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#42: Who Does UNLV Football Turn To Now?

Franchise Sports Media

 

On Monday, UNLV Director of Athletics Erick Harper relieved Marcus Arroyo of his job as head football coach, surprising many. Who and where does UNLV turn to now, and where do they go from here?

 

UNLV Football
Photo Credit: TQ/Franchise Sports Media

To say most were shocked would be an understatement. When news broke about Marcus Arroyo being let go, my phone started to blow up. The timing was auspicious since the Rebels staff and players were scheduled to paint the Fremont Cannon red after their 27-23 defeat of UNR on Saturday. Not to mention UNLV is also still in Bowl contention since there aren’t enough 6-win teams, and the Rebels APR puts them and Rice in the hunt.

With the Rebels football program ascending and showing progress, it seemed that coach Arroyo’s job was more than safe. He took the Rebels over in 2020 and had to deal with the global pandemic that caused rosters and games to fluctuate on a minute-by-minute basis. That isn’t fair for any head coach, especially a first-time one. As you know, the results were a no-win season.

The following year he still had to deal with Covid-19 and NCAA restrictions (due to Covid-19) which limited the amount of time he was able to be out recruiting. The Rebels won two games in spite of one of the toughest schedules in the NCAA. It also didn’t help the perception that coach Arroyo was unapproachable and not trying to ingratiate himself to Las Vegas, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

2022 was the season that it all started to come together. After a hot start, going 4-1, the Rebels had to deal with injuries and limped to the finish line, culminating in the win vs UNR. But that wasn’t enough for Harper, who took over for Desiree Reed-Francois last January as the AD and wasn’t the person who hired coach Arroyo.

Since Harper said he isn’t going to use a search firm and that paying Top-3 Mountain West Conference money for a new coach will be the minimum expectation, I would expect UNLV to target some big-name coaches. For Harper’s sake, he needs to land a splash hire to justify firing a coach who had the program moving in a positive direction. This is Harper’s first major decision as the UNLV AD, and it has already drawn the ire of fans, so he needs to make sure his guy is a flashy hire that gets UNLV fans excited.

So who are possible targets for UNLV to hire to replace Marcus Arroyo? I called around and spoke to various sources, and these are some of the names that I was told could be in play for the UNLV head football coach’s job.

 

Pipe Dream

 

These are the possible candidates who would be the dream candidates for the UNLV head coaching job. While I am not saying that they aren’t going to be contacted or interested in the position, I am saying that due to salary demands, profile, or UNLV’s poor track record, they’re not going to leave what they are doing to Be A Rebel.

 

Bob Stoops – Former Oklahoma Head Football Coach

 

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Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports

Coach Stoops retired from Oklahoma after 18 years as head coach of the Sooners. Stoops had a combined record of 190–48 (.798) and left Norman, Oklahoma as the winningest coach in school history. Stoops led the Sooners to the 2000 BCS National Championship and finished the season undefeated, and played in the BCS National Championship Game in 2004, 2005, and 2009, losing to LSU, 21–14, in the 2004 Sugar Bowl, and to USC, 55–19 in the 2005 Orange Bowl, and Florida, 24–14, in the 2009 BCS National Championship Game.

In 2017, Stoops announced his retirement from college coaching. But in 2019, Stoops was hired as the head coach/general manager of the upcoming Dallas Renegades in the XFL. He served in this role until the league ceased operations in 2020 due to bankruptcy stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak. In 2022, Stoops re-signed with the XFL. Stoops also served as the interim head coach for Oklahoma’s bowl game after Lincoln Riley took the USC Trojans head coaching job.

Prediction: Unless Stoops is feeling generous, UNLV doesn’t have the money to pay him what he would presumably want.

 

Chris Petersen – Former Boise State and Washington Head Football Coach

 

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Photo Credit: Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Coach Petersen has a career record of 147–38 (.795) at Boise State and Washington. In 2006 he led the Broncos to an undefeated regular season and the program’s first-ever BCS bowl game berth. He became the fourth rookie head coach to lead a team to a BCS bowl game; Boise State was the only undefeated team in Division I FBS for the 2006 season.

In 2013, Petersen agreed to a five-year, $18 million contract to become the new head coach at Washington.

In 2015, a young Huskies team finished 7–6, including an upset at USC against the Huskies former head coach, Steve Sarkisian. Washington defeated Southern Miss in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Petersen signed a two-year contract extension near the end of the 2015 season. The 2016 Huskies had one of the best seasons in Washington history, winning the Pac-12 championship and earning a berth to the program’s first-ever College Football Playoff. In the Pac-12 Championship, No. 4 Washington defeated No. 9 Colorado 41–10 at Levi’s Stadium.

In 2019 Petersen announced he would step down as Washington’s head coach at the end of the season and assume a leadership advisory role with the athletics program. In his final game as coach, Washington beat his former team, Boise State, in the Las Vegas Bowl, 38–7.

Prediction: Like Bob Stoops, I don’t think UNLV will have the type of funds to lure Petersen back to the sidelines. I also don’t think he wants to go back to coach a Group of 5 school after having success in the Pac-12. 

 

David Shaw – Former Stanford Head Football Coach

 

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Photo Credit: Stanford Athletics

In 2011, David Shaw was promoted to head coach after Jim Harbaugh left to become head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Shaw was the first Stanford alumnus to serve as head football coach since Paul Wiggin, who coached Stanford from 1980–1983. In his first three seasons, Shaw led the team to three consecutive BCS bowl games, including two Rose Bowls. Shaw led the team to a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. The team returned to the Rose Bowl again the following year in the 2013 season but lost to Michigan State.

Shaw led Stanford to its third Pac-12 championship in four years and, consequently, its third Rose Bowl in four years, which the team won 45–16 over the Iowa Hawkeyes. With the 2015 conference title, Shaw became the first Stanford coach in 80 years to win three conference titles and only the third ever in program history.

With a win over Cal in the 2017 Big Game at Stanford Stadium, Shaw set a new Stanford record for most wins by a football head coach (72 wins), breaking the record previously held by Pop Warner. Shaw resigned as head coach, effective immediately, on November 27, 2022, just over an hour after Stanford’s last game of the 2022 season.

Prediction: While Shaw checks all the boxes, once again, it’s highly doubtful UNLV will have the resources to pay him. I also question if he would have any interest in UNLV and could be in line for an NFL head coaching job this offseason. 

 

Not Likely, But Maybe

 

These are the candidates that, based on what UNLV Director of Athletics Erick Harper said in his press conference, don’t fit the “flash and splash” hire needed to sway some of the scrutiny that he is facing publicly. While qualified, these coaches are not the big name that he alluded to.

 

Jay Hill – Current Head Football Coach Weber State

 

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Photo Credit: Isaac Fisher

Jay Hill’s name was mentioned by fans during the last hiring cycle three years ago. Hill is in his ninth season as the head coach of the Wildcats. Hill is Weber State’s all-time leader in coaching wins and has transformed the Wildcat program.

In his eight seasons, he has led the Wildcats to four Big Sky Conference titles and five trips to the FCS Playoffs. The Wildcats have been ranked as high as second in the nation, the highest in school history. He has also led Weber State to seven straight winning seasons. Hill has a career record of 67–38 and was the Big Sky Coach of the Year (2020).

What makes Hill active is his ties to local recruiting in Las Vegas, and he wouldn’t command a high salary like some of the bigger names. He has also been mentioned as a potential candidate to replace Kyle Wittingham at the University of Utah once he retires.

Prediction: While Hill has the credentials at the FCS level, UNLV went that route once before and didn’t have success. He also wouldn’t bring the name value to fill seats at Allegiant Stadium nor make any national buzz recruiting, something that is needed, and the former staff did well.  

 

Todd Monken – Former Southern Mississippi head coach/current University of Georgia offensive coordinator

 

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Photo Credit: Jeff Sentell

In 2012, coach Monken accepted the position as head coach of the Southern Miss football team. He was hired to replace Ellis Johnson after an 0–12 season. While at Southern Miss, Monken amassed a 13–25 record but won the Conference USA West Division (2015) and was named Conference USA Coach of the Year that same year.

In 2016, Monken was hired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to be their offensive coordinator, but after Dirk Koetter was fired after the 2018 season, Monken was not retained on new head coach Bruce Arians‘ staff.

Coach Monken was named offensive coordinator at Georgia in 2020. In his first season with the Bulldogs, Monken successfully navigated a number of challenges at the quarterback position. Between opt-outs and injuries, the Bulldogs started three different signal-callers for the first time in 15 years. Despite the challenges, Monken’s offense was part of a 2020 team that earned its fourth straight top-10 finish in the final CFP rankings and fourth consecutive New Year’s Six Bowl game.

Prediction: This would seem like potentially an ideal fit, but I doubt Monken would take the UNLV job if offered. One of Monken’s key assistants on his Southern Miss staff was none other than Marcus Arroyo and they remain close friends to this day. The coaching circle is small and tight-knit. I doubt he would take a job his friend was let go from. 

 

Nick Rolovich – Former University of Hawai’i and Washington State University Head Coach

 

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Photo Credit: Washington State Athletic Communications

In 2015, Nick Rolovich was hired as the new head football coach at the University of Hawai’i, replacing Norm Chow. In Rolovich’s first season, Hawai’i finished the regular season 6–7, but had their first bowl invitation since 2010 to the Hawai’i Bowl, where they beat Middle Tennessee 52–35.

In 2019, Hawai’i opened the season with wins against Pac-12 opponents Arizona and Oregon State before losing to No. 23 Washington. They clinched a berth in the Mountain West Championship Game with a 14–11 win over San Diego State in 2019. He was named Mountain West Coach of the Year in 2019 after leading Hawai’i to a 10-win season and a division title.

In 2020, Rolovich was announced as the new head coach for Washington State University, replacing Mike Leach, who had departed to take the head coaching job at Mississippi State. In 2021, Rolovich, along with defensive tackles coach Ricky Logo, cornerbacks coach John Richardson, quarterbacks coach Craig Stutzmann and offensive line coach Mark Weber, was fired for failing to comply with Washington’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for state employees.

Rolovich has since sued the university for $25 million.

Prediction: Another candidate that would be a fit for UNLV, but I find it hard to think any school would hire a coach who is suing another institution for $25 million. 

 

Coaches That Should/Could Be On The List

 

Deion Sanders – Current Head Football Coach Jackson State University/NFL Hall of Famer

 

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Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

Coach Prime should be at the top of Erick Harper’s list. He has everything that UNLV is looking for. Do you want a coach with a personality? Deion has it. Do you want a coach that can fill up Allegiant Stadium on his name alone? Look no further than coach Prime. Are you looking for an elite recruiter? Deion Sanders does that, and then some. Are you looking for a coach that players respect and listen to? It’s coach Prime.

Deion Sanders puts a premium on academics, as well as making the players better men. As flamboyant as he was as a player, he also has strict rules that he enforces and teaches his players life lessons. He is a “new school coach” with “old-school” values.

Sanders would bring that sizzle to UNLV. Not since the days of Jerry Tarkanian would UNLV have a presence that would dwarf any other coach in Las Vegas. He would also bring a ton of talent to the Fertitta Football Complex and put the rest of the Mountain West on notice. Sanders notably flipped the recruitment of defensive back Travis Hunter, who was the number one overall recruit in the 2022 class. Hunter initially committed to Sanders’s alma mater Florida State. Coach Prime’s name alone would potentially make UNLV a team that the Pac-12 or the Big-12 would want to add to their conference.

Lastly, coach Prime wins. He has had unprecedented success at Jackson State. He led the Tigers to a 4–3 record, with one win by forfeit. In the fall 2021 season, Sanders led the Tigers to the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) title and a program record of 11 wins, also being named the recipient of the fall 2021 Eddie Robinson Award as the season’s top FCS head coach. In 2022, Jackson State is currently a perfect 11-0.

Prediction: As crazy as it sounds, I think it could happen, potentially. Deion has said it isn’t about HIS PAY, but his staff’s. So If Harper could pay Sanders a Top-3 salary AND increase the budget for his staff, UNLV would have all the things Sanders would want, and he would be the type of person that Harper wants. Sanders is also up for the Colorado and South Florida jobs, so UNLV would have to move quickly. One hiccup could be Sanders personnel deal with Under Armour, and UNLV is a NIKE school..   

 

Tom Herman – Former University of Texas and University of Houston Head Football Coach

 

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Photo Credit: Eric Gay/AP

Tom Herman is another name that should be at or near the top of Erick Harper’s list. In 2014, Herman was hired by Houston as its new head football coach. In the 2015 season, he led his 21st-ranked team to an 11–1 start and the Western Division title in the American Athletic Conference. They won their first American Athletic Conference title by defeating the Temple Owls 24–13.

Houston’s overall record in its two seasons under Herman was 22–4, which included unblemished marks in home games at TDECU Stadium (14–0), in games versus teams ranked in the AP Poll (6–0), and in games versus teams from Power Five conferences (5–0). Herman’s success with Houston brought him significant attention from the media and from multiple Power Five football programs throughout the season, which culminated in his appointment as the head coach of the Texas Longhorns immediately following Houston’s final regular-season contest of 2016.

Texas would go 7–6 in Herman’s first season at the helm, which culminated in a 33–16 victory over Missouri in the 2017 Texas Bowl.

In his second season at the helm, Herman led Texas to a 9–3 regular season record, including a 7–2 record in conference play and a berth in the Big 12 Championship Game, which was the program’s first since 2009. Texas defeated Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, which clinched the first 10-win season for the Longhorns since 2009. In Herman’s third season, expectations were high for the Longhorns, but Texas posted a 7–5 regular season record. Texas defeated No. 11-ranked Utah in the 2019 Alamo Bowl by a final score of 38–10 to end the season on a high note.

In 2020, Herman coached Texas to a 7–3 record, culminating with a second straight victory in the Alamo Bowl over Colorado. Although he had four bowl wins in four seasons, Herman was fired on January 2, 2021

Prediction: Herman is said to want a Power-5 job, but with all of the gone currently, UNLV could be attractive. Since he has been working with CBS Sports, Herman has gone on record saying, “If we had something like this at Houston? That would’ve been phenomenal. There are plenty of Power 5 programs that don’t have a facility as nice as this.” If Herman wants to get back into coaching, like he is said to, UNLV could be the type of program that he looks at.

 

Kevin Sumlin – Former University of Houston, University of Arizona, and Texas A&M University Head Football Coach

 

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Photo Credit: ESPN

In 2007, Sumlin was hired as the head coach of the University of HoustonIn December 2009, Sumlin was announced as a finalist for the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award. In 2011, Sumlin coached Houston to a 12–0 start before losing the Conference USA Championship Game to the Southern Miss Golden Eagles.

2011, Sumlin told his players he was leaving Houston, effective immediately, to accept the Texas A&M job. Sumlin took Texas A&M, in their first year in the SEC, to an 11–2 record, including victories over then No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa and No. 11 Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. The Aggies finished the 2012 season ranked in the top five of both the Coaches Poll and the AP Poll for the first time since 1956. Texas A&M also led the SEC in total offense, total scoring offense, and total rushing yards, and led the nation in third down conversion percentage. Sumlin and the Aggies became the first SEC team in history to amass over 7,000 yards in total offense. Coach Sumlin was the first head coach to win more than eight games in his first season as head coach.

After being let go in 2017 by Texas A&M, Sumlin was hired as the University of Arizona’s head coach. Sumlin suffered perhaps the worst defeat of his coaching career when his University of Arizona team lost to their traditional in-state rival, Arizona State, on December 11, 2020, by a score of 70–7. The following day, Sumlin was fired. In 2022, Sumlin was named the head coach and general manager for the Houston Gamblers of the USFL.

Prediction: Sumlin is another coach that checks off Harper’s boxes. A former head coach who won and has experience with boosters and alumni. Since Harper is not using a search firm, and if you were to read tea leaves, the Arizona ties are strong, and it could be an easy sell for UNLV.  

 

Tim Skipper – Current Associate Head Coach Fresno State, and Former UNLV Defensive Coordinator

 

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Photo Credit: FOX26-Fresno

Coach Skipper was the defensive coordinator under former UNLV head coach Tony Sanchez. A veteran in the Mountain West, “T-Skip” is well respected by his peers and finished runner-up to current Fresno State head coach Jeff Tedford for the Bulldogs head coaching job last year. Skipper joined the Bulldog staff for his second stint as a Bulldogs’ coach, going to Fresno from Central Michigan, where he coached the linebackers for the 2020 & 2021 seasons.

Coach Skipper played his collegiate career at Fresno State. He was a four-year starter there as a middle linebacker from 1997-2000. He earned an appearance on both the 1999 and 2000 watch lists of the Butkus Award, presented annually to the nation’s top linebacker. A two-year defensive captain and three-time All-WAC selection, he ranks second in school history with 418 career tackles, including 117 in his first campaign, when he earned freshman All-America recognition.

Prediction: While Skipper may not have the resume as others, his pedigree and familiarity with UNLV and Harper could give him an advantage. Skipper, a tireless recruiter and well-respected leader, was well-liked by the entire athletic department, coaching staff, and players while at UNLV. He has a lengthy Rolodex he can rely on to put together a very good staff.  

 

Mike Stoops – Former University of Arizona Head Football Coach and Current Kentucky Special Teams Coordinator

 

WWJD
Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports

In 2003, Stoops became Arizona’s head football coach. After going 6–6 in 2006, the Wildcats lost three of their first four games in 2007. Following the 2007 21–20 home loss to Stanford, dropping the team to 2–6, local media began speculating as to whether Stoops would be fired. However, subsequent statements by the athletic director and the university’s president indicated that Stoops would return for an additional season.

He remained the Wildcats head coach until 2011, compiling a record of 41–50, including going 1-2 in Bowl games.  He has since coached at Alabama (linebackers) in 2019-20, the defensive coordinator for Florida Atlantic in 2021, and now at Kentucky, where he serves as the special teams coordinator for his brother, Mark.

Prediction: Much like Kevin Sumlin, Mike Stoops’ ties to Arizona can not be understated. He has worked with two of the best to ever coach in Nick Saban and his brother, Bob Stoops, and has seen his brother Mark turn around a Kentucky program. While he wouldn’t be the most expensive coach on the list, he also wouldn’t come cheap.  

 

This will be the biggest hire UNLV AD Erick Harper has made. This will also be one that could determine his legacy and how he is viewed in Rebels lure. He needs to make a splash hire that can keep the Rebels’ talent from leaving in the transfer portal, as well as recruit well and, most importantly, win right away.

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-Joe Arrigo   Franchise Sports Media

Follow Joe on Twitter and Instagram: @JoeArrigoFSM

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