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UNLV fires Marcus Arroyo

He made improvements in his third season, but it wasn’t enough.

NCAA Football: Utah State at UNLV Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

In what many would consider a surprising move, UNLV announced today that they have fired head football coach Marcus Arroyo.

Arroyo was considered a strong hire at the time, coming from Oregon at the OC. He instantly pulled off back-to-back strong recruiting classes for the Rebels, although that has regressed in the 2022 and 2023 cycles.

On the field, the team improved every year. They didn’t win any games in the shortened 2020 season and increased that to two wins last year. This year they looked like a different team, playing more competitively, and transformed that into five wins, with four of those coming in the first five games. Unfortunately, injuries mounted at the same time as tough conference games occurred and the Rebels dropped six straight, including an embarrassing one to Hawaii. They rebounded to beat rival Nevada to close the season and were in a position to be a potential selection for a bowl game as a 5-7 team, based on reports.

Then news broke today and everything changed. AD Erick Harper, who didn’t hire Arroyo, seemed to want a higher standard than 5-7, citing “increased expectations” as the reason for deciding to make a change. It’s peculiar for a few reasons. First, Arroyo’s teams have improved every year and coaches in similar situations usually get one more year. Even Tony Sanchez got 5 seasons and he only won five games in a season. Also, UNLV likely would have made a bowl if not for injuries to key players on offense, including their starting QB, RB, and best WR. Plus, what are the increased expectations? In the last twenty years, this is only the 7th time they have won five or more games (only two of those times were more than five wins), and they have only gone to four bowl games since 1984. And speaking of bowl games, UNLV now may decline if they are selected.

This isn’t a blue-blood program that expects to win the conference and big bowl games every year. Coach Arroyo was potentially increasing expectations but will not get another opportunity. Maybe he wasn’t the answer, but he was far from the problem. And it’s hard to see anyone coming in right away to do better.

Arroyo is the first head coaching opening in the Mountain West this season.