Chris Ault on the passing of Bob Cashell: 'His influence on my life was huge'

Bob Cashell
Bob Cashell, right, chats with then-UNR president Joe Crowley in this 1970s photo. (University of Nevada)

When Chris Ault flew from Las Vegas to Reno in 1975 to interview for the Wolf Pack’s football coaching job, there was a man waiting for him at the airport. That man was Bob Cashell.

Cashell and Ault were acquaintances from Ault’s time coaching Bishop Manogue and Reno high schools. Ault would hit up Cashell for a couple hundred bucks every now and then to help him programs, but he didn’t expect Cashell to essentially be his chauffeur while interviewing for the Wolf Pack job.

"He was like a secret agent,” Ault joked. "Ever since that time, he became full-on Wolf Pack football.”

While Ault was the driving force behind Nevada football’s ascension in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, the program's top supporter and booster during that growth was Cashell, the former Nevada lieutenant governor, Reno mayor and chairman of the Nevada Board of Regents who died Tuesday at age 81.

"His influence on my life was huge,” Ault told Nevada Sports Net on Tuesday afternoon. “His influence on the University of Nevada was monumental. Some of the things he did was unbelievable."

Cashell’s support of Nevada athletics, and Wolf Pack football in particular, will be one of his lasting legacies. He was instrumental in helping Ault achieve the goals he set for his program. It started early on as Ault remembered Cashell trying to drum up support before Ault’s first game as coach in 1976.

"I remember our opening game against Cal State Hayward,” Ault said. “It's my opening game and on Friday I get a call from President (Joe) Crowley and he says, 'Hey your friend bought himself a Model T and is driving around campus honking his horn. He’s yelling, ‘Don't forget there's a game tomorrow at 1 o'clock! Don't miss out!’ He bought a brand-new Model T and drove it on campus Friday between 1 o'clock and 3 o'clock honking his horn. He did it for three weeks before the police cut off the entrance system."

Ault said Cashell was Nevada football’s main cheerleader and booster in the early days of his tenure. The bond lasted for the next four decades as Cashell went from a businessman to a Regent to a politician and became like a family member for Ault. Cashell was instrumental in ensuring the Nevada-UNLV football rivalry was an annual game, Ault said.

"In 1985, we beat UNLV, 48-7, and UNLV said at the time, 'We're not playing year to year. We'll play every other year,” Ault recalled. “I went to Bob after 1987 after we lost a close game and said, 'Hey, Bob, the two major universities in this state have to play every year.' I said, 'They have no right now that we're beating them and competing with them -- because they had the money, the stadium and all that stuff -- they have no right to say they won't play every year.' He said, 'That's the end of this conversation,' and in 1989 we started playing every year because of him."

Cashell also made two major donations to the Wolf Pack that led the construction and then a renovation of Nevada’s football facility, which is named the Nancy and Bob Cashell Football Center. In the 1980s, Nevada’s football staff was housed at the Virginia Street Gym along with the school’s women’s sports.

A donation from the Cashell family allowed Nevada to build a stand-alone football facility, including coaching offices, meeting rooms and a strength center, next to Mackay Stadium. It also allowed the women’s athletic programs to get their own space at the Virginia Street Gym as Ault pushed for Title IX reforms.

"I went to Bob and said, 'We need to build football offices next to the stadium,'” Ault said. “We had expanded the stadium to 16,000 and we were winning, a pretty good program. Bob sold Boomtown in 1988 and when he was signing the papers I was at his house visiting with Nancy. I said, 'Nancy, I want his name up at the university.' At that time, they didn't name many buildings after people. It just didn't happen. We needed $350,000 to $400,000 to build what would become Cashell FieldHouse. Bob was not home. He was signing the papers selling Boomtown, but Nancy said, 'That sounds good. That'd be great to have his name up there.' As I'm walking out, he's walking in and he says, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'I just had to attend to a little business with your wife. I'll talk to you later.'"

Of course, Cashell got back at Ault years later. When the Nevada marching band was potentially going to be shuttered, Cashell held a fundraising event that featured crooner Wayne Newton.

“Bob gets up to the microphone, which he was not shy of,” Ault said, “and goes, ‘I have a great announcement! I know there has been some concern over the marching band not having enough monies to continue. I just made a deal with Coach Ault that he will donate $50,000 to the band.’ We had never even talked about it. Everybody gave a huge round of applause. He came back and sat down and I said, ‘I don’t have $50,000.’ He said, ‘Well, you better go and find it.’”

Ault remembered Cashell as the ultimate philanthropist whose life centered on helping others. Ault recalled Cashell's magnetic personality and ability to unify. He said nobody was more determined to carrying a vision to completion. Ault called Cashell “one of the most generous men and most compassionate people I've ever been involved with” and recalled the numerous times he donated time or money to worthy causes. Helping people is one reason Cashell loved being Reno's mayor for 12 years, Ault said.

“He loved being mayor because he could help people," Ault said. "That’s what he was about. If he could have been mayor for the rest of his life, he would have accepted it and probably paid to do it. He’s just that kind of an unselfish person."

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