UNLV fired Dave Rice on Sunday.
So the UNLV job is now officially open.
Here are some candidates whose names could surface …
Kelvin Sampson (Houston head coach)
The unfortunate thing for UNLV is that it was reportedly close to pulling the so-called trigger on Rice after last season, and, if it would’ve done so, the school could’ve likely hired former UCLA coach Ben Howland, who, I’m told, would’ve been interested. Instead, UNLV paused on Rice, if only for another eight months, and Howland took the Mississippi State job. And now Howland is building a house on a golf course while waiting for a top-10 recruiting class to enroll. So while I guess you could ask if he wants to move back West, the timing probably isn’t ideal. Which leaves Sampson as the most accomplished guy available. Sampson has coached in 13 NCAA Tournaments, including the 2002 Final Four. And he had Indiana headed in the right direction before he was fired in 2008 because of rules violations. He’s now in his second season at Houston, where he’s off to 13-2 start. If UNLV is looking for a name with a personality — and a real “coach” — Sampson makes sense.
Mike Brown (former NBA coach)
Brown reportedly has support among influential boosters, which is always important. The 45-year-old is the 2009 NBA Coach of the Year who led the Cleveland Cavaliers (twice) and Los Angeles Lakers. He played at San Diego, meaning he’s familiar with the West Coast. And though he has no college experience to note, that’s less of an issue these days given how Fred Hoiberg succeeded at Iowa State, and how Alabama just hired former NBA Coach of the Year Avery Johnson. Neither of those coaches had college experience either.
Steve Lavin (former UCLA and St. John’s coach)
Lavin is back on the West Coast, working for FS1, and he has the type of personality that would work in Las Vegas. Yes, he’s been fired twice, most recently after last season. But he’s made eight NCAA Tournaments in 12 years as a head coach and reached the Sweet 16 five times. So he’s undeniably accomplished even if, again, he’s been fired twice.
Frank Martin (South Carolina head coach)
Truth be told, I’m not sure Martin would make this move. But he’s a big personality, relentless recruiter and good coach, and the South Carolina job is a way more difficult job than he’s making it look right now with that 15-0 record and national ranking. So why not pick up the phone and see if Martin would be willing to trade a historically bad SEC job for the opportunity to be a star in Las Vegas at what’s probably the Mountain West’s best job? Perhaps he’d politely pass. But there’s no real harm in asking.
Leon Rice (Boise State coach)
Rice is on his way to his fourth straight season with at least 21 victories and, more than likely, his third NCAA Tournament appearance in four years. Needless to say, he knows the Mountain West and what it takes to win in that league. And if he can do what he’s doing at Boise State, imagine what he could do at a place like UNLV.
Wayne Tinkle (Oregon State head coach)
Tinkle guided Montana to the NCAA Tournament in 2010, 2012 and 2013 before getting the Oregon State job in 2014. He led the Beavers to eight Pac-12 wins last season and has them off to an 11-3 start overall this season thanks largely to the play of Tres Tinkle and Stephen Thompson Jr. I mention that because Tres is Tinkle’s son and Thompson is the son of OSU assistant Stephen Thompson. Both are freshmen. And both could also make the move with Tinkle, meaning he would bring two really good college players with him.
Todd Simon (UNLV interim head coach)
Simon clearly has the support of some influential people or else he wouldn’t, at the age of 35, be the interim coach now. And he still has one of the most talented rosters in the league. So if he can get things turned around, build momentum and show he’s capable, it’s not crazy to think Simon could pull a Clay Helton and land this gig fulltime.
Steve Henson (Oklahoma assistant)
Henson was on Lon Kruger’s staff at UNLV the last time the Runnin’ Rebels were operating at a high level on the court. So he’s familiar with the school, the campus, the power structure, everything. And this would be a great first head-coaching opportunity for him.
Joe Pasternack (Arizona associate head coach)
Pasternack has head-coaching experience at New Orleans and is now on Sean Miller’s staff. He recruited Alonzo Trier out of Findlay Prep, which shows he can operate in Nevada. And it’s worth noting that former Miller assistants have done well as head coaches — namely Xavier’s Chris Mack and Dayton’s Archie Miller.
Reggie Theus (Cal State Northridge head coach)
Theus is a former UNLV star who once took New Mexico State to the NCAA Tournament and has coached in the NBA. So his name will be mentioned. But he’s struggling now. And can UNLV actually hire a coach who is struggling at Northridge?