MENU

The 13 best coaches in Nevada Wolf Pack athletics history

Eric Musselman
Eric Musselman had a great four-year run at Nevada. (Byrne Photo/Nevada athletics)

Over the last couple of weeks, we've looked at the 13 best football coaches in Mountain West history and the 13 best basketball coaches in Mountain West history. Let's reel things in things even closer locally and look at the 13 best coaches in Nevada Wolf Pack history. Of note: When evaluating coaches, only their time at Nevada was under consideration when ranking them.

1. Chris Ault (football): Ault is the only Wolf Pack coach to reach his sport's college Hall of Fame after being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame (FCS division) in 2002. He took Nevada from Division II when hired in 1976 to No. 11 in the nation in 2010, building not only his program but the whole department while serving as athletic director from 1986-2004. He won 233 games and 10 league titles. He was a six-time conference coach of the year and the FCS coach of the year in 1991. His teams made the FCS playoffs seven times, advancing to the semifinals five times, and reached 10 bowl games in 12 FBS seasons. He's the only coach to have a team lead the FBS in passing and rushing. He created the widely-used Pistol offense. In 28 seasons, he finished below .500 only three times, including one in which his team reached a bowl. He is the standard all Wolf Pack coaches are measured against.

2. Jian Li You (diving): A former Olympic-caliber diver who didn't get to compete in the Summer Games due to the 1980 Moscow boycott, You became an even more decorated coach than athlete. Since being hired by Nevada in 1996, You is a nine-time conference coach of the year (the most in Wolf Pack history) who has coached six pupils to conference diver of the year honors (for a total of eight such awards). She was the 2016 NCAA diving coach of the year after her diver, Sharae Zheng, won two NCAA titles. You has coached multiple Olympians and has helped four Nevada coaches win conference titles during her 25 years at the school (Mike Anderson, Mike Shrader, Mike Richmond and Neil Harper). The Wolf Pack has won nine swimming and diving conference championships during You's tenure, and she has coached more than a dozen athletes to the NCAA Championships.

3. Eric Musselman (men's basketball): Nevada has had three coaches in recent history do wonderful things in a short period of time before jumping to a Power 5 job. Musselman's tenure tops the list, in part because of the situation he inherited. Nevada was coming off a 9-22 season and was three straight below-.500 seasons when Musselman was hired. In his four years on the job, his teams won 24, 28, 29 and 29 games as Musselman went 110-34 overall and 52-17 in conference games while winning four Mountain West titles in four seasons (Nevada has won just seven MW titles in all sports since 2012, so Musselman's teams accounted for more than half of them). Nevada won a CBI title in Musselman's first season before a run of three straight NCAA Tournament berths, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2018 and a program-best No. 5 ranking in the nation the following season.

4. Jack Cook (men's cross country; track): It's easy to forget about Jack Cook given he started coaching at Nevada in the 1960s in a lower-profile sport and his programs were shuttered in the 1990s so Nevada could become Title IX compliant. Cook coached at Nevada from 1967-88 as the head track and field and cross country coach. His led his teams to 16 conference championships (10 in cross country; six in track and field), which are the most in school history. He was undefeated in college cross country dual meets (58-0) and coached 23 All-Americans. Cook was the Big Sky Coach of the Year three times each in cross country and in track, paralleling his championships (1981, 82 and 84 in track and 1979, 80 and 83 in cross country). He was District Seven (Rocky Mountain area) coach of the year in track in 1984. Cook was inducted into the Wolf Pack Hall of Fame in 2007.

5. Trent Johnson (basketball): Johnson's overall record wasn't eye-popping with a 79-74 overall mark and 35-33 conference record in five years at Nevada, but he took a decades-long moribund program and built it up for a decade of success. When Johnson was hired in 1999, Nevada had not been to the NCAA Tournament in 14 years and had not developed an NBA player in the same period of time. His turnaround was not as swift as Eric Musselman's as Nevada had back-to-back below-.500 seasons under Johnson before winning 17 games in year three and 18 in year four. His fifth season was the big breakthrough as Nevada went 25-9, won two WAC titles and reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history. Johnson left for Stanford after that 2003-04 season, but he handed a well-running program to Mark Fox, who was an assistant on his staff and was able to keep Nevada at the national level.

6. Gary Powers (baseball): Powers holds the record for most wins for a Nevada coach, which isn't a surprise given the sport he coaches (baseball plays 50-plus games a year) and his longevity (he led the Wolf Pack for 31 seasons). Powers went 937-762-5 during his Wolf Pack career, which ran from 1983-2013. His name is synonymous with Nevada baseball and his number if the only one retired in program history. Nevada's four NCAA Regional appearances came under Powers, whose team made the tournament in 1994, 1997, 1999 and 2000. He was a four-time conference coach of the year who claimed three conference titles and two divisional championships. Powers' teams were their strongest in the 1990s when Nevada was in the Big West and produced nine winning seasons while posting a .680 winning percentage. He beat the No. 1 team in the nation six times and developed 17 All-Americans and 19 future MLB players.

7. Mark Fox (basketball): The third basketball coach on our list, which is the most of any sport, Fox went 123-43 overall and 66-16 in conference during five seasons at Nevada. His 74.1 winning percent ranks second in program history behind Musselman, although he inherited a much better position, getting a Sweet 16 team from Johnson. Fox opened his tenure with three straight NCAA Tournament berths before back-to-back CBI invitations before leaving for Georgia. Fox's teams won five WAC titles and he was a three-time coach of the year, although his teams generally struggled in the postseason where it was 2-5. Fox signed four future NBA players during his time at Nevada, including Ramon Sessions, JaVale McGee, Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson. You can't deny Fox did a good job at Nevada, although the program wasn't left in quite as good a shape upon his departure as when he got the job.

8. Devin Scruggs (volleyball): Scruggs was Nevada's volleyball coach from 1997-2010, posting a program-best 225 wins against 187 losses. She led Nevada to five NCAA Tournament berths, the only five in the program's history. Scruggs' tenure is heightened by what the program has done when she wasn't the coach. Nevada volleyball dates back to 1984 and is 244-487 outside of the Scruggs seasons. That's a 33.4 winning percentage with zero postseason appearances without Scruggs and a 54.6 winning percentage with five NCAA Tournament berths with Scruggs. The program has basically been a dumpster fire when she wasn't the coach, and you could make the argument for her inclusion into the Wolf Pack Hall of Fame one day. Scruggs' success hasn't been replicated before or after, and she is certainly one of the best coaches of a women's sport in Nevada history.

9. Jimmy Olivas (boxing): This one comes with a caveat because boxing was a club sport during most of Olivas' tenure, but he's in the Wolf Pack Hall of Fame so he counts in my book. After boxing at Nevada from 1929-30, he was the team's head coach from 1950-85, making him the longest consecutively tenured coach in school history. Olivas coached Joe Bliss to a national title in 1959 and Mills Lane to one in 1960, the year the NCAA dropped the sport after a boxer died in the ring during the national championships. Nevada remained a powerhouse team at the club level, winning five national titles, including two with Olivas as the head coach, after the NCBA was founded in 1976. Olivas coached several individual national champions and kept the program alive when it easily could have died after the NCAA dropped it as a sanctioned sport in 1960.

10. Michelle Gardner (softball): Much like Trent Johnson, Gardner's record at Nevada isn't all that impressive at 187-176 overall. But she started the program from scratch. Literally. Nevada restarted the softball program in 2003 and Gardner led the team to the NCAA Regional by 2006, which was the first of two Regional appearances in her six seasons (Nevada also made the Regional the year after she left for Indiana, so she left a strong squad behind). Gardner's 2008 team is one of the best in school history in any sport. That team beat No. 1-ranked Arizona (the only sport other than baseball to beat the nation's top team) and earned eight victories over Top 25 teams that season, the most for any Wolf Pack program. Gardner's teams won two WAC championships and reached as high as 17th in the nation during her final season. Considering she started a program from nothing, it was an amazing tenure.

11. Mike Anderson (swimming): Anderson was Nevada's swimming coach from 1989-99 and put together some historic teams during that 10-year period. The Wolf Pack won five conference titles during his tenure, including a 1992 Pacific Collegiate Conference championship and Big West titles from 1996-2000, although he was not the coach of the 2000 team. Anderson coached four Olympians and seven All-Americans, including national champion Limin Liu. He was a three-time Big West coach of the year and his team won 55 Big West Championship swimming events in his last four seasons as head coach. Anderson's teams went 105-21 in dual meets and regularly finished in the top 20 in the nation before he left for a job at Alabama. While Anderson is not in the Wolf Pack Hall of Fame, he coached seven future Nevada Hall of Famers during his decade in Reno.

12. R.E. Courtright (football): A little-known pioneer in Wolf Pack athletics history, Courtright was hired as Nevada's athletic director as well as its football, basketball, baseball and track coach in 1919. In his first year, the football team went 8-1-1, doubling its single-season win record. In his five seasons, Nevada went 26-13-7, outscoring opponents, 993-464, including a tie against Cal's 1923 "Wonder Team," which had won 50 straight games in one of the most shocking results in program history. Upon his resignation, the Nevada State Journal said Courtwright "brought the Nevada eleven from the class of a second rate team to its present rank among the best of the western college football squads." Courtright went on to coach golf at Michigan, where he won two team NCAA championships and coached two individual NCAA winners. You could consider Courtright the first great coach in school history.

13. Glenn "Jake" Lawlor (basketball): We might as well recognize another forefather of modern Nevada athletics with Lawlor, who was a Winston Churchill-like character who coached golf, baseball, football, tennis and track and field at Nevada, but he was best known for basketball. His 204 wins (against 156 losses) remain a program record (75 more than second place). He was the school's AD from 1951-69 and basketball coach from 1942-43, 45-59, with his 1946-48 teams being some of the best in school history before the turn of the century. He coached football for three years, going 6-11. But with his name forever attached to the Wolf Pack's basketball arena, Lawlor's name is one almost all Nevada fans are familiar with.

Five more considered: Sonny Allen (basketball); Jim Aiken (football); Jerry Ballew (swimming); Jay Johnson (baseball); Fred Harvey (rifle)

Offbeat News

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER