After five years, the Tony Sanchez era at UNLV is officially over.
Sanchez was dismissed as UNLV’s head football coach Monday, though the school announced he would remain in place for the team’s final game against Nevada on Saturday. Sanchez finishes his UNLV career with a record of 19-40, pending his final game Saturday. The Rebels are 3-8 in 2019.
Sanchez arrived at UNLV with fanfare after leading Las Vegas high school football powerhouse Bishop Gorman to back-to-back USA TODAY Super 25 national titles. Sanchez and his brother, Kenny, are credited with transforming Bishop Gorman’s football program into a national powerhouse with annual TV dates on the ESPN networks and a handful of major Division I recruits annually. UNLV essentially bet that the elder Sanchez brother could take the success he had at Gorman and replicate it at the collegiate level provided the same commitment to facilities and his resources. To that end, UNLV built the Fertitta Football Complex, a best-in-class football training facility, which just opened on campus in fall 2019. The building was constructed at a cost of $34 million.
While Sanchez may not have driven the results he aimed for, his contract did represent a relative bargain among FBS head coaches: Per the Associated Press, Sanchez has a $300,000 base salary, and is due two more seasons at that rate on his current contract.
For UNLV, the move is likely to be seen as a gross positive. While Sanchez was unsuccessful on the field, he helped instill some of the backbone of other successful programs while also spearheaded the development of significantly improved facilities. Those new practice facilities will be joined by a concurrent move to the Oakland Raiders’ new stadium in fall of 2020, and the combination of brand new practice facilities and a new, sparkling NFL stadium could draw interest from a class of free agent coaches that might have stayed away in years past.
As for Sanchez’s future, there will certainly be at least some speculation that he could return to Bishop Gorman to coach alongside his brother again. Tony Sanchez has provided no indication that’s in the offing, or even a consideration, but he’s also allegedly laser focused on his final game at UNLV, against Nevada, on Saturday.
The secondary questions that are sure to follow relate to larger questions about high school coaches making the leap directly to collegiate programs. In addition to Sanchez, former North Texas coach Todd Dodge lasted less than four years with the Mean Green before he, too, was let go after amassing a 6-37 record.
With those two setting up as the most prominent direct from high school college coaches there’s a natural question about whether another program will be willing to take a similar plunge. It’s instructive to consider the relative profile and similarities of North Texas and UNLV when they made their hires: both were upstart programs coming off abysmal runs under prior coaches. Both were essentially in a no-lose situation where committing multiple years to rebuild the program’s infrastructure would be acceptable, and both committed to the coach for multiple years at the outset.
For what it’s worth, both programs lived up to those promises, too. They just finally reached a breaking point and came to the conclusion that the future looked brighter with someone else at the helm.
Where else could a program like that emerge? There are contenders, but whether they’ll be as bold as North Texas and UNLV remains to be seen.