Like it or not, Rebel fans, but you’re going to get at least one more year of head football coach Tony Sanchez roaming the sidelines. The UNLV athletic department announced Nov. 29 Sanchez would be retained for the 2018–19 season, ending months of speculation after a rough season on the gridiron.
The Rebels struggled early with a terrible six-game losing streak that included losses to winless San Jose State and New Mexico. The Rebels rebounded to finish the 4-8 season strong, with quality wins over San Diego State on the road and then UNR to win the Fremont Cannon in the season finale.
The final two wins seemingly bought Sanchez another year.
“After evaluating the UNLV football program with Acting President Marta Meana, Coach Tony Sanchez will return for a fifth year to lead the Rebels,” UNLV Athletic Director Desiree Reed-Francois said in a press release. “We are looking forward to a successful 2019 football season including bowl eligibility, continued improvement in the classroom, and as always, a positive student-athlete experience. We have invested more resources than ever into the Rebel football program and will continue exploring every avenue to enable it to be competitive.”
While not every fan was jumping for joy, there was a general feeling on social media. Next year is make-or-break for the fifth year coach.
FWIW, I think most people will that cover #UNLVfb knew, especially after the Rebels won the Fremont Cannon and how hard his team play for him all season, that Tony would get his 5th year, but it will be “Bowl or bust”
— Joe Arrigo (@joearrigo) November 29, 2018
While this was a fairly predictable decision, Sanchez signed a three-year extension after the 2017–18 season, it’s coming off the heels of another disappointing year in southern Nevada. When the University decided to hold onto Sanchez it made complete sense. Still, based on Reed-Francois’s statement when you read between the lines, it’s a bowl game or unemployment. The second-year athletic director made it clear the expectation is bowl eligibility.
UNLV had improved by one win each season he was at the helm and quarterback Armani Rogers was the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year. This season completely disregarded all the momentum of 2017. While Rogers did miss six games with a toe injury, the team was 2–7 staring at the final three games of the year.
Then, with Max Gilliam under center, Sanchez led the Rebels into San Diego where they took down the Aztecs. Two weeks later, Sanchez — this time with Rogers in tow — dropped the University of Nevada-Reno, 34–29. Those wins may have saved Sanchez’s job. Either it was the two wins that made UNLV fans believe in the future of the team, or it also could’ve been the need to see the completion of the Fertitta Football Complex through.
No Sanchez, no Fertitta money
From when Sanchez was hired, his connections with the Fertitta family were well established. He knew them well from his time at Bishop Gorman High School, and his hiring was instrumental in getting the Las Vegas billionaires to get the new complex off the ground.
— Coach Tony Sanchez (@UNLVSanchez) December 1, 2018
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal from Nov. 3, Lorenzo Fertitta said, “Both my brother (Frank) and I feel very strongly that Tony is the right guy for the program and things are way better today than before he got there.”
He then mentioned Sanchez’s fundraising prowess and there might be the key. There’s an expensive building that’s significantly under budget still that has to be completed and Sanchez is friends with the men who can get the University over the finish line.
It’s going to be a difficult year for Sanchez in 2019. No longer will he have Lexington Thomas roaming in the backfield. Along with Thomas, the team is graduating Nathan Jacobson and Roger Mann who both earned All-Conference honors as well this season.
— UNLV Football (@unlvfootball) November 28, 2018
Rogers isn’t a lock at quarterback with how Gilliam played while the toe injury sidelined him, even though Sanchez backed his starter in a post-season press conference.
Sanchez said, “Armani is the guy, there’s no doubt about it. With those two guys and a young guy like Kenyon (Oblad), who’s got a lot of skill, it’s great to see a competitive atmosphere at that position.”
But the Rebels have no fear. They believe that Sanchez can lead them into a prosperity…or at least lead them until the team says goodbye to Sam Boyd Stadium and fully moves into its new football complex.