Unlv football preview
Photo Credit: UNLV Athletics

WWJD #28: Building A Winning Culture



What is the definition of a winning culture? A winning culture includes the beliefs, ideas, values, rules, and codes of conduct in an organization or a society.  It shapes how people within the culture think, feel, and act. A winning culture, then, is a culture that sets the stage for positive attitudes, high expectations, and successful performances.  A winning team wants to win, the prize is winning, and gives their all to win the game. – Nathan Jamail



UNLV vs San Diego State       
Photo Credit: UNLV Football/Lucas Peltier

UNLV Head football Coach Marcus Arroyo knows what it takes to build a winning culture. He’s been a part of them while coaching in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and college football, most recently with Oregon as their offensive coordinator. But coach Arroyo has a huge task at UNLV, whose 43-year football culture is draped in losing. The Rebels have a career win-loss record of 165-326-3, including just 7 winning seasons (I didn’t include the adjusted win totals in 1983 and 1984).

I admit that I am spoiled. I got a chance to cover USC football during the Pete Carroll glory years. I  didn’t cover games with the feeling that the Trojans would win, but by how much. As a Trojan fan growing up, I loved this. It was fun to go to the Coliseum on Saturdays and leave with a win more times than not. Writing stories about them and covering them was a blast.

But UNLV doesn’t have the same history as USC, Alabama, or Notre Dame. This is not Ohio St., Texas, Michigan, or Oklahoma. They don’t even have the history as Wisconsin, Louisville, or Oregon. Those schools aren’t “blue blood” football schools with a rich and storied history, but they’ve had success in recent years, or in the Badgers and Ducks cases, the past 25 years. It blows my mind to think that some fans think the Rebels should walk into any stadium and think the opposing team will roll over for them.


It took time, patience, and a commitment from the school, athletic department, and city to build those programs to where they are now.


UNLV Football
Photo Credit: Athletic Business

For the first time in program history, UNLV football has a commitment from the school, athletic department, and city. In the school’s 43-year history, because of this commitment, it is the first time in the history of the Rebels football program that they have a legitimate chance to become an outstanding football program.

It started five years ago when then-head coach Tony Sanchez got the initial donation to build the Fertitta Football Complex. The $38 million facility is arguably the finest on the west coast, and if it is not, it is in the top 3, only topped by Oregon and USC’s complexes.

The Rebels also have their new $2 billion playhouse, Allegiant Stadium. There is no other program in the country that can say over $2 billion is invested in their football program. I left out the 3-year, $9 million NIKE deal UNLV just signed last year, as well as the new Mountain West Conference TV deal that will influx cash flow to the school.

UNLV Athletic Director Desiree Reed-Francois felt a change was needed at the end of last season. She had been at Power-5 schools and knew what a winning culture looked like. She also knows that football is the biggest moneymaker for a University, provided that the school is winning. She is a football fan and wants nothing more than a winning football team, playing in meaningful Bowl games and Mountain West Conference championships.


Enter Marcus Arroyo to usher in a new era of Rebels football


UNLV vs San Diego State       
Photo Credit: UNLV Athletics

Reed-Francois knew what characteristics she wanted in her next head coach. She wanted a person who had to be a tireless worker and an excellent recruiter. He had to have a successful track record as a coordinator at the collegiate and/or NFL level and high energy with the swagger and confidence to take on the UNLV job. The person also had to know the type of culture that needed to be created at UNLV that would stretch from the football field to the athletic department to the fan base. 

As the story goes, Coach Arroyo was at Reed-Francois’ house when Oregon was preparing for the Rose BowlJackson Francois, Desiree’s son, came downstairs, and Coach Arroyo was sitting on the family couch. When Jackson saw the coach, he told his mom, “THAT’S MARCUS ARROYO!” with excitement.

He ran off the impressive Oregon offense’s statistics during his years coordinating the offense and went back upstairs quickly to change. But by that time, the agreement was all but done. Arroyo checked every box Reed-Francois was looking for, and all that was left was to get the contract ironed out. 

When putting his staff together, there were a few things evident. The first thing he wanted was a staff that was high energy and able to recruit well. Coach Arroyo knows that the lifeblood of any program is how well they can recruit. He knew he needed people that would go out and land the kind of recruits that UNLV hasn’t seen too often, if ever. He also wanted people he can trust. He can’t build a winning culture if he can’t trust the people working around and with him.


Arroyo also wanted a staff who were grinders and that knew the task that they were taking on wasn’t a small one. In fact it would be one of the greatest coaching challenges they’d face.


Photo Credit: UNLV Athletics

Let’s get to one of the major issues UNLV has, and the meat of this article: the culture, or lack thereof, for UNLV football. During Coach Arroyo’s weekly coaches press conference on Monday, I asked him specifically about the type of culture he wants to build at UNLV for his players, staff, alumni, and fan base.

I want the culture to understand that the talent acquisition and evaluating guys, getting the proper guys in the right place is the lifeblood of every program. The alumni base deserves to have the proper profile in regards to how you do all that stuff, and talent acquisition is the first piece. Can we recruit and assess the right guys on the field?”

Coach Arroyo continued, “The next part is the player development aspect. Are we doing right for our guys as young men? Are we treating them the right way, good, bad, or indifferent? Win or loss is the body language and communication, and the way we have an effect on these guys in this program, or with our alumni, or the way we stand proud behind this arch is that something that people can say I’m proud of that win, lose or draw?

“The scheme implementations are the third piece of the program, and that’s now what can we do effectively to put ourselves in the best situation to win as a culture. What is it that I want to see? I want to see a physical group. I want to see guys play enthusiastically and together regardless of the score.” Coach Arroyo then gave an example, “Late in a game are guys pointing fingers at each other, are they throwing helmets, are they getting undisciplined penalties, are they on a plane or in a hotel doing a whole bunch of stuff or things that don’t lead to preparation? Those are the things culture-wise a proper alumni base and a proper foundation needs to be built on, and if it’s not there, you have to put it in the ground, water it, back away, give it some sunlight and get back on it and go.”

“The last part is to be able to assess it and look back on it. We’re not at that stage yet to look back on it, but talent acquisition, scheme implementation, and then assessment are the things that are going to give yourself a chance to make sure the foundation of any of what you’re doing has a chance to stand up for a long time. He added, “I wasn’t interested in coming here for a wardrobe change. I’m interested in building something that’s going to stand up for a long time and has a long term approach to it. We have made sure those are on the front and the backend of every conversation we have.


Now comes the hard part for the UNLV fan base: patience


UNLV vs Nevada
Photo Credit: PicksandParlays

I understand how difficult it is to have any kind of patience for your hometown program that hasn’t been a winner in your life, when you see schools, like San Jose State, Wyoming, and others across the country, win after being at the bottom of their conferences. As former UNLV women’s head basketball coach Jim Bolla told me when I was on his show “Coaches Corner” last week, he thinks UNLV has the right person leading them for various reasons.

“We (UNLV) have had the worst facilities in the country. This (football) program was dead. (Tony) Sanchez raised the money to get the facilities done and modernize it. With the support of the athletic department and school, I believe Arroyo is the right guy to lead it going forward and in the future.” He added, “There is no culture, other than a losing one there, and it takes time to change, build, and develop the type of culture that is conducive to winning. I hope the fan base understands that and gives him time.” 

Marcus Arroyo has the personality, the resume, and temperament to build the Rebels into a consistent winner competing for conference titles. He has the school’s support, the players’ belief and now needs the city and fan base to give him time to put it together. No one foresaw a pandemic happening and the world being flipped turned upside down. It’s already difficult enough to be a first-time head coach, but what he has had to deal with is unprecedented. I believe coach Arroyo has had a plan, and I can see it working.


UNLV’s first half opponents this season are a combined 13-2, with one of those losses being to the other one loss team in the MWC. The Rebels schedule gets a bit easier with their upcoming opponents having a combined record of 7-7, including Boise St. Coach Arroyo has the team heading in the right direction with a culture to match. Just be patient and as coach says, “show no flinch.”



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-Joe Arrigo – Franchise Sports Media

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