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Murray's Mailbag: Did Nevada's 2012 choke to Arizona cause Chris Ault to quit?

Chris Ault
Chris Ault speaks to quarterback Jeff Rowe during a game in 2006. (Harry How/Getty Images)

This weekend offered one of the rare riots in Reno's history, which I documented here. Nevada football coach Jay Norvell and Nevada basketball coaches Steve Alford and Amanda Levens have offered their thoughts on recent protests. And I wrote about support for Colin Kaepernick's cause coming a little late. We'll steer clear of that stuff in this week's Mailbag (because I didn't get any questions about it), so let's dive into the topics interesting you this week. Thanks, as always, for the questions.

(Note: If you're not seeing the tweets, it's probably because you're not using Google Chrome. Use Google Chrome.)

Let me paint you a picture.

A 30-year-old Chris Murray, with less fat and more hair, sat in the press box at Albuquerque's Dreamstyle Stadium (then called University Stadium) covering Nevada's 2012 bowl game against Arizona. With only a couple of minutes left in the game, I left the press box and walked down to the field so I could watch the Wolf Pack's victory celebration to add color to my game story. As I made it down to field level, Allen Hardison kicked a 25-yard field goal with 1 minute, 48 seconds left to put Nevada up 48-35. I tweeted something to the effect of "It's going to take a miracle for Nevada to lose now." A miracle happened. Arizona scored two touchdowns in 23 seconds to win, 49-48, and I watched as grown men walked off the field crying.

After interviewing a handful of Wolf Pack players crammed into a corner of a locker room building and attending the post-game press conference, it started snowing like crazy in Albuquerque. Twenty-two NCAA, Mountain West and/or Nevada records were broken in the game, as were the hearts of the Wolf Pack players. And 13 days later, Chris Ault resigned after his 28th and final season as the Wolf Pack's coach, including the ninth season of his third tenure at the helm of the Wolf Pack.

After the press conference announced his resignation, I followed Ault into his office and we talked for another 20 minutes. I asked Ault if the Arizona Bowl loss played into his decision to resign, and he said he was already contemplating his futures as he walked across the field to shake the hand of Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez following the Wolf Pack's collapse.

"Walking across the field to shake his hand, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life,” Ault said. “The way that thing ended was just so hard to swallow.”

Ault said he thought about his decision to resign long and hard and was told by UNR president Marc Johnson to wait until after Christmas before making a final decision. He reminisced on the five times in 2011-12 his team coughed up double-digit fourth-quarter leads. He thought about how the Wolf Pack should have suffered the same fate in a thrilling win over Boise State in 2010 if not for a missed 26-yard field goal by Kyle Brotzman. He thought about the Arizona loss and figured the program was no longer moving forward under his leadership.

“When I got home after that Arizona game, I was devastated,” Ault said. “We should have won the game. We should have won that damn game. Period. And we didn’t. And it’s the same way we lost all those other games. I went back the past few nights and I thought, ‘If I haven’t gotten it straightened out yet, then when am I going to get it straightened out?’ Here we are one of the best offenses in the country and we couldn’t get the defense there. The frustration came down to this: We kept losing games the same way. That can’t happen, and I was in charge of everything. As we developed the Pistol offense, I think subconsciously our defensive players and coaches thought, ‘Well, we can just out-score folks. We can beat these teams 49-48.’”

Ault thought about Nevada's lowly budget and how tired he was of trying to win with minimal support (his budget of $5 million in his final season at Nevada was $3 million below the MW average and is half of the Wolf Pack's current football budget). While Ault admitted the loss to Arizona did play a part in his decision, would he have stayed on for another season if the Wolf Pack won that game? Only Ault can answer that question, and I've asked him before. But I believe he still would have resigned. I think he was looking for a jump to the NFL. His Pistol offense was all the rage in the NFL, and Colin Kaepernick was tearing up the league with the scheme. After being loyal to Nevada for so long, I felt like he wanted to give the NFL a shot.

Ault made it a point to make sure we said he was "resigning" and not "retiring." Plus, Nevada had just gotten to the MW, so he felt like the Wolf Pack was in a good spot.

“I’m not using the word retire because that’s not in the vocabulary,” Ault said. “We’ll see. Do I have anything waiting? No. My whole goal is focused on leaving this program in the best way possible. I have a lot left in me. I'm in my offensive prime. I feel good about where I’m at. My energy level is still very high. Whether I coach again, I don’t know.”

He hired NFL super-agent Bob LaMonte and did eventually get an NFL job, although it was as an offensive consultant gig for the Chiefs, which he enjoyed but was probably a less lofty title than he envisioned. He coached the Milano Rhinos for two seasons. He coached his grandson's Pop Warner team. So he never quite made the jump to the NFL, which I believe was the goal upon his resignation. While the Arizona game might have made an impact, I don't think it was the main determining factor in his decision. I believe it was a combination of being forced to do so much with so little at Nevada (he couldn't retain an expensive defensive coordinator) and desire to see if he could get interest in the NFL.

Here is my latest report on that, but the goal is for athletes to be on campus for the start of the second summer session, which is July 13-Aug. 13. "The university’s goal remains to return to campus in phases, working toward resumption of in-person instruction, campus housing and athletics events for second session summer school and fall semester," UNR said. That would put Wolf Pack basketball players on campus working out in early July. "I'm hoping by the time we get to the second semester of summer, July 1, somewhere in that period, I hope we've got guys on campus and can start working guys out," Alford said last month. "That would have a lot of benefit going into the fall." That's all the best-case scenario.

I would like two more pieces of information before giving a win-loss projection for the 2020-21 season, those being: (a) Nevada's full schedule and (b) knowledge of who Nevada lands with its final scholarship, which was vacated when Jalen Harris stayed in the NBA draft. But I think you're looking at a team that will struggle to get above .500 given the lack of experience, which includes zero seniors, two juniors and only one player who has logged 20-plus minutes over a Division I season, that being Brown transfer Desmond Cambridge. There's talent on the roster, but it's hard to win with that kind of inexperience. So I would bet on Nevada finishing under .500 in 2020-21, depending on those two bits of information requested above.

Fun question. Here's my guess.

1. Desmond Cambridge (confident about this one)

2. Zane Meeks (should be ready to take the next step)

3. Robby Robinson (I could be overestimating this one but the staff likes his defense)

4. Kane Milling (chief benefactor of Harris turning pro)

5. Je'Lani Clark (competitiveness and lack of backcourt depth will get him on the court)

6. K.J. Hymes (has to improve his foul rate to log big minutes)

7. Warren Washington (could be a little low here but the frontcourt's deep)

8. Alem Huseinovic (he can shoot, so he'll get minutes)

9. Tre Coleman (Nevada will need his length on the wing)

10. DeAndre Henry (I like him, but forward depth chart is crowded)

11. Daniel Foster (if there was one player who could redshirt, it'd be Foster)

Another fun question. Nevada football is projected for 6.5 wins at sports books, and that's assuming a full 12-game season, which might not happen. I'd peg Wolf Pack football closer to eight wins if we're including the postseason and assuming a full season. That'd require Nevada basketball to go at least 8-10 in conference play. Tough call. I'll take Nevada basketball on this one, in part because I've heard murmurs of a shortened regular season in football and I believe Steve Alford will get the most out of his roster.

I don't think Nevada should redshirt anybody, and I don't see chemistry issues forming given how young all of the Wolf Pack players are. You typically only get disgruntled players if they are upperclassmen who expect playing time. Nevada will have a lot of freshmen and sophomores fighting for the right to get on the court, and I see that as a good thing. These aren't five-star recruits who believe they're entitled to 30-plus minutes as soon as they step on campus.

If you're asking about the best player at every position, I'd go:

PG: Ramon Sessions

SG: Marcelus Kemp

SF: Luke Babbitt

PF: Nick Fazekas

C: JaVale McGee

Sixth man: Edgar Jones

If I'm trying to win a game, I'd go:

PG: Cody Martin

SG: Marcelus Kemp

SF: Jordan Caroline

PF: Nick Fazekas

C: Edgar Jones

Sixth man: Luke Babbitt

Low. Those two players are ranked the fifth (Smith) and 23rd (Gach) best available transfers on the market, so there's going to be a Power 5 feeding frenzy for them. Gach is supposed to release his top five today.

(Update: Both Gach released his top five and Nevada is not in it.)

While Wolf Pack athletic director Doug Knuth would tell you, "Nevada is a tennis school," "Nevada is a football school," "Nevada is a volleyball school," "Nevada is a soccer school," etc., I wrote in April 2019 Nevada is officially a basketball school. Here's that full article. My rationale for saying Nevada is a basketball school is:

* The only two $1 million-plus coaches in school history were basketball coaches.

* Since 2000, Nevada basketball has won 11 conference titles to Nevada football’s two and posted a 63.8 winning percent to football's 50.4 percent.

* Nevada basketball has drawn better in the stands.

* The Wolf Pack's basketball budget is better than the Wolf Pack's football budget relative to the MW average.

* Nevada basketball has a practice facility and Nevada football does not.

For the last two decades, Nevada basketball has won more, has paid its coaches more, has invested in the program more and has better facilities. It's a basketball school. (Although swimming and diving has had the best results historically).

The defense, by far. The Wolf Pack has a new defensive coordinator, three new defensive assistant coaches and returns only five defensive starters compared to eight on offense, which lost only one of its five position coaches. Nevada returned its entire offensive line, its starting quarterback, its top two running backs, its top two receivers and its top three tight ends, so there's a lot of continuity there even if the Wolf Pack was going to tweak its scheme a little. On defense, you're installing a new scheme that's quite different than the previous scheme, so Nevada will be behind the curve there. But seven of the Wolf Pack's 11 FBS opponents this year are under the direction of first-year coaches, so Nevada should be in a better position than most of its opponents despite losing a spring camp.

No, I don't think so. While both are good players, they have not been proven to be as productive as the groups below, and I'm just including Nevada's last 15 seasons.

* Malik Reed and Korey Rush in 2018 (111 tackles, 14 sacks, 28 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries)

* Ian Seau and Lenny Jones in 2015 (90 tackles, 17 sacks, 30 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries)

* Dontay Moch and Brett Roy in 2010 (114 tackles, 16.5 sacks, 36.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles)

* Kevin Basped and Dontay Moch in 2009 (93 tackles, 16 sacks, 32.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles)

* Kevin Basped and Dontay Moch in 2008 (100 tackles, 21.5 sacks, 35.5 tackles for loss, seven forced fumbles)

* J.J. Milan and Ezra Butler in 2006 (110 tackles, 16.5 sacks, 31.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles)

Peterson and Hammond combined for 75 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles last season. Out of the seven tandems mentioned here, Peterson and Hammond would rank seventh in tackles, seventh in sacks, seventh in tackles for loss and fourth in forced fumbles. I see Peterson as an NFL-caliber player and Hammond could have a breakout senior season. He's an excellent athlete with good size and a good motor. But the groups above have hit a different level, which Peterson and Hammond could perhaps reach in 2020.

For me, the Kevin Basped-Dontay Moch pairing is the best among front-line defensive players in recent Wolf Pack history. In 2008-09, they combined for 193 tackles, 37.5 sacks, 68 tackles for loss and nine forced fumbles. That's creating chaos. And while I was mostly looking at defensive end tandems, it's worth mentioning the linebacker duo of Brandon Marshall and James-Michael Johnson, who were together from 2008-11.

Well, I don't think there's going to be a Reno Aces season in 2020, which is nothing more than informed speculation at this stage. If baseball returns, it seems like it will be with a major-league roster and a supplemental taxi squad rather than full minor-league play. While MLB seems hellbent on ridding itself of a dozens of minor-league teams, I don't see Reno being on the chopping block, so the long-term future should be unaltered even if there aren't games at Greater Nevada Field in 2020.

Fans always side with billionaire owners over millionaire players because, "Athletes are just playing a kid's game and should do it for free." There's a vast lack of economic intellect in the country, which makes it hard for people to understand the economics of sports. For example, many fans will tell you their ticket prices and in-stadium beers are expensive because players are paid too much. Well, college athletes aren't paid anything and beer still costs $9 at Mackay Stadium and a double Crown Royal still costs $20 at Lawlor Events Center. Pro sports owners will charge whatever people are willing to pay. It's supply and demand. It is a weird little thing we have where Capitalist America gets mad when players want to maximize their earning, like any good capitalist would do.

I'll go with the NHL because it will be jumping right into the playoffs, and Stanley Cup Playoffs are some of the best sports around. NASCAR, PGA and ATP are more niche sports. The NHL used to be a "big-four sport" and could gain some fans lost over the years if it is playing in a relatively sports-free landscape. I do love me some ACL, though. Cornhole is where it's at. I'm also a big fan of The World Axe Throwing League, aka WATL.

I've said it before and will say again, and this is meant as no disrespect to Trent Johnson, Mark Fox or Steve Alford, but Eric Musselman is the best basketball coach in Nevada history. All four of those guys are winners, but Musselman's X factor is his ability to energize the community and put people in seats, which is a rare quality. It helps that he took over a 9-22 team and went 24 wins, 28 wins, 29 wins and 29 wins. There was no rebuild after he inherited a less-than-ideal situation. The good thing for Alford is he has a long contract (nine years left), so he could surpass Musselman in time.

Best baseball books would be Ball Four, Moneyball, The Boys of Summer, Veeck — As in Wreck, Only the Ball Was White: A History of Legendary Black Players..., The Arm, Smart Baseball and The Best Team Money Can Buy. Some non-baseball books worth reading are The Master and Margarita, A Confederacy of Dunces and If On a Winter's Night a Traveler.

Well, they say the third time is a charm, so hopefully Mackay Stadium will be fully ADA compliant after this summer's latest renovation. Quite frankly, that situation has been a mess.

And you also allowed me to go on my rant against space exploration. While it is super cool we have flown to the moon and explored space, I'm not sure spending $22.6 billion on it in fiscal year 2020 is the greatest use of money. Yes, it is only a tiny piece of the United States' 2020 expenditures, which totals $4.7 trillion (so NASA's money is only 0.48 percent of that). But with 37.2 million Americans living in food-insecure households and 553,000 homeless people in the United States, it seems like the money could go to more pressing needs.

Probably the same reason people don't know the single-season MLB leader in runs scored: that stat is as much dependent on the skill of your teammates as your actual skill. It's cool Hack Wilson drove in 191 runs in 155 games in 1930. He also hit 56 homers and tallied 105 walks, slashing .356/.454/.723 in one of the best offensive seasons in MLB history. The second-most RBIs in a season belong to Lou Gehrig with 184 in 1931. In the modern era, Manny Ramirez leads the way with 165 in 1999, so I don't anybody breaking Wilson's mark. And if you were wondering who held the single-season runs scored record, that'd be Billy Hamilton -- not the former Reds outfield Billy Hamilton -- with 198 in 132 games in 1894. Fun fact: Both Wilson and Hamilton were 5-foot-6. The most runs scored in the modern era belong to Jeff Bagwell, who crossed the plate 152 times in 2000.

No, I'd blame that on Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd. But that's just me.

Those were the two student housing buildings damaged by a boiler explosion last July. Per the last notification, Nye Hall is expected to open this fall with housing for 500 students. Argenta Hall sustained more damage and isn't expected to open until fall 2021, and it will include a new dining facility.

1. Gel (that turns into a foam)

2. Lays (unless I'm going to the beach and then Pringles for the convenience)

3. Bacon (bacon over everything)

4. Yogurt (but really pudding)

5. Montana (one of our most beautiful states)

6. I don't like fish

7. Regular onion rings (they offer a better crunch)

8. Pecan sticky bun (because a pecan log sounds like a euphemism for poop)

9. Eminem (that's like asking if I'd rather eat a filet mignon or dog food)

10. Falcons (because they're faster than hawks)

11. Lace up (unless we're taking about my son's shoes; then I'm lazy and want Velcro)

12. 9 iron (I don't like too much loft on my approach shots)

Our beautiful dog, Ripley, goes on at least one 30-minute walk per day, but she didn't go on this hike because she's 110 pounds and pulls hard on walks I didn't want to deal with that on the uphill climb to the "No." Additionally, we recently bought a new car and didn't want her dirtying it up on the drive. That stuffed animal belongs to my son. He calls it "Ripley Toy." He got it with the book "Elf Pets: A Saint Bernard Tradition." It's the only stuffed animal he's ever cared about. He sleeps with it every night. He likes it more than the actual Ripley. So he brought it up the mountain, and I took a picture of it. See y'all next week!

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. He writes a weekly Monday Mailbag despite it giving him a headache and it taking several hours to finish. But people seem to like it, so he does it anyway. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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