After another 17-point loss, the team’s third such loss in a row, UNLV head coach Marvin Menzies had little to say. Thanks to a terribly upset (and vocal) contingent of fans — especially on social media — who want the beleaguered coach gone as soon as possible, Menzies is under fire and looked more like a man headed to a firing squad than he did the locker room.

Despite taking over a program in disarray and, despite signing a contract specifically worded with such phrases as “long-term commitment on the part of the university” and “extended term,” pressure to send Menzies packing has increased in his third season (second recruiting season). While a few names have been tossed around, the hottest name some fans keep floating is disgraced former Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who is currently coaching in Greece this spring.

“We’ve seen progress, and I want to continue seeing that upward trajectory,” UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois told the Las Vegas Review-Journal back in August. “I also know (Menzies is) passionately committed to building a championship and building it the right way. That’s really important. I’m not interested in cutting corners. I’m interested in building a program that this community can be proud of, and we’ve got to do it in alignment with our core values and our expectations, and that’s winning with integrity.”

“I’m not interested in cutting corners. I’m interested in building a program that this community can be proud of, and we’ve got to do it in alignment with our core values and our expectations, and that’s winning with integrity.”

The last few sentences speak volumes: “Winning with integrity.” Hard to believe an AD looking to hire someone with integrity would include a coach who still hasn’t been cleared by the F.B.I., was fired under nefarious circumstances from his previous job and had his wins and titles vacated after his program was implicated in a pay-for-play scandal last year. While he proclaims his innocence and it’s entirely plausible he was completely unaware of any improriety, two of the convicted parties in the investigation were caught on tape confirming Pitino was aware the entire time. Would seem pretty hypocritical to go that route if the risk potentially could compromise the integrity that seems so imperative.

Pitino — who most experts believe is headed to the NBA once he is cleared by the F.B.I. — sounds like a great option for those dedicated to winning at all costs. Honestly, I think Pitino is a perfect coach for a young and up-and-coming franchise in the NBA. I’d be happy if the Bulls snagged him. There’s no doubt his ability to teach and coach young ball players is uncanny. He can communicate with this generation as well as anyone. It’s not like the NBA the last time he gave that a run. It was a much older league back then. Youth is on the verge of taking over the league again with the next big wave.

For the 66-year-old, redemption has to be on his mind. All the great coaches look to reinvent themselves at the highest level and now is his moment to shine. I mean, he fits the Vegas swagger. That’s never been the question.

It just brings a ton of unneeded heat on a program looking to break away from its past, especially considering two of the previous six basketball coaches were fired for violating NCAA rules. Still, despite an athletic department that needed a $5.1 million bailout from the university to stay at the projected budget, rumors of an alleged backroom deal with Pitino — and his potential $2.5 million or more yearly contract — keeps spilling onto social media.

It begs the question: What can UNLV really afford financially?

If the school chooses to move on from Menzies early, it will cost UNLV $800,000 to buy out his current deal. Add into that the next coach’s salary and an athletic department barely keeping its head above water already, you’re going to need millions from the boosters to even entertain the idea of a “big name” coach. That doesn’t include the $5.1 million gap that isn’t going to magically disappear overnight in the next fiscal year, especially if attendance numbers continue to slide like they have.

So, if we play Ricardo Monteban and land our shaky plane on Fantasy Island, UNLV will have to go against its stated core value of integrity, pull out more than $5 million from its boosters, hire a coach still under investigation by the F.B.I., all while also recruiting a developing a new group of players coming in after the Menzies recruits dip out to another program.

Doesn’t seem likely, but stranger things have happened.

To me, it seems like letting Menzies stay for one more year is both fiscally responsible and patient enough to allow Menzies one more shot to show his current young roster of freshmen and sophomores (only three upperclassmen) has developed. With UNLV scrambling for money to meet the budgetary needs, just giving away $800K seems like a waste of money in lieu of patiently allowing Menzies to develop his program.

Then again, his continued presence on the sidelines could be costing the university more than that in ticket sales and concessions. Between football and basketball’s drop in ticket sales, the program has lost around $1.8 million annually. Attendance has dropped from 10,093 per game in 2017-18 to a dismal 8,031 average this season. In fact, since Dave Rice took over in 2011, attendance spiked his second season before dropping considerably until his firing in 2016 (almost 4,000 per game).

While the drop during Dave Rice’s tenure was more dramatic, Menzies has seen his drop this year more than 2,000 per game, meaning the loss of ticket sales and subsequent concessions will only add to the budget shortfall this next year.

SEASON ATTENDANCE
2018-19 8,031
2017-18 10,093
2016-17 10,120
2015-16 11,542
2014-15 11,757
2013-14 13,125
2012-13 15,196
2011-12 14,025

 

It’s not like UNLV fans even showed up the first year Menzies was head coach but the trend from the failed Rice Era continued. In defense of Menzies compared to Rice, Rice never had to deal with the “Golden Knights Effect.” Sold-out VGK games at T-Mobile costs five times as much per ticket. Worse, the team went on an improbable run Stanley Cup Final run in its inaugural season this past year so simple logic can account for some of the drop this year as VGK ticket prices have practically doubled in Year Two.

Still, the drop in ticket sales and concessions revenue has got to be a concern for Reed-Francois.

Maybe UNLV decides it has had enough. Maybe it has decided the coach that took the job nobody else in America wanted (except Stacey Augmon), who left his comfortable job at New Mexico State to give it a go in this broken program, isn’t worth the hassle of the ticke revenue drop and the constant barrage of “social media athletic directors” crying for a coaching change midseason.

Fans seemed conflicted on whether to wait it out and save the money, or cut their losses and go after Pitino or another big name.

Maybe.  Maybe not.

It’s an interesting question when you have a signed five-year contract proposal with a worded justification for hire that says:

A. To rebuild a program, student-athletes and community supporters need to know the head coach will remain at the institution for an extended term.

B. Recruiting now encompasses asking student-athletes to compete and stay at our institution for five (5) years.

C. Contracts for successful men’s basketball head coaches typically exceed four years and reflect a long-term commitment on the part of the university.

Good luck finding a big name coach to trust UNLV this time around after the debacle last time resulted in a mid-season firing of Dave Rice, a cat-and-mouse game of interest then denial from Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, then finished with a hired-but-then-resigned scam job from current Texas Tech coach Chris Beard, who left UNLV after less than a month.

That trust is going to have to be bought and what’s an extra million to secure a big name coach’s trust from an athletic department at least $5 million over budget already, right?

The only thing we can be sure of is that Reed-Francois will make an objective decision based on all pertinent information and, while I firmly believe Menzies should get this fourth year and no guarantees beyond that, I have faith she will make a decision that is best for the school, the program and the young people involved first and foremost.

One thing is for sure, she isn’t kowtowing to the contingent of fans who believe athletics is more important than education for these student-athletes. And, why should she? This is as much her legacy as it is for Menzies. Sometimes the least popular decision is usually the most logical choice.

Come end of the season, fans and media alike will have their answer.