Within six months, UNLV Basketball has gone from one of the most promising programs in the country boasting freshmen talent like Stephen Zimmerman and promising returning sophomores like Patrick McCaw, to a program in complete disarray. Announced this afternoon, Chris Beard, hired just two weeks ago, decided to return to Texas Tech as their new head coach and leave the Runnin' Rebels.
Beard's hire was already somewhat controversial because of a big push by UNLV's fan base to bring in assistant Stacey Augmon as the head coach. Amidst this chaos and uncertainty, the last few weeks also brought an exodus of Rebel players (either for transfer or the NBA draft). This mass exodus included Zimmerman, Derrick Jones, Patrick McCaw, Jordan Cornish, and Dwayne Morgan (as well as former player Goodluck Okonoboh who left the squad earlier in the season). There were also rumors swirling earlier in the week that power forward, Ben Carter, has been considering a transfer.
The Rebels are the most interesting program in the country right now, but for all the wrong reasons.
Lon Kruger's departure from UNLV in 2011 for Oklahoma was a major disappointment for Runnin' Reb fans who became accustomed to return trips to the NCAA tournament. However, with patience, the program moved forward with a former Rebel player from UNLV's Tarkanian glory days: Dave Rice. Yet, after a slow conference start, Rice and UNLV parted ways this season. Todd Simon, assistant under Rice, filled in as interim and the remainder of the season seemed to drag on into oblivion.
Now, the UNLV Basketball program finds itself standing on a ledge. There are four members left on the current roster. Their "new" head coached bailed. The Thomas and Mack was sometimes half filled for much of the season. And, UNLV fans are looking more forward to the football season than the usually much more eventful basketball one (that's a very unpromising sign).
In response to the events that took place today, Athletic Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy made this statement:
"Coach Beard has informed me he intends to pursue the men’s basketball head coaching job at Texas Tech. This unprecedented move is extremely disappointing to the President and I, for our program and to our fans. Our search process allowed us to develop a deep pool of qualified candidates, from which we will select a great coach who really wants to be here and who will honor his commitments in leading the Runnin’ Rebels."
Then, within the last hour, Gary Parrish tweeted out with regard to the possible leading candidate for UNLV at this point:
Ryan Miller has spoken with UNLV officials today and is considered the leading candidate for the job, a source told @CBSSports.— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) April 15, 2016
Can you sense the frantic situation?
That is exactly the state of UNLV Basketball. Could it be that the UNLV players already foresaw some of this in the works long before the public and the press, and that might explain this extremely rare situation of so many players leaving all at once? Could it be that Rice's departure was a domino that led into the subsequent events and rumors which followed? Whatever the reasons, can UNLV recover?
Once a stable program luring recruits from across the country, Runnin' Rebel Basketball is in one of its most troubling phases of its largely, successful history.