Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017 | 3:31 p.m.
UNLV announced on Saturday that defensive coordinator Kent Baer and special teams coordinator Andy LaRussa will not return to the coaching staff next year.
Head coach Tony Sanchez said Baer and LaRussa improved the Rebels during their time, but that a change was needed.
“I really appreciate the effort those guys have put in over the last couple of years,” Sanchez said. “We’re definitely a better football team and we’ve moved in the right direction on defense. At this point, I just feel like we can make some changes that will help us continue to grow in a positive direction.”
Sanchez made Baer one of his first hires after he got the UNLV head coaching job before the 2015 season. Baer brought more than 30 years of experience, with stints as defensive coordinator at Stanford, Notre Dame, Washington and Colorado.
Under Baer, UNLV struggled to cover deep passes and the run defense was often porous, especially when matched up against option offenses. In 2017, the Rebels ranked 111th in yards allowed per game (459.5) and 110th in yards per play (6.3). Opponents averaged at least 6.0 yards per play against UNLV in each of Baer’s three seasons as defensive coordinator.
The Rebels also had a difficult time pressuring opposing quarterbacks. In 2017, UNLV sacked passers on just 3.3 percent of dropbacks, the eight-worst sack rate in the nation.
For the season, UNLV allowed 31.8 points per game, a four-year low for the program but good for just 96th in the nation.
Sanchez said that he has already begun vetting potential candidates for the defensive coordinator job, and that the search would probably narrow after the Dec. 20 signing day.
“There’s a variety of different guys we’re looking at,” Sanchez said. “I think it’s a process. You have to really look at what guys bring to the table and how they can utilize our personnel and allow us to be more successful.”
UNLV went 5-7 in 2017, and the defense came under increasing scrutiny for losses to Howard (43 points allowed), Air Force (34 points allowed) and Utah State (52 points allowed).
Sanchez said he’d like to see the next defensive coordinator bring a more aggressive approach.
“Some are odd-front guys, some are even-front guys,” he said. “Obviously we want to match it to our personnel and the guys that we’ve recruited. One of the biggest things is getting a little bit more pressure on the quarterback, being a little bit more aggressive in those situations and then just getting a little bit better against the run.”
LaRussa was also part of Sanchez’s original staff for the 2015 season. In addition to his role as special teams coordinator, he also served as the Rebels’ linebackers coach.
With the departures of Baer and LaRussa, plus the NCAA adding a 10th coaching position starting next season, Sanchez will have three hires to make this offseason. He said the additional assistant will likely be a defensive coach.