Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019 | 2 a.m.
UNLV has won its last three games to move into fifth place in the Mountain West, with key contests against fourth-place San Diego State and first-place UNR on the schedule over the next five days. But that wasn’t the main topic of discussion when head coach Marvin Menzies met with the media before practice on Friday.
With speculation swirling about his job status at the end of the season, Menzies spent most of his media session batting aside rumors and trying to shield his players from the distraction that comes with hot-seat chatter.
Menzies said he feels confident in his job security and that his players shouldn’t worry about him.
“A non-issue,” Menzies said. “I know where I stand here with my athletic director, with my president. It can be a distraction because the players hear some of that stuff, so we talk about it with them and say, ‘Hey guys, focus on us, focus on what’s going on.’”
The third-year coach was particularly forceful when asked about a rumor that gained momentum after being reported by an anonymous Twitter account. According to the report, UNLV is negotiating with former Louisville coach Rick Pitino to take over the Rebels at the conclusion of the season.
That appeared to strike a nerve with Menzies, who served as an assistant at Louisville under Pitino from 2005-07. Menzies often cites Pitino as a professional mentor.
For all of those reasons, Menzies attempted to throw cold water on that line of speculation.
“He’s one of my best friends in the business,” Menzies said. “He helped me get the job. Why would he come and take the job he got me? I know for a fact no one [from UNLV] has even talked to him. It’s nonsense. It’s a waste of time.”
Menzies has compiled a 46-45 record in his two-plus years at UNLV, including a 21-29 mark in the Mountain West. The Rebels are 15-11 this season and 9-5 in conference, guaranteeing that UNLV will finish with a record above .500 in the MWC for the first time since 2013-14.
The program is in much better shape than when Menzies was hired, but the progress has not been quick enough for some. UNLV has not made the NCAA tournament since the 2012-13 season. Menzies’ contract runs through the 2020-21 season.
Menzies said he proactively addressed the rumors with his players “a couple days ago.”
“I talked to them about it. I said, ‘How many of you guys heard the coach Pitino rumors?’ A few guys raised their hands, so I said it’s nonsense and put it to bed.”
Sophomore guard Amauri Hardy committed to UNLV in the spring of 2017 with full knowledge that he was joining a rebuilding program. Hardy said he believes UNLV is moving in the right direction under Menzies and that 2019-20 could see the Rebels take a significant leap forward.
“I feel like that is the breakthrough year, right there,” Hardy said. “I feel like we’ll probably have one of the strongest teams in the conference. Shakur [Juiston] will be coming back, so that’ll be big for us. We’ve got a couple of incoming [recruits] who will get better when they come in. So I think that’ll be the year to make it happen, if not this year.”
Despite the talk about his job status and potential replacements, Menzies remains steadfast that he is the man to turn around UNLV basketball.
“Listen, everyone loves a winner, and we’re going to win,” he said. “So if you don’t love me now, you will soon.”