|Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas was opened in 1971 and many wonder why it wasn't built closer to UNLV.
Likeable Bobby Hauck left as head football coach of UNLV in December and those who have been in Las Vegas for any period of time are again scratching their heads. He left UNLV with a record of 15-49 and gave his resignation before his final game of the 2014 season.
Hauck was throttled by state rival UNR in the final game. You can bet that he’ll surface at another university and you can also feel reasonably comfortable with the probability that he’ll record a winning record no matter where he ends up.
But Hauck isn’t the first talented college football coach to arrive in Southern Nevada with big hopes before leaving in the midst of a nightmare.
When it comes to nice guys in Southern Nevada, those who are football coaches love what they see when they arrive before finally saying “To hell with it” when they leave. Hauck was one of the best Division II football coaches in the country when he left Montana where he was Big Sky Coach of the Year in 2006, 2007 and 2009 and Regional FCS Coach of the Year in 2006 and 2009.
A veteran of eight bowl games, he led the Grizzlies to four conference championships before leaving for UNLV in 2010. He left the school after a miserable 2-11 season in 2014.
Las Vegas levels many people with big dreams. In the words of the top brass at UNLV, the culture simply isn’t right for anyone whether it’s Hauck, Mike Sanford (16-43 from 2005-09), former USC superstar coach John Robinson (28-42 from 1999-2004) Jeff Horton (13-44 from 1994-98), Jim Strong (17-27 from 1990-93) or Wayne Nunnely (19-25) from 1986-89).
The winningest college football coach ever, Robinson retired and reportedly told friends that UNLV football could not be successful. The rest of the coaches who have left UNLV have all done well elsewhere.
Southern Nevadans have talked “big-time college football” for many years, but even with Robinson’s success when he captured the Las Vegas Bowl with a win over 31-14 Las Vegas Bowl win over Arkansas in 2002, the only thing large about the UNLV football program is the amount of losses.
Ironically enough, UNLV was a powerhouse when it competed in Division II under the guidance of legendary coach Tony Knap, who was recruited away from Boise State. The silver-haired gentleman Knap came to town with very little ego and departed with a much larger win-loss record than the long line of coaches that followed him.
Knap came to UNLV in 1976 compiling a 47-20-2 record (.695) record before stepping down at the age of 67 in 1981. His teams made the Division II playoffs in his first season before moving to Division I-A in 1978 during his third season at UNLV. Possibly most important of all, Knap led UNLV to a 3-1 record over UNR which in itself is considered a very important record.
However, since Knap compiled his record, the rest of UNLV’s results for college football has been largely unimpressive. Many feel the school will never make it out of the doldrums simply because of a major logistical issue related to the location of the school’s football stadium.
Now known as Sam Boyd Stadium, the complex was built in the early 1970s and opened in 1971 for a reported $3.5 million. Since the day the first shovel was placed into the ground, many long-time residents have wondered why it was situated nine-miles-from-nowhere instead of closer to UNLV campus.
Just as UNLV attempts to right-side a wayward ship by adding an on-campus stadium, why in the world was the stadium built where it is now in the first place?
The scenario kind of reminds many of the construction of Candlestick Park in San Francisco where the baseball Giants and football 49ers played for years before bailing out of a very odd location.
Candlestick, known for its cold windy conditions, and the Silver Bowl, known for the fact that it was built near the sewer ponds of East Las Vegas, were both odd locations for any kind of recreation.
However, while the 49ers and the Giants have moved on to much better conditions in new stadiums, UNLV is stuck. An on-campus stadium seems to be mired by huge drawbacks ranging from bad traffic to flight paths from McCarran not to mention the local taxicab authority that doesn’t want the challenges of major events hampering their already-bad traffic.
Back when the Silver Bowl was built, long-time Las Vegan Mike Schneider was the sports editor of the Las Vegas Sun. He wrote a scathing column criticizing the decision to build the UNLV football stadium in East Las Vegas.
“Just think of the economic benefits of building an on-campus stadium clear back then,” analyzes Schneider, a former 20-year Nevada state senator. “The university could have benefited with countless special events at an on-campus stadium.”
However, better yet would have been the fact that talented high school or junior college football players would have had much more chance of playing at UNLV if only a stadium had been built on-campus.
“The reasoning for building the stadium in East Las Vegas was that it was halfway between Las Vegas and Boulder City,” remembered Schneider. “I mean, what kind of sense did that make especially considering that Boulder City has always been a controlled growth community?”
Schneider said one county commissioner even said he’d block the proposal unless the stadium was built at its current location. He said using Boulder City as a bargaining point was a “sentence to fail.”
He added by saying “If the stadium had been built close to the campus, the convention authority would have used it immensely.
“Nobody even considered the rest of the city and the county,” Schneider said. “The Strip and the Convention Authority could have benefited greatly. None of that happens today simply because of a bad decision many years ago. It’s a single-purpose stadium that’s used way too little.”
Schneider said the Las Vegas Strip would back the idea of a stadium near UNLV.
“It would be multi-purpose with the opportunity to have bigger events such as the Democratic or Republic conventions,” Schneider said. “There are big groups that would use the stadium. That’s more convention space and you could still have the crazy Monster Truck events.”
Tom Dye, now a retired journalist, was assigned to cover the UNLV-UNR football game at the Silver Bowl in 1971. A sportswriter for the Reno Gazette Journal at the time, he was stunned at what he discovered.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Dye, who went on to work at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We kept going and going. I mean, it was a road trip just getting to the stadium after landing at McCarran.”
To make matters worse, Dye couldn’t get a ride back to the airport after completing his coverage of the UNLV-UNR game for the Reno Gazette Journal.
“I really had to scramble to find a ride back to the airport,” said Dye, a dedicated Bay Area fan who compares Candlestick Park to the Silver Bowl. “I couldn’t believe we were so far from the university. In fact, I don’t even remember how I got back to McCarran.”
Like so many others, Dye and Schneider each wonder if the decision of Southern Nevada politicians to build the stadium in East Las Vegas has haunted UNLV for the past 40-plus years.
“Think about it,” said Schneider. “You’re a talented football player and you have a choice between a school with a stadium off-campus and a school with an on-campus stadium.
“The choice seems pretty clear to me that you’re going to select a school with an on-campus stadium. If it’s between UNR and UNLV, you’re going to Reno because UNR has an on-campus stadium creates a much stronger college football atmosphere.”
Sanchez led Bishop Gorman to a nationally-rated status and he’s certainly a good choice.
The big question is whether or not the sins of the father more than 40 years ago will keep him from mounting a credible record after many other coaches have given up.
And you can bet money on one thing: Like those UNLV football coaches before him, Hauck will win wherever he ends up.