Is UNLV Coach Menzies The Second Coming -- Or A Last-Ditch Hire?
It's been one of those whirlwind engagements – not much different than a drunken weekend and a quickie wedding. Something Las Vegas is used to.
But that doesn’t make it any easier.
Chris Beard came in and was hired as the new coach of the UNLV Men's Basketball team. Then a week later, he bolted back to Texas Tech, where he had been an assistant.
A day later, the UNLV Athletic Department hired Marvin Menzies as the new coach. Menzies comes from New Mexico State University.
The quick transition hasn’t exactly inspired UNLV Runnin' Rebel fans.
But maybe there’s something in Menzies that the casual observer doesn’t see. Maybe fans who desperately want UNLV basketball to return to top-tier status will be pleasantly surprised by Coach Menzies.
Mitch Moss, host of a show on ESPN Radio Las Vegas, told KNPR's State of Nevada that no matter what Menzies does it won't be as bad as the over-the-top comments he's seen criticizing the new coach.
“I was not high on Marvin Menzies at all a week ago, but the negative reaction I saw from the fan base here in town made me kind of do a 180 on it because there is absolutely no way he could be as bad as the fan base is thinking here in town,” he said.
In the nine years he was at New Mexico State, Menzies teams were 198 and 111, which is a win percentage of 64 percent. However, Adam Hill, a sports reporter for Las Vegas Review-Journal and a host for a show on ESPN Radio Las Vegas, pointed out those wins were racked up in the Western Athletic Conference or WAC, which is one of the worst conferences in college basketball, according to Hill.
“He knows how to win and he’s going to come into a conference where he has more resources maybe he can turn some of those numbers around but some of those numbers against good teams are very troubling,” he said.
Despite those concerns, Hill believes that Menzies is a "fine hire." He agreed with Moss that the general negative reaction is not warranted, but he does understand where it is coming from.
“They basically made a lateral move after firing a coach midseason," he said "I think that’s what’s drawn the ire of a lot of the fans right now and that’s where a lot of the anger is coming from.”
According to Hill, firing a coach midseason is a big deal and it should've made a big splash in the college basketball world, but it didn't.
"When you do that, you need something very big lined up and they didn’t," he said.
However, Hill is not ready to give up on the program all together.
“Marvin Menzies he’s going to be a guy - and some people are going to cringe at this - he’s going to be very similar to Dave Rice, maybe a little better, but he’s going to be a very similar coach,” Hill said.
He believes the new coach will be able to recruit and retain good players.
Moss agreed. Menzies was an assistant coach to basketball coaching great Rick Pitino, who apparently also toyed around with coming to UNLV.
“Once you are an assistant to a guy like Pitino how does it not trickle down,” he said.
And he believes he can bring back some of the players that wanted to leave or have left the program after Rice was let go.
"It looks like Menzies might be able to correct that," Moss said, "He might be able re-recruit some of the guys that were beyond ‘on the fence’ they were actually gone and now they might consider coming back to UNLV.”
The true fall out from the drama over the head coaching position could be in the athletic director's office, Hill said.
He said the way the hiring has been handled could mean that Tina Kunzer-Murphy, UNLV's athletic director, might not get her contract renewed next year.
“I would be very, very surprised if she was the athletic director beyond that,” he said.
Both Moss and Hill said the it was just bad luck the way the Chris Beard situation played out and it was something no one could have predicted.
However, Hill thinks the whole situation from Rice's firing midseason to the decision to go with Menzies was an "unprofessional way of handling things."
“It was just so botched from the beginning,” he said, “That’s partly bad luck, partly mishandling, but in the end it was just an embarrassment to the program.”
The University of Nevada Board of Regents will debate and are expected to vote on Menzies' five-year contract during their meeting Friday.
Adam Hill, reporter, Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter and host on ESPN Las Vegas; Mitch Moss, host, ESPN Las Vegas