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UNLV can follow other MW schools as a model of stability

When UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois took herself out of the running Friday for the same position at UCLA, the decision provided a much-needed dose of stability.

Now UNLV will not have the distraction of an athletic director search as she and her team try to make plans during an uncertain time because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Her return is especially important given the Rebels’ football and men’s and women’s basketball coaches were hired in the past 14 months. And UNLV’s president, Marta Meana, has been in an acting role for nearly two years.

UNLV can look within the Mountain West to see the importance of stability.

Boise State athletics

Lyle Smith became the school’s first athletic director in 1968 and held the office until 1981. Only three others have run Boise State’s athletic department since then, with current AD Curt Apsey finishing his fifth year on the job. He succeeded Gene Bleymaier, who was the AD for nearly 30 years.

Familiar faces also have led the Broncos’ most high-profile programs.

Between Chris Petersen and Bryan Harsin, their nationally relevant football program has had just two coaches since 2006. In that time, Boise State won eight Western Athletic Conference and Mountain West titles and three Fiesta Bowls.

Leon Rice has headed the men’s basketball program since 2010, winning at least 20 games eight times, making two NCAA Tournaments and capturing a share of the 2014-15 Mountain West regular-season championship.

Gordy Presnell has coached the women’s team since 2005, and has won six conference titles and four regular-season championships. Boise State has qualified for five NCAA Tournaments since joining the Mountain West in 2011-12.

“I believe a lot of the success that we have had at Boise State over the years has been a direct result of continuity from people that understand our culture,” Apsey said. “That has obviously been the case with our football program, and people will point at recent history to support that, but I think you can go all the way back to Lyle Smith.

“We’ve seen similar successes in men’s and women’s basketball and with our other programs across the board. It’s my belief that this is due to the culture established at Boise State long ago, and the ability of our leadership to maintain that culture while identifying coaches who fit into it and recruit student-athletes that do so as well.”

San Diego State men’s basketball

The Aztecs had just one winning record over the previous 14 seasons when Steve Fisher became the coach in 1999.

Fisher retired 18 seasons later after leading the Aztecs to six Mountain West regular-season championships, four tournament titles and eight NCAA Tournament appearances. Brian Dutcher, who was by Fisher’s side as an assistant coach the entire time at San Diego State, then took over and won the 2018 tournament championship and the 2020 regular-season title.

Dutcher, also an assistant to Fisher for 10 seasons at Michigan, pointed to three members of San Diego State’s program who have each been there at least 18 years.

“Everyone talks about family but we define it,” Dutcher said. “Our former players, from two decades ago, come back to campus and they are coming back to see their coaches and their teammates.

“We have been able to develop relationships as a coaching staff with coaches, the administration, the campus community and our fan base. We have all grown together with the success of this program.”

UNLV hopes to mirror that kind of continuity and success.

But Reed-Francois is the fourth full-time athletic director since 2009. The football program has never had a coach stay longer than six years, and it hasn’t appeared in a bowl since the 2013 season. UNLV’s storied men’s basketball program is on its third non-interim coach since 2016 and has not played in the NCAA Tournament since 2013.

UNLV doesn’t have to look far to find models of consistency and success, and the Rebels have their own history with Jerry Tarkanian’s 19 seasons as a guide.

Going forward, though? That remains to be seen.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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