Published Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016 | 2:58 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016 | 8 p.m.
UNLV announced a $10 million donation from the Fertitta family towards a new football facility that's expected to be completed by next fall. Las Vegas Sun sports editor Ray Brewer and reporters Case Keefer and Taylor Bern discuss what that means for the program and also look ahead to this weekend's game at Central Michigan.
Tony Sanchez didn’t know anything about the Fertitta family the first time he spoke to brothers Frank and Lorenzo, who recently sold the UFC for $4 billion. It was 2009, in between classes Sanchez was teaching at California High in San Ramon, Calif., and Sanchez was on the phone with the Fertitta brothers and a few other people discussing the football coaching job at Bishop Gorman High.
“After I got done, you get out and Google Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta and it’s like, ‘Oh wow, these guys are pretty important,’ ” Sanchez said. “… It’s amazing where we’re at now.”
That call changed Sanchez’s career trajectory and the relationship has also changed the landscape of UNLV football, which Tuesday announced a record-setting $10 million gift from the family for the Fertitta Football Complex. The 73,000-square-foot, two-level complex will cost a total of $24 million to $26 million and construction will start in early spring with completion expected in approximately 10 months.
Some of the amenities include a 9,000-square-foot weight-lifting area, a full kitchen, study areas, coaches’ offices and locker rooms. In keeping with Sanchez’s rebranding of the program, flashes of Las Vegas will highlight nearly every room, including Rat Pack posters in the players’ lounge. In keeping up with the Joneses, there will also be a barbershop.
“Always recruiting,” Sanchez said with a smile.
Sanchez said UNLV so far has raised more than $16 million for the complex and both he and UNLV Athletics Director cited the $2 million anonymous donation to the program in May as crucial to getting the project moving. At the time, that was the largest single gift in UNLV football history, which shows just how much Sanchez has changed the program and the import of five times that amount from the Fertittas.
“I want to say thank you so very much to the Fertitta family for doing this,” Kunzer-Murphy said. “They do so many things in our community that make us better.”
The facility will be built on the north end of the team’s current practice area inside Rebel Park. From the balconies, coaches will be able to oversee both full-size practice fields, and just beyond that is a previous Fertitta contribution, the Frank and Vicki Fertitta Tennis Complex, a $1.5 million facility that opened in 1993.
In July 2012, Gorman unveiled the Fertitta Athletic Training Center, a state-of-the art facility that was better than many college programs had, including UNLV. So when Sanchez jumped up to the Rebels it was widely assumed that this day would come, but Sanchez said he rarely talked to Frank or Lorenzo about this project because he wanted to prove the Rebels were worth the investment on the field first.
“You’ve got to walk in with a sense of credibility,” Sanchez said. “It’s starting from scratch here. I did what I did at my last job, but now what are you going to do here?”
What Sanchez did in his first season wasn’t overwhelming in terms of a 3-9 record, but last year’s Rebels were more competitive than all but the 2013 bowl team in recent seasons. The staff also put together arguably the best recruiting class in program history, and now they can build on that with a facility that levels the playing field.
“It really is going to be the heartbeat of UNLV football,” Sanchez said.
Just as the Mendenhall Center is for men’s basketball and the Anthony and Lyndy Marnell III Baseball Clubhouse is for baseball, the Fertitta Football Complex will be a one-stop shop where players spend the majority of their time on campus. The idea is that when they’re not in class, everything they would need is now included under one roof.
A new facility — and down the road a new stadium — is also just the cost of doing business in Division I athletics. UNLV President Len Jessup called this a “transformational gift” not only for the athletics department, which would one day like to join the Pac-12 or another Power 5 league, but also for the university as it continues a push to attain Tier-1 status.
“A fundamental part of that vision for the university is being in a Power 5 conference, or at least operating at that level of quality,” Jessup said.
This qualifies for the latter, and Jessup said the feedback from previous expansion conversations with the Big 12 suggested this was much closer to a need than a want. There are a lot of elements that go into creating a winning program, and this is one.
Fundraising efforts will continue with naming rights opportunities still available all over the facility ranging from $2,500 for a player locker to $3.5 million for the main lobby. Most of the hard work, though, is over, because the designs are all done and it’s a lot easier to persuade people to jump on board a project that’s already rolling.
“I knew when I took this opportunity that this was a diamond in the rough, that this could be an incredible job in an amazing community and that it could help change the face of this university,” Sanchez said. “This gift allows us to move toward that.”
Sanchez didn’t have any idea in 2009 how far that phone call would take him. The same could be said for the guys on the other end of the line, because as supportive as the Fertitta family has been throughout Las Vegas, it wasn’t until Sanchez was in place that they bought into football.
“On days like this, the biggest word you can use is humbling,” Sanchez said. “It’s one thing to have a vision and to believe in things. It’s another thing for other people to step up and help those visions become a reality.”