans.
But that doesn’t make Menzies a defenseless detour. He has a realistic chance to deliver at a destination he’s driven towards his entire career.