December 22, 2009
You may not know his name, but Bobby Hauck has a pretty good gig at Montana: The Grizzlies haven't had a losing season since 1985 and have remained a steady I-AA power for two decades, stringing together the longest consecutive playoff streak (now at 17 years) in the country, with national championship wins under two different coaches in 1995 and 2001. In his seven-year tenure, Hauck's teams have won almost 83 percent of the time and earned their way into three championship games, including each of the last two. As a winning program, Montana is as consistent as they come.
Here, then, is today's million-dollar question: When Hauck officially accepts UNLV's head coaching job on Wednesday, does that really qualify as an upward move? He'll be making more money at a I-A job, but recent history in Vegas suggests he almost certainly won't be bringing it in for long: The Rebels have fired six straight head coaches and haven't had back-to-back winning seasons since 1983-84 -- and that's only if you disregard the later forfeiture of all 11 wins by the Randall Cunningham-led squad in '84, including the school's first bowl victory and only conference championship, for playing ineligible players. Coach Harvey Hyde was subsequently forced out after a .500 season in 1985, and none of his successors has managed a winning overall record before getting the axe. Only two, Jeff Horton in 1994 and USC legend John Robinson in 2000, have even led UNLV into a bowl game, and both quickly disappeared into obscurity. The latest victim, Mike Sanford, went out last month lobbing grenades at the school's lack of commitment to football after five straight losing seasons.
Obviously, this isn't quite the same as Jim Tressel hopping from then-I-AA power Youngstown State to Ohio State nine years ago -- Hauck is going from a stable, machine-like program to a black hole from which no coach has emerged in 30 years. It's not hard to see why a veteran retread like Dennis Franchione (the only other candidate to interview for the job) might take over the Rebels: Where else is he going to go? But Hauck is putting his status as a coveted up-and-comer on the line for a job that seems likely to stop that trajectory cold. The upside of the risk is high: If he actually wins at UNLV, his path to a marquee gig will be a moving walkway strewn with rose petals. Six old coaches whose head-coaching careers ended with a thud in Vegas will believe it when they see it.