by Jack Rieger
The UNLV basketball program just suffered through a week from hell.
On April 9, former Arkansas-Little Rock coach Chris Beard signed a five-year contract to coach for the Rebels. Seven days later, Beard bolted for the Texas Tech head coaching job, where his family lives and where he was an assistant coach for 10 years. UNLV, feeling like a forgotten prom date who was ditched for the ex-girlfriend, quickly announced its hiring of Marvin Menzies on April 16.
What exactly did Chris Beard figure out between the moment he agreed to coach UNLV and the moment he left?
Maybe it’s that 10 players from last year’s (18-15) team are either declaring for the NBA draft, transferring to another school or graduating. UNLV also only has two verbal commitments from incoming freshman after Carlos Johnson, who previously was a verbal commit, de-committed due to “uncertainty of the program right now.”
Or maybe Beard was turned off by the way the Nevada Board of Regents embraced the terms of his contract. The 13 members of the board voted 9-4 in favor of the contract, which paid Beard $5.75 million over five years. It was the most no votes for a Nevada coach, with much of the resistance due to the financial terms of the contract. One of the board members, Richard Trachok, left Beard with a warm goodbye.
“If you do half as well next year as you did in negotiating this contract it will be a hell of a season,” Trachok said to Beard after the meeting.
So let me ask you, if you were a talented up-and-coming coach with offers around the country, would you choose UNLV? As a general rule of thumb, chaos doesn’t attract talent, and UNLV is as disorderly as rush hour traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard.
One day after Beard took off, UNLV hired Marvin Menzies to be its fourth coach in one year. The Rebels have had more basketball coaches than road wins in the past 100 days. While he wasn’t as sought after as Beard, Menzies is not a bad backup plan for UNLV. In fact, he may be exactly what that program needs.
Menzies is not what you would call a sexy head coach selection. He never coached in the NBA, he’s not Rick Pitino and he doesn’t have any connections to the 1990 Rebels. The last thing UNLV needs is another coach who played under Jerry Tarkanian or a big name like George Karl. The program is in a rebuilding phase and their record over the past couple seasons, as well as the dysfunction of the athletic department, reflects that. If anything, it’s time to press reset and find a fresh face who can rebuild, and they might have found him.
Menzies spent the last nine seasons coaching at New Mexico State where he led the Aggies to five consecutive Western Athletic Conference titles, five NCAA tournament appearances and averaged 22 wins per year. Last season, New Mexico State ranked 10th nationally in scoring defense, 11th in field goal percentage defense and fifth in rebounding margin. Those are all areas where UNLV was well below average.
Menzies also has a reputation as an effective recruiter; he was the head recruiter at San Diego State in the early 2000s and stockpiled Louisville with talent in the same role. At New Mexico State, Menzies flexed his recruiting muscles with international prospects, as 11 of the 16 players on the NMSU roster had international backgrounds. That includes Pascal Siakam from Cameroon, who averaged 20.3 points and 11.6 rebounds last season. His recruiting record is especially impressive, considering how difficult it must be to convince an 18-year-old to come to Las Cruces, New Mexico.
UNLV fans have been put through the wringer in the last couple weeks, hell, even the past couple of years. Four different coaches in the span of four months, an NCAA tournament drought and a roster that looks more like an attendance sheet for a college’s music appreciation class. But despite all of that, they managed to attract a talented coach and recruiter who’s willing to endure an uphill battle.
Now he better get to work.
Jack Rieger can be reached at Jrieger@sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @JackRieger.