Sanford won’t return as UNLV coach in 2010
Following fifth consecutive losing season, Rebels football program to head in a new direction
Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Published Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009 | 7:24 p.m.
Updated Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009 | 11:52 p.m.
After a 15-43 record in five seasons as head coach, UNLV put an end to the Mike Sanford era.
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UNLV football coach Mike Sanford, who was told on Sunday that he would not be brought back for the 2010 campaign, met with the media on Monday afternoon to answer questions. Here is the sound from the press conference in its entirety.
Sanford at UNLV
- Record: 15-43 (.259)
- MWC Record: 7-32 (.179)
- Best wins: It's a tie between a 27-0 victory at home over Utah on Sept. 22, 2007, and a 23-20 overtime triumph over then-No. 15 Arizona State in Tempe on Sept. 13, 2008. Both lost some luster, however. On the heels of the victory over Utah, the Rebels lost their final 10 games of the season. In 2008, the ASU win was the highlight of a surprising 3-1 start, but UNLV fizzled quickly, finishing 5-7.
- Worst losses: Sanford's teams took some brutal beatings in his early years, such as a 51-3 loss at TCU in 2005 and a 52-7 thumping at BYU in 2006. But it was in years four and five, as the program appeared to be on the verge of a turnaround, when a couple of losses stung a little more. The two worst were a 42-28 loss at San Diego State to close out the 2008 campaign, then a 63-28 embarrassment in Reno this fall. At SDSU, the Rebels needed only to topple a two-win team to earn their first bowl berth since 2000, but stumbled early and couldn't recover. In the debacle against UNR, a brutal four-game losing streak was highlighted by a 773-yard offensive performance from the Wolf Pack.
- Best moment: Sanford was rightfully emotional following the victory at Arizona State. He took a Gatorade shower in the postgame locker room, and it appeared that the program was truly on the cusp of a turnaround following his signature win at UNLV.
- Worst moment: Desperate for a review of a controversial loss on the final play of a 16-10 loss at Iowa State in his second season, Sanford went on a frantic search for either the game officials - who had already left the field in Ames, Iowa - or the ISU athletic director. Unfortunately for Sanford, his lap around the Cyclones' football complex behind the end zone was caught on film by a local news crew and turned into a popular view on YouTube.
Related Sun Content
- UNLV’s 45-17 loss to Air Force marked by mistakes, blown opportunities (11-14-2009)
- UNLV-Air Force Box Score
- 2009 UNLV Football Stats
- Kantowski: A name for those who want to see Sanford gone (11-11-2009)
- Kantowski: UNLV's Mike Sanford running out of excuses (10-12-2009)
- Koloskie says coaches can’t be judged solely by wins and losses (10-9-2009)
- Kantowski: Meditations on UNLV’s beleaguered football coach (10-7-2009)
- Kantowski: For Rebels, loss to UNR a new low (10-5-2009)
- Opponent: San Diego State
- Date: Nov. 28, 6 p.m.
- Where: Sam Boyd Stadium
- TV: The Mtn. (Cox Ch. 334)
- Radio: ESPN 1100 AM
- All-time series: SDSU leads, 11-7
The Mike Sanford era at UNLV will officially be over once the Rebels complete another disappointing season with their finale at Sam Boyd Stadium on Nov. 28 against San Diego State.
Sources close to the situation confirmed the news Sunday night to the Sun in the wake of the Rebels' 45-17 loss Saturday evening to Air Force. The athletic department later sent out a release with the news.
The defeat dropped UNLV to 4-7, and for a second consecutive season under the fifth-year coach, a promising start to the campaign came to an unsavory halt down the stretch.
Reached by phone Sunday night, interim athletic director Jerry Koloskie confirmed that Sanford will coach the season's final game against the 4-6 Aztecs.
Sanford, who meets weekly with the media at 2 p.m. every Monday, will do so again this week.
"Obviously, the season is not going the way that we wanted it to go," Koloskie said. "Certainly, yesterday was not any better of an indication. As I said all along, we'll have to figure out what we're going to do.
"It's his team, and I think he's definitely earned the opportunity to finish the season out. I just think it's appropriate."
Saturday's loss dropped Sanford's record at UNLV to 15-43 overall and 7-32 in Mountain West Conference play. His overall win percentage of .259 is the second-lowest in UNLV history, better only than the .228 Jeff Horton posted in five seasons from 1994-98, when he went 13-44.
After last season — in which a 42-28 upset loss in the finale at SDSU kept UNLV from postseason play — Sanford signed a contract extension to keep him in Las Vegas through the 2012 season. It included a buyout clause, which will pay Sanford $225,000 at the season's end.
The loss in the cold and snow in Colorado Springs on Saturday was indicative of the Rebels' struggles all season. UNLV entered the game ranked 111th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs in run defense, and dropped to 116th a few hours later as the Falcons ran roughshod over a porous Rebels defense, racking up 431 yards in the process.
That was a major theme for the Rebels over the course of the last two seasons. In 2008, an upset victory over then-No. 15 Arizona State on the road propelled UNLV to a 3-1 start. But over the next several weeks, Sanford's club would fall victim to a stigma it was unable to shake throughout Sanford's tenure: an inability to play consistent defense.
That was the driving force behind a crippling five-game losing streak in the middle of last season's schedule, and played a major role in a mini-slide this season, which included a horrendous three-week stretch against UNR, BYU and Utah. The 63-28 loss to the Wolf Pack on Oct. 3 was one of the most embarrassing in the program's history, as Chris Ault's club rang up 773 yards of total offense. Saturday's loss to Air Force not only ended UNLV's postseason dreams, but served as a telling sign that enough progress simply wasn't being made by the program under Sanford and his staff.
"It's a performance-based issue," Koloskie added. "We have to have more wins, we need to be more successful."
Despite the interim tag on his title, the decision to relieve Sanford of his duties was made by Koloskie.
With another losing season guaranteed, University President Neal Smatresk gave Koloskie's proposed move his seal of approval over the weekend.
"Obviously, I consulted throughout with our president, I kept him informed, but I'm around the program and it's my job to evaluate our coaches and my program," Koloskie added. "I ultimately made the recommendation to Neal on the direction that we needed to go, and he supported it."
So now, in which direction does the UNLV football program go?
The Rebels have displayed over the past two seasons they have the offensive chops to hang with almost anyone in the Mountain West Conference. Whoever takes Sanford's place will have a potent, young offense to build around. Barring any transfers, the pieces will be in place for UNLV to put up plenty of points next season with the potential return of junior quarterback Omar Clayton, four of five starters on a steady offensive line and sophomore receiver Phillip Payne headlining a solid corps of skill position players.
But, fixing the defense will be the biggest focus, as clearly, overall improvement will be expected rather quickly.
UNLV has not made a postseason appearance since 2000. Cracking that code might be exceptionally difficult for a first-year coach next season, as the Rebels will embark on a 13-game schedule that will include road contests at West Virginia, Utah and BYU, plus home tilts with Wisconsin and TCU.
"I believe that we have certainly the resources and the opportunity to be competitive every year," Koloskie said. "I think we should be competitive every year. I don't think it's very far away at all. We certainly should be competitive in our conference. I think the resources are there, I just think we need to get it over the hump."
While Sanford ran a tight ship in terms of players staying in line off the field and performing well in the classroom, a major statistical black eye left on his tenure will be poor performance on the road in Mountain West Conference play.
His first road victory over a league opponent didn't come until UNLV topped winless New Mexico, 34-17, on Oct. 24 in Albuquerque. Before that, UNLV had lost 20 consecutive road conference games, which at the time was the longest such streak in the FBS.
Throughout another disappointing season, Koloskie's stance remained that no change would be made as long as the Rebels still had a chance at bowl eligibility.
Still, with the writing on the wall most of the way, Koloskie said the administration has had its eyes and ears open as to what was going on around the country with potential candidates for the soon-to-be vacant post.
"In my business, you always start on that. It's just an ongoing process," he said. "I wouldn't say that I just started on it today by any means."
Koloskie didn't give any detail into what caliber of a head coach the Rebels will target. It could be another assistant with a great résumé but no head coaching experience — like Sanford when UNLV hired him away from Utah in 2005 — or it could be a head coaching veteran.
No matter who it is, the expectations will be made clear right from go.
"We're going to look for the best coach that we can find, who can come in here and be successful," Koloskie said. "It could be a head coach, could be an assistant coach.
"It just has to be a quality coach."
Ryan Greene can be reached at email@example.com or 702-948-7844.
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