Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.


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UNLV's only tradition in football is losing

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: August 28, 2013 - 10:49 AM

The Minnesota Gophers open their 130th football season on Thursday night against UNLV. There were football teams that played a total of five games in 1882 and 1883, there was no team fielded in 1884-85, and then football became an annual event starting in 1886.

By 1951, Minnesota had won enough and was so invested in its football that Bernie Bierman, the legendary Grey Eagle, had been run off after the 1950 season (and a 1-7-1). His replacement was Wes Fesler, who had quit a few weeks earlier at Ohio State.

And you know what was happening with UNLV in 1951? Twenty-eight students were meeting in an anteroom of a high school auditorium to take extension classes from the University of Nevada located in Reno. In 1954, the Nevada Board of Regents started the Southern Regional Division of the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. To get a degree, students had to spend at least one semester attending classes at the main campus in Reno.

The branch school in Las Vegas didn't have its first building until 1957. It was named in honor of Maude Frazier, a state assemblywoman.

Don't you love that name ... Maude? Can't remember the last time I was introduced to a baby dressed in pink and named Maude.

The school started going by the name Nevada Southern. The first commencement ceremony was held in 1964. That's why UNLV is celebrating this as its 50th anniversary school year ... although the school wouldn't be independent and start using the name University of Nevada-Las Vegas until 1969.

The first football team was fielded in the fall of 1968. The Rebels played as an independent for 14 seasons: first in the NCAA's College Divison through 1972, in Division II through 1977, and then to Division 1A (now FBS) as a football independent through 1981. The Rebels were 45-13 in five seasons in Division II, and 29-15 in four seasons as a 1A independent.

The Rebels joined the Pacific Coast Athletic Association in 1982. UNLV was 11-2 with a coach named Harvey Hyde and a quarterback named Randall Cunningham in 1984.

And then the Rebels started losing.

UNLV left the Big West for the tougher WAC in 1996, and it has been in the tougher-still Mountain West since 1999, and the football inpetitude for the past three decades has been spectacular.

Jeff Horton, the interim coach here after the Gophers fired Tim Brewster in 2010, was a success at Nevada (the one in Reno). He took the job at UNLV in 1994, went 7-5 in his first season and then 6-39 over the next four.

UNLV fired Horton and convinced John Robinson, the Southern Cal legend, to take the job. "If John Robinson can't win in football at Las Vegas, nobody will,'' came the conventional wisdom.

Robinson had one winning season in six years and quit after going 2-9 in 2005.

Mike Sanford, an assistant at Stanford with a strong resume in big-time football, replaced Robinson. He went 16-43 and was fired after the 2009 season.

Bobby Hauck, a big success in Division IAA at Montana, replaced Sanford. He's won two games (6-32) overall in his three seasons.

The Rebels were picked in a vote by the media to finish fifth in the six-team West Division of the Mountain West. If that turns out to be accurate, Hauck will be the next coach to be run out.

They have a stretch of nine straight losing seasons and are 24-84. And since Harvey Hyde's season of glory in 1984, UNLV has had four winning records (6-5, 6-5, 7-5 and 8-5) in 28 seasons.

That means even a Gophers' follower can look at the Rebels and say, "Dang, are they terrible.''

 

 

 

 

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