In general, the coaching carousel is one of the single most entertaining parts of the college football season, if only because it takes all the elements of the sport we love, pushes them to the extreme, and jams them down our throats, in one glorious stretch that can last anywhere from a few days, to a few weeks.
Take the maniacal fanaticism of most programs (many that believe National Championships are their birthright), add in the excitement that comes with getting anything new (a new coach, a new car, a toy, a new girlfriend, whatever), and put it with all the sketchy backroom dealings that can only be seen in big-time college sports, and really, what’s better than that?
Nothing really. At least under normal circumstances.
That’s because — how do I put this nicely — this year, the coaching carousel has been a little boring.
Ok, it’s been a lot boring.
Ok, it’s the most boring thing to come to college football since Will Muschamp’s offense hit Gainesville.
Looking around the country, the Gators replaced Muschamp with a guy most fans (and maybe even Nick Saban) couldn’t pick out of a police lineup. The sole purpose of Nebraska’s search was to find the nicest guy possible, and if he just so happened to coach football, even better. Wisconsin’s coach left for Oregon State, leaving Wisconsin’s fans staring morosely out the window wondering why they too weren’t leaving the state before winter officially arrived. And Michigan, well, I don’t know what the hell Michigan is doing. But if they end up hiring Lane Kiffin to be their next head coach after running through every other available candidate, I wouldn’t be totally surprised.
So yeah, it’s safe to say that this year’s coaching carousel has been a little bit mundane.
At least until UNLV made the biggest gamble of the season thus far.
For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to UNLV’s coaching search — so, all of you — the single most interesting piece of coaching news happened. It takes all the best elements of the coaching carousel — the sheer insanity of it all, the shady backroom dealing, the ‘this is just crazy enough to work’ attitude that can only be found in sports — and brings it all to the forefront. It also makes one of the single most uninteresting programs in college football all of a sudden, a lot more intriguing.
I am of course talking about the UNLV Rebels, who are set to replace the fired Bobby Hauck with…
Are you ready for this….
A guy by the name of Tony Sanchez.
For those of you who’ve never heard the name ‘Tony Sanchez,’ well, it’s hard to blame you. He has no college head coaching experience, no ties to the NFL, no experience as even a college assistant, except for one year at New Mexico State.
Instead, Tony Sanchez is coming to UNLV from Bishop Gorman….high school.
Yes, UNLV is hiring a high school coach to lead their college football program. And I for one, think it’s awesome. I have no idea if Sanchez will be good in the gig, or if this will be the lowest point in college coaching since Charlie Weis fell asleep during a team meeting, but I do know that it’s damn interesting.
And in an era where most programs stick to the status quo, and most AD’s are more afraid of losing their jobs (and the sweet country club memberships that come with it) than making the best possible hire, I love what UNLV is doing. They’re trying something different, an approach I wish more college football programs would take when making their coaching hires.
Now before we dive into how awesome this hire is, let’s start with some facts.
As I mentioned, Sanchez comes to UNLV from Bishop Gorman High School where, in his defense, he has had an insane amount of success the last six years. During his time there the school went 85-5 and won six straight state titles, including this season, when they 15-0 and won the mythical National Championship. And to Sanchez’s credit he does apparently either have an eye for talent, or a damn good ability to develop it, with Gorman set to send players to USC, UCLA and Notre Dame next fall. And that doesn’t even include Cordell Broadus (Snoop Dogg’s son), who hasn’t yet picked a school but has offers from pretty much everyone.
Still though, this isn’t article really isn’t so much about why Sanchez could succeed or fail. Instead it’s giving UNLV credit for having the willingness to find out. That’s because like every other coaching search that has done this off-season, and every off-season before it, UNLV could’ve interviewed the usual candidates. They could’ve tried to get a retread that everyone knows won’t work. They could’ve gone with the assistant coach no one has ever heard of.
They could’ve given the old guy looking for one more shot, well, one more shot. They could’ve hired somebody completely out of left field, with no ties to the school or region. Instead, they went with a guy who yes, is coming from high school, but is also from the region, and who knows the area, knows the fan-base and who knows the prominent boosters (Sanchez is reportedly buddy-buddy with Lorenzo Fertitta, who co-owns the UFC — yes, like the entire UFC — and whose son played at Gorman last year. Think UNLV couldn’t use a little UFC cash-flow?). Aren’t those basically, like the three more important things a new head coaching hire can have going for him?
Plus, it’s not like there’s no track record of high school coaches having success at the college level. Sure, not many have gone straight from high school head coach to college head coach, but some of the best guys in the game right now cut their teeth in high school. Ever heard of Art Briles? Or Hugh Freeze? Or Gus Malzahn? All pretty good coaches. All of whom began their careers, and developed into the coaches they are today on the high school level.
But really the reason I love the hire is this: What’s the worst thing that can actually happen with Sanchez going to UNLV? The Rebels suck? They lose a bunch of games? Well, I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, but UNLV has been losing plenty without Sanchez, thank you very much.
As a matter of fact, UNLV hasn’t just been bad lately, they’ve been the worst kind of bad: Not only do they lose a lot of games, but they’re uninteresting doing it. Over the last 20 seasons, UNLV has finished over .500 a grand total of two times, with more winless seasons (one) than seasons with nine or more wins over that same stretch (zero). Even worse, in an era where just about every Mountain West program has at least had a moment in the sun — Boise State, Hawaii, Nevada and Fresno State all come to mind — what’s the last memorable moment UNLV has had?
That time that…. uhhh, exactly.
And really, that’s why I like the Sanchez hire so damn much. I don’t know if he’ll win, but at least for a little while, UNLV will be interesting. At least they’ll be worth keeping tabs on. Don’t tell me that at some point next season you won’t see a UNLV score running across the bottom line of the ticker at 2:30 in the morning, think to yourself ‘Wait a second, isn’t UNLV coached by that high school guy?’ and then immediately change the channel.
Sure UNLV will be part carnival act, part ‘guy who juggles knives on the boardwalk for loose change’ but hey, at least UNLV is….something. At the end of the day sports is entertainment, and if you can’t win championships (which UNLV can’t, at least at the highest level), why not at least be interesting? Well, there is no one who will have “interesting” cornered next year, quite like UNLV will.
As a matter of fact, let me take it one step further: Name me a single hire this off-season that’s more interesting than Sanchez-to-UNLV? I can’t think of one.
Sure, Florida hired a new coach. But I’ll watch Florida next season because it’s Florida, not because I’m super-intrigued to see Jim McElwain there. I’ll watch Nebraska just to see how much the announcers play up the “Nicest guy in coaching shtick” more so than because I think Mike Riley is actually the guy to lead Nebraska back into the conversation of college football’s elite. But UNLV? I’ll be watching UNLV for a number of reasons, but mainly because I don’t know what to expect frankly.
It’s something I never thought I’d say, and something I probably never would have said if UNLV had hired pretty much any other coach on the market. But yes, I will be watching UNLV football next season. Who would’ve ever guessed it?
Aaron Torres is a writer for FOX Sports Live and a contributor to Outkick. Follow him on Twitter@Aaron_Torres, on Facebook or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org