UNLV announced the hiring of new football coach Barry Odom in December. Like most new hires, the news was initially met with positive and negative reactions, but as the offseason has gone on, the hype from the fanbase has increased as well. However, each new football coach for the Rebels has failed to live up to their potential and has not been able to build any positive momentum for the program.
Despite what some may believe, UNLV does not have a storied history when it comes to football. In 45 seasons, their record is 190-327-3. During that time, they won one lone conference championship in 1994 (another one in 1984 had to be forfeited). They have played in four FBS bowl games, winning three (one was in 1984 and later ruled a loss). However, their last bowl game was in 2013, and their last bowl win was in 2000. They have only had eight seasons of 7 wins or more and one single season winning ten or more games (11 in 1984, which again were adjusted to 0).
In recent years, times have been tough for the Rebels. Mike Sanford never won more than five games in five seasons. Bobby Hauck was the last coach to lead them to a bowl game, but he couldn’t get more than two wins in a season in his other four years with the team. Tony Sanchez was hailed as a great hire due to his overwhelming success at the high school level for local powerhouse Bishop Gorman. However, in actuality, he topped out at five wins and went 4-8 (three times) more often than not (two times). His successor, Marcus Arroyo, came to the program with identified strengths of an offensive system and a great recruiting track record.
Despite the lackluster history, the UNLV fanbase remains loyal and optimistic. They recognize their location and resources make them an attractive team. It is easy to see how this could translate to success on the field, even though it hasn’t. Now, the Rebels have hired Barry Odom to be their new coach. Things in the early going have been positive, but will the results be any different this time?
The argument for: At this point, Coach Odom is doing everything right. He started off his tenure with the obligatory “won the press conference” moment and has made a number of key hires. His supporters will point to his .500 record in the SEC, which is no easy feat when at a school like Missouri, and he improved in years two and three before an uneven year four. Coach Odom won six or more games three out of his four seasons at the helm, went to a bowl game two of those years, and finished the season ranked in 2018. Off the field, Odom appears to be a strong family man who truly cares about his players and runs his program the right way. He also has a track record of prioritizing academics, which is important.
The argument against: It’s easy to look at Barry Odom’s track record and call this move a safe hire. He is a career .500 coach who has never won more than eight games in a season. Also, he was 0-2 in bowl games, and often failed to measure up against quality opponents. He doesn’t bring much in terms of excitement, which is lacking around the program. It is difficult to see how his upside is any higher than his predecessor. There is a reason he was available, and naysayers would call him “Steve Addazio with morals.”
The argument for: With a rebuilding team and a lot of roster turnover, UNLV is a great place for transfer to find a new home. There is an avenue for immediate playing time, and with a new coaching staff, transfers know they can come to the program with a clean slate, as nothing is guaranteed for anyone. Similarly, the new staff is looking for players who fit their system, so they are seeking out specific types of transfers.
The argument against: Even before the transfer portal boom, the Rebels have relied heavily on transfers to complete their recruiting classes. Although many high-profile players and former four-stars came to Vegas, the vast majority of them failed to make an impact. Since the 2019 class, UNLV has taken 30 transfers, according to 247 Sports. To be fair, 10 of those are in the most recent class, so it is too early to judge their fate. But over the years, the program has had some high-profile misses amongst their transfers, especially at quarterback and skill positions. Due to the emphasis on transfers from three different coaching staffs, the roster is a bit mismatched, so it may be hard for new transfers to find their place, or the roster may lack depth, and therefore it may be difficult to win.
The argument for: Nevada, especially the Las Vegas area, is a great recruiting hotbed. It appeared that Coach Odom’s predecessor had little to no interest in recruiting the state of Nevada. Building relationships with the local high school coaches will go a long way with the goal of making UNLV a destination for in-state talent. The coaching staff is already prioritizing this by spending the entire first week of their spring evaluation period at local Nevada schools.
The argument against: It seems like every new coach discusses this in their first few months, but not everyone continues it as the years go on. Most of Coach Odom’s recruiting ties are in the south, so will he depend on his established contacts or put in the time to build new and important ones?
The argument for: Barry Odom has put together an impressive initial coaching staff. Brennan Marion is one of the young, bright offensive minds in the game after successful runs as the architect of the “Go-Go offense.” DB Mike Scherer is Odom’s right-hand man, and his defensive scheme should be an extension of the head coach. Also, he got one of the best special teams coaches in the nation in James Shibest. The rest of the staff is a great blend of newcomers and holdovers.
The argument against: Brennan Marion is in his first go-around as the OC at the FBS level, so he is a question mark. The same goes for Mike Scherer on the defensive side, and it will be interesting to see if he’s up to the task. James Shibest’s best days may be behind him, as he wasn’t coaching last year. The staff also has a few holdovers, most of which led underachieving units last season.
The argument for: As mentioned in the previous section, the Rebels will implement an exciting and dynamic offensive scheme. They had great QB play last year, and in the right system, it should be even better. If UNLV can be effective in the passing game, they should win a number of games.
The argument against: In the past, coaches have tried to develop a dynamic offense and specifically a passing attack, but have been most effective with a strong run game. There are questions about the level of talent and depth needed to make the scheme work, as they lost a number of talent from last year’s offense to the transfer portal. Also, their quarterback was arguably a better runner than passer last season.
As shown before, there is reason to believe this new overhaul is exactly what the UNLV program needs to start building toward something positive. However, there is also enough evidence to point towards this being a repeat of the process that has been done a few times already. As to which one it will be, it won’t be determined until next fall at the earliest, but it will be interesting to see if anything deviates from what has been shown in previous years. Good luck to the Rebels in 2023.