Photo by Juliana Bledsoe / Nevada Sagebrush
By Eric Uribe
Today marks Doug Knuth’s one-year anniversary since taking over as Nevada’s athletic director — and what a difference a year makes.
The Wolf Pack’s first year in the Mountain West last season was dotted with disappointment. The football team melted down with a 7-6 record after starting 6-1. Four different Nevada teams finished last or second-to-last in the conference standings. Legendary coaches stepped down. All in all, success was few and far between.
However, in its sophomore season in the conference and first under Knuth’s leadership, the Wolf Pack has made considerable strides.
Without question, Nevada basketball — both the men and women’s program — takes the cake.
There was no team more dysfunctional around campus in 2013 than the men’s team. The Wolf Pack quit midseason, before spiraling to a last-place finish with a measly three conference victories.
The disappointment didn’t stop there, either. Head coach David Carter seemingly lost grip of the team, with four players transferring elsewhere and star player Deonte Burton flirting with turning pro.
Akin to the men’s team, the women’s team won three conference games and lost nine games in a row at one point during the season.
If 2013 was Nevada basketball’s yin, 2014 was its yang. Both programs pulled off stunning worst-to-third turnarounds. The women’s team won 12 conference games, while the men won 10. Both teams’ Cinderella stories ended in the Mountain West Conference Tournament, with neither reaching a postseason berth.
An honorable mention goes to the baseball team. In Knuth’s first big move, he hired Jay Johnson to succeed Gary Powers as the program’s head coach. With three conference series remaining, the Wolf Pack has eclipsed last year’s conference win total of 11, with 13 wins — good enough for a second-place conference tie at the moment.
Johnson’s smashing success is coming off a roster he inherited from Powers. The array of players he recruited won’t play until next season. Knuth’s home run hire of Johnson offers a glimmer of hope for Wolf Pack diehards in the athletic department’s future hires.
Is there even a question which team gets this distinction? The football team’s 2013 campaign was every Silver and Blue fan’s nightmare.
Nevada’s remarkable eight-game bowl streak came to a screeching halt after 4-8 season. To make matters worse, for the first time in eight years, the Fremont Cannon was coated in Rebel red after UNLV topped the Wolf Pack 27-22 in the annual Silver State battle.
Good or bad, Knuth’s rookie campaign was a valuable learning experience for the first-time athletic director.
“Probably my biggest takeaway from year one is all our hopes and dreams can happen here,” Knuth said. “We can be successful in the Mountain West; we can be successful in every one of our sports.”
Behind the guidance of Knuth, Nevada raised its bar in its second year in the Mountain West considerably. That means bigger expectations for the Wolf Pack in year three. We’ll see if Nevada clears the bar or falls short.
Eric Uribe can be reached at email@example.com.