TULSA, OK - MARCH 18: Head coach Lon Kruger of the UNLV Rebels looks on from the sidelines during the second round game against the Illinois Fighting Illini in the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at BOK Center on March 18, 2011 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
With Lon Kruger now departing for Oklahoma, it's time to take a look at who UNLV should hire next. The Wynn Hotel has already released a list of odds on who the next UNLV head coach will be and their list headlines current Minnesota Timberwolves assistant Reggie Theus and current BYU assistant Dave Rice. After that is Bruce Pearl whose odds are at 10-1 and everyone after that has odds of either 60-1 or lower.
While odds are interesting, they have no correlation to who would seem like the most logical choice from different standpoints. While we don't know who exactly the next coach will be yet, we do know that the decision will most likely be made quickly. Jim Livengood, UNLV's Athletic Director, has already set a 2 week timetable until the next head coach of UNLV basketball will be announced.
While we can't be sure that timetable will be met since the coaching market isn't exactly ripe with candidates, we can expect Mr. Livengood to work as hard as he can to find the right candidate as quickly as possible. The question is which candidate is the right one to hire? I'll leave that for you to decide, but I can provide you the facts and give you my take on each of the candidates.
Theus is a former UNLV player who was part of the Runnin' Rebels' first Final Four team in 1977. After the 1978 season, Theus went to the NBA where he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls. Theus thrived as a player for the Bulls, but a coaching change in 1983 forced Theus to be trated to the Kansas City/Sacramento Kings where he continued his good but not great play, averaging 15 points and 7 assists. He eventually ended his career with one-year stints with the Atlanta Hawks in the 1988-1989 season, Orlando Magic during the 1989-1990 season, and the New Jersey Nets in 1990-1991. He played one final season in Italy for Ranger Varese before finally calling it quits from proffessional basketball all together.
After his career playing basketball, Theus tried his act in broadcasting. Theus hosted talk shows in Sacramento, Orlando, and Atlanta before being hired as an assistant coach under Rick Pitino at Louisville for the 2002-2003 season. Theus thrived in the new role and was hired in the summer of 2005 as the head coach of long-time bottom dweller New Mexico State University.
In his first season, Theus turned around a team that went just 6-24 in the previous season to 16-14, but his next season was even more productive. The 2006-2007 season saw an NCAA berth for the Aggies of NMSU, although they were bounced in the first round. After the 2006-2007 season, Theus was expected to make NMSU rise to an even higher level, especially due to the recruitment of five star recruit Herb Pope, but it wasn't to be, Theus was hired by the Sacramento Kings in the NBA during June of 2007.
That didn't last for too long though, as he was fired from the head coaching job early in the 2008 season after only one year as head coach of the Kings. Theus then went to be an assistant coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves under Kurt Rambis. Theus was interviewed by DePaul University in April of 2010, but turned down the job of turning around a horrible Big East bottom dweller. Theus is also apparently a candidate for the currently open UCF job.
Theus would be a great get for the job as his record at New Mexico State shows. NMSU was an absolutely horrible team in a small market with a tiny arena and within two seasons had the team playing in the NCAA Tournament and recruiting 5 star prospects. You could say that in his first season he built the launch pad and in his second season he launched the rocket.
Theus would have a much better advantage in Vegas since he would be coaching in a huge market, have tons of talent to already build on, he would be an instant fan favorite since he was on UNLV's first Final Four squad, and he would be in a conference in which you get 3-4 NCAA Tournament bids per year, unlike the WAC. It just seems to me that Theus is the perfect fit at UNLV.
Dave Rice, like Reggie Theus, is a former UNLV basketball player, but was on a more recent team. Rice was on the famed 1990 National Championship squad and has been in the basketball business ever since. Rice finished out his academics at UNLV before taking a job as an assistant coach at Chaffey College (Division 2) in 1994. After his one year stint in Division 2, Rice was hired as an assistant back at UNLV when Bill Bayno took over the reigns of the program. Rice then stayed with the program until Charlie Spoonhour was fired and Lon Kruger was brought in.
Kruger brought in his own staff, which also meant getting rid of the long-time UNLV assistant. After Rice left UNLV in 2004, he was an assistant coach at Utah State under Stew Morrell for one year. After one season in Logan, Dave Rose, BYU head basketball coach, picked him up before the 2005-2006 season. Since Rice left for BYU in 2006, he has taken charge of the offense and most recruiting fronts.
Rice is a defensive minded coach who shares the same offensive and defensive philosophies as Coach Kruger did. His brother, Grant Rice, is the head basketball coach at Bishop Gorman, which is a sports powerhouse school based in Las Vegas. Rice has a ton of west coast connections and runs virtually the same system that Kruger does. Transitioning to Rice would be very easy on players and recruits and that could have an impact on what the kids who have verbally committed to the program do.
I think Rice is a great candidate and should definitely be considered. Rice has already come out and said he is interested in the job, so it's obvious he would take the job in an instant.
Other than these two candidates, there really isn't too many coaches who have a legitimate shot at the UNLV job. As I said earlier, the Wynn placed Bruce Pearl as the only other realistic candidate with odds of 10-1, and no one shows up on the list until Ernie Kent at odds of 60-1. Pearl is a good movtivator and X's and O's coach, but has way too much baggage for Jim Livengood to be considering him.
Apparently UNLV is a pretty good job since former Indiana and Texas Tech coach Bob Knight has expressed his interest in the job. As well as Knight, Georgia head coach Mark Fox told the AP that he "Would be willing to listen." I don't really think either are realistic options, as the media circus that surrounds Bob Knight isn't needed at UNLV and we simply don't have the means to lure Mark Fox away from such a great job in Georgia.
An interesting thing to note is that Larry Johnson, former UNLV superstar, has expressed interest in the job. I think it's more probable that Jerry Tarkanian would get the job of head man before Larry Johnson does, but I think he would be a great assistant coach. Johnson has almost zero experience at the coaching level, but could be a sort of mentor for all the big men on the team. Johnson has a lot of smarts, especially when it comes to playing in the post, and having that information can only help the team.
According to this post from the Las Vegas Sun, Dave Rice is still leading the candidate for the job with Theus not far behind. Livengood is not wasting time as he expects to have a reccomendation to the Board of Regents by the time that the board meets this Friday. Livengood says he has already met with both Theus and Rice as well as talked to other candidates.
That's great news for us fans so that we aren't just waiting for 50+ days for Livengood to hire a new coach (Wyoming and Utah each had to wait over 50 days for their replacements to arrive).
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