When the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels lost to Wyoming this weekend, Coach Dave Rice was beside himself in the locker room and some of the players were crying. Was that a harbinger? Did Rice know at that moment that he was going to resign?
And did he actually “resign”?
Mitch Moss, a sports talk show host for ESPN radio in Las Vegas, told KNPR's State of Nevada Rice was asked to leave.
"This was his dream job from the get go and he got it," he said "Dave Rice is a very smart man. He would not have resigned. They said it was a mutual agreement but let's be honest here. It was boosters and their money speaking and yeah, he was fired."
Moss said even though it is the middle of the season booster had had enough of the losses.
"I guess enough was enough," he explained, "They saw the same problems over and over again."
Moss also pointed out that for three years running Rice put together one of the best recruiting classes in the country and yet didn't get that talent to come together on the court. It became too much for boosters.
The loss against Wyoming sunk the Runnin’ Rebels to 0 and 3 in Mountain West Conference play, and the midseason announcement of Rice’s departure sent a shockwave through the college sports world and Rebel fans.
Moss said he is usually against midseason firings but this might be what the Rebels need to spark the rest of the season.
"Maybe this will be a good thing," Moss said, "I got to be honest. They don't have a lot of time to get over this. They have to play tonight [Tuesday] against New Mexico."
Rice took to Twitter asking people to come out and support the team in force at the game against New Mexico. Moss is not surprised by that.
"He's a classy guy." he said, "He's one of the nicest human beings I've ever met and for him to do that was completely unnecessary, but he did it."
Third-year assistant Todd Simon will take over as interim head coach for the remainder of this season.
But the Rebels' future is once again in limbo, as students and fans wonder who the replacement choice will be.
Moss believes the next coach really comes down to money and how much the university is willing to pay for a coach with a great reputation.
"It is all going to depend on how much money certain boosters and the university are willing to dish out," he said, "Are they willing to go up to $1.2 or $1.4 million?"
Moss cited former coach Lon Kruger, who wanted to stay in Las Vegas and took the team to the NCAA tournament three times, as an example of someone who was lured away by a bigger paycheck in Oklahoma.
"It totally depends on what they're going to do," he said, "Are they going to spend $1.5 million or are they going to say, 'You know what we're a school that can only pay out $600,000." If they are, then expectations around here are going to have to change."
Moss cautions that it is not the 90s anymore and fans cannot expect the kind of program that Jerry Tarkanian ran.
"If people in this town have Elite Eight or Sweet Sixteen expectations, then they're crazy," he said, "That's dream world that we're talking about. Now a run every once in a while to the Sweet Sixteen or to the Elite Eight is that impossible? No! It's not. But to expect that year in and year out is crazy talk."
He said the university, the boosters and the regular fans need to set a reasonable expectations for the new coach like going to the NCAA tournament on a consistent basis.
And to find that new coach, Moss said the school and the boosters have to be willing to talk to everyone about the position and pay the money for him.
As for Rice, Moss has no doubt that he will get a job.
Mitch Moss, ESPN Radio
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