Rice Firing a Part of the New World of College Sports

21 Jan

We often hear about how college athletics is becoming more and more like the pro game, whether that be football or basketball, good or bad.  The professional game is seeping more and more into the intercollegiate side of things.  So I was a bit surprised in the uproar over the in-season firing of Dave Rice at UNLV on January 10th.  Many saying it was not the right move to fire him midseason, and the school should have waited until the end of the year, and that Dave Rice was a nice guy and deserved better.

While I agree Rice was a nice guy, perhaps too nice for today’s college athletics.  His firing is just another example of the pro game becoming more prevalent in college sports.  Dave Rice returned to UNLV five seasons ago after being an assistant at BYU the prior seven seasons.   Rice was thought of as one of their own at UNLV, having played on the 1990 National Championship team under legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian.  It was hoped Rice would be the one to lead the Rebels back to glory, whatever glory would be.

In his first two seasons in Vegas Rice led the team to a 51-19 record and two trips to the NCAA Tournament.  While those numbers looked very good to outsiders, fanatics of the program would point out that the team never finished higher than third in the Mountain West and lost their first game in the tournament both years despite being a 6 and 5-seed respectively.

One thing Rice was always good at was recruiting, having recruited NBA first-rounder Rashad Vaughn, #1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and current five-star recruit Stephen Zimmerman to UNLV.  However many of Rice’s detractors would say that the recruiting classes never translated to success on the court as evidenced by the yearly decline in wins for the Rebels.

So despite having non-conference wins over Indiana and Oregon UNLV decided to make a change following losses to Arizona and Arizona State and 0-3 start to conference play with losses to Fresno State, Colorado State and Wyoming.  Assistant coach Todd Simon was named interim coach and the team has won three straight.  Whether that is a coincidence or not and whether making the change now was the right move or not, it is something you see in pro sports all the time if you don’t perform you are out.   Yet another philosophy that has made its way into college sports, get used to it.

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