Meet College Football's Most Inexperienced Head Coach

Greg CouchNational ColumnistFebruary 16, 2015

Getty Images

Tradition says The Jump doesn't work. You can't skip steps. When high school basketball stars move to the NBA, they usually land on the bench. Baseball players rarely make it without enough at-bats in the minors. College football players sit out their freshman years. And high school football coaches?

They have never made successful transitions to the college ranks. Tradition. But UNLV apparently had never heard of Gerry Faust. And its new coach, former superstar Vegas high school coach Tony Sanchez of Bishop Gorman, has already wowed a town known for flash and glitz, put together a veteran college coaching staff and managed, on short time, to sign a decent first recruiting class.

Times have changed. The fact that I can call someone a superstar high school coach is reason enough to suggest Vegas might have gambled on the right long shot. I think it has.

"People say that it hasn't worked before," Sanchez told Bleacher Report. "But when has it actually happened? Twice in 30 years? If this were a scientist, he'd say, 'Not enough information.'"

Gerry Faust.
Gerry Faust.Ed Ballots/Associated Press
Video Play Button
Videos you might like

Faust's failures at Notre Dame were so colossal that they kept everyone away from high school coaches for the next quarter of a century. Nobody wanted to make that mistake again, much like disco.

Faust was hired in 1981. North Texas tried out Todd Dodge in 2007, and that didn't work, either. Other than that, people point to the 1970s for the only other times in the modern era that high school coaches were given a shot. One thing: The 1970s are not part of the sport's modern era. In fact, 2007, when Dodge was hired, isn't either.

So it's not that there isn't enough information to judge today's high school coaches. There is none.

UNLV hired Sanchez in December, just in time for the homestretch of recruiting season, so it's hard to judge his first class. But 247Sports' composite rankings has UNLV seventh out of the 12 teams in the Mountain West, and 109th of 129 teams nationally. This was a decent first step for a team that won two games in eight of the past 11 seasons.

But maybe that step was a bit of a fluke? ESPN's Snoop & Son: A Dad's Dream followed Snoop Dogg and his son Cordell Broadus through Cordell's senior season playing for Sanchez at Bishop Gorman.

"Tell you what, that sure didn't hurt," Sanchez said. "Right in the middle of the recruiting season. People see that, see how you're doing your job coaching. It was great. People got to know me a little bit.

"It was kind of a constant dialogue: 'Hey, we watched the show.' People saw a lot of the positives we had and the way we gave criticisms to the kids. They saw me talking to the kids before the games."

Katy Winn/Associated Press

It served as one big recruiting ad for Sanchez. But it wasn't a fluke. Snoop Dogg took his kid to Bishop Gorman so he would play for a prominent high school program. It was an example of the modern era Sanchez is from, of national high school programs treated like colleges. Bishop Gorman won six state titles under Sanchez and the most recent national championship.

"We're the largest Nike high school in the country with a contract bigger than a lot of colleges," Sanchez said. "We played on ESPN, ESPN2, FOX, CBS. With those experiences, that exposure, I haven't felt a lot of stress [at UNLV]. And there's no doubt about it that we had better facilities than they have [at UNLV]. We probably had better facilities than a lot of Division I schools."

Sanchez, who's 41, was responsible for those facilities at Bishop Gorman, which include a 41,000-square-foot athletics building, a 90-seat room for team meetings, a four-lane 60-yard sprint track, posh locker rooms, a huge weight room and a hydrotherapy pool.

To me, it's dangerous for a high school program to be like that, treating kids like rock stars. But the point is: What did Sanchez jump to when he went to UNLV?

"I walked in with my wife and kids on the first night and sat in the office and she said, "Oh my God, what are you doing? There's no TLC,'" he said. "You know how you walk into someone's house and whatever it is, it's tidy and clean and you can tell they care?

"We came here and it was a cluttered mess. Replace carpet, get things clean, replace furniture, make sure the chairs match. They look sharp now. At the end of the day, you do have everything you need to win, a weight room, a locker room."

Going from Bishop Gorman to UNLV isn't so much a jump as a dive. Sanchez has meetings planned with an architect on a 60,000-70,000-foot facility he wants. He's looking to raise the funds the same way he did at Bishop Gorman. He also is close to Lorenzo Fertitta, CEO of Ultimate Fighting Championship, who can help.

So this will be a test. But UNLV failed while trying to fix things with an aging star coach (John Robinson), failed with an up-and-coming big-time assistant, failed with someone who had won at a smaller school. Why not try a modern high school coach with a resume and connections?

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 08:  A general view of Sam Boyd Stadium as the Air Force Falcons play the UNLV Rebels on November 8, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Air Force won 48-21.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

"Why it hasn't been done in the past here, I'll be honest, has never been my concern," he said. "It kind of baffles me. We'll have to see how engaged this community is. There are a lot of resources in this town, and people who are very capable."

Faust was not the modern era. Expectations at Vegas are not the same as expectations at Notre Dame. And Faust wasn't nearly as prepared as Sanchez is.

The idea of The Jump isn't what it used to be, either. Two of the past three Heisman winners, Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel, were freshmen. Many high school offenses are already as sophisticated as college offenses.

So Sanchez knows he's not moving up in class—but instead building from the ground up. In fact, part of his UNLV contract called for him to have a car. When the school presented him with a Mercedes, he sent it back.

"I told them, 'You know what? I'm not feeling real good about that,'" he said. "They said, 'Don't you want a Mercedes?' I said, 'I don't know how that looks when I drive up in a Mercedes every day on a team that won two games. I need a big, black American truck.' I figured a pickup truck. This is a tough, blue-collar fight."

You can catch him any time now, driving around town in his black Silverado.

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.