On April 11, 2011 at 4 p.m., former Runnin' Rebel player and assistant coach for UNLV and BYU Dave Rice was announced as the new head coach of UNLV, replacing Lon Kruger. It was an exciting day for the older Rebels faithful as well as the new scarlet and grey bloods in the board room at the Thomas and Mack Center.
I attended the press conference and here's what I gleaned from it.
Athletic director Jim Livengood announced Rice as the "right fit at the right time, having an outstanding resume, excellent leadership abilities and passion both on and off the court."
All local media was well represented as well as the Board of Regents, president Neal Smatresk, coach Jerry Tarkanian, Brad Rothermel, all athletic department personnel, current and as ex-players, ex-politicians and a bevy of Rebel supporters from around the city.
Dave Rice said, "It is a great day for UNLV, it's family and that it's all about the Runnin' Rebels and not about myself."
He stressed many times his appreciation for Tarkanian and all he learned from him as a player on two Final Four teams in 1990 and 1991, the National Championship team in 1990, as well as his tutelage as an assistant when Tark approached him after graduation and told him, "I think you can become a great coach some day."
Coach Rice quickly mentioned that Justin Hutson, assistant coach from San Diego State, has already been signed to a contract and was the one of the best recruiters in the Southern California areas. He also served as the great defensive mind of the top-10 ranked Aztecs this year limiting opponents to 58.6 points per game and 39 percent shooting.
Also on his list of potential staff members is former UNLV great and current Denver Nuggets assistant Stacey Augmon. He was called immediately, but had a major concern of how soon he would have to be in Las Vegas as he wanted to stay with his team as they gear up for the NBA playoffs.
In his moderate in length, yet humble speech, Rice commented on his reasons for coaching instead of following the path of his master's of business administration degree that he earned and he mentioned that he, "Loves the competition, but mainly I love the impact I can have in the young men's lives as my coaches had in me."
He felt that it was very key to build a strong, trusting relationship with the players now, that they are a great group of kids that have a ton of hard work ethics and effort and was very appreciative that they showed for the press conference.
Rice also expressed a deep need to "build upon the tradition that Coach Kruger had left behind," and then answered the question that thousands of Rebel fans alike have been asking: What will be the style of play?
His response: "We're going to get out and run—everything will be up-tempo. It will be Runnin' Rebel basketball. We will defend as hard as we can on one end, then push as fast as we can to the other. But most importantly, we want to be consistent."
Again he modestly thanked the coaches he had been under at UNLV and that he was "humbled by all the people in the room and am very excited to be back at UNLV and in Las Vegas."
Dave brings with him to Las Vegas his wife Mindy who graduated from UNLV and their two sons, Travis, 13, and Dylan, 8.
He closed his first oration as a head coach in Division I men's basketball by saying, "It is our program, not mine. I am just a caretaker and honored to be a part of Runnin' Rebel basketball again."
Afterward he was asked a few "softball" type questions by the media then convened for some one-on-one interviews and an even larger fan-appreciation event held next door at the Cox Pavillion, where around 300-plus UNLV fans were introduced to their new head coach.
I personally feel that Dave Rice has an excellent chance to succeed here and brings a lot of game knowledge, experience and zeal to a program that has been left full and ripe by the previous coach Lon Kruger.
There will not be much of a honeymoon period for Rice as this program has been in the top-30 nationally for the last five to six years and returns a plethora of starters, talent and incumbent recruits.
The staff that he assembles will be critical to his prosperity and Rice has already taken a huge step in that direction with his first hire and those already contacted.
His plan of bringing back the life-blood and roots of the very foundation that built this school into a national basketball powerhouse with the amoeba defense and fast-break offense will not only excite the players and fans for years to come, but recreate the Runnin' Rebels of lore and vault them to a higher level of distinction.
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