What the MW coaches got right and wrong about the Nevada job

Lawlor Events Center
Lawlor Events Center has been known to get crunk during games. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

I like articles like this one. Stadium's Jeff Goodman asked various Mountain West coaches to rank the head-coaching jobs in the league from best to worst. He had them rank each team in eight key categories and then took the average score from there. I agreed with most everything in the rankings, but had a differing opinion in some areas.

Here is where the Wolf Pack ranked in each of the eight key categories.

Category rankings

History/tradition: Nevada ranked 5th out of 11 (a little low, in my opinion) — I would have put the Wolf Pack fourth at worst. Nevada has a better history of winning than Utah State, which was ranked fourth by the coaches. Since 2000, Nevada has 11 conference titles, seven NCAA Tournament appearances, six NCAA Tournament wins, two Sweet 16s and 62 weeks in the Top 25. In that period, Utah State has 15 conference titles, nine NCAA Tournament appearances, one NCAA Tournament win, zero Sweet 16s and 14 weeks in the Top 25. Nevada crushes Utah State in NCAA Tournament success and Top 25 success. The Aggies have won only one NCAA Tournament game since 1971. You could argue Nevada in front of New Mexico, too. The Lobos have never reached the Sweet 16. Nevada has twice since 2004.

Media exposure: Nevada ranked 4th out of 11 (seems right) — The Wolf Pack had the most games on national TV of any MW school last season. This has been a recent development. Nevada is a big draw on TV now, but it wasn't prior to Eric Musselman being hired, so fourth is fine.

Game atmosphere: Nevada ranked 3rd out of 11 (seems right) — New Mexico and San Diego State took first and second honors, and I have no issue with that. Lawlor Events Center has been great the last two seasons, but over a longer period New Mexico and SDSU have been better, and Utah State is up there, too.

Budget/resources: Nevada ranked 6th out of 11 (a little low) — You can actually look this one up, and Nevada ranked fifth among MW teams in men's basketball budget in the most recent reporting season.

Buy games: Nevada ranked 6th out of 11 (seems right) — This is definitely an area the Wolf Pack can improve, and it has. Nevada spent $400,000 on its non-conference schedule last year, up from $200,000 the year prior. I don't have numbers for all MW schools, so this one is a guessing game but seems right.

Recruiting base: Nevada ranked 6th out of 11 (seems right) — San Diego State and UNLV are a clear Tier I here. Fresno State is Tier 2. Everybody else is behind those three. Nevada is close enough to the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Las Vegas for its location to be an asset, but you clearly can't build a team from local players. (Nevada's last active local scholarship player was Olek Czyz in 2012).

Facilities: Nevada ranked 5th out of 11 (seems right) — I would have put Nevada fourth behind UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico but ahead of Boise State, which was voted fourth here by the coaches. But you can go either way. Nevada and Boise State's arenas and practice facilities are nearly identical, but Nevada's facilities aren't quite as old. Boise State's Taco Bell Arena has hosted the NCAA Tournament before; Lawlor Events Center hasn't. So I can see giving the Broncos the nod.

Selling pros: Nevada ranked 5th out of 11 (seems right) — I broke down the longest streaks of NBA players per MW program in October, and Nevada has the fourth-longest streak. But San Diego State has Kawhi Leonard, Fresno State has Paul George and UNLV has had at least one NBA player for 44 straight seasons, so those are your clear top three. You could put Nevada ahead of New Mexico (which is ranked third here by the coaches), but that's quibbling.

Overall summation

Nevada is pretty consistent with these rankings. Nothing higher than third and nothing lower than sixth. It's an upper-level MW job, but not top tier. I'd agree with that. What I would not agree with was the longer summation of the Wolf Pack job in the Stadium article that reads:

4. Nevada (58) – The Wolf Pack had minimal success until Trent Johnson led them to the NCAA Tournament in 2004. Mark Fox then took Nevada dancing three times in five seasons before leaving for Georgia. The program took a dip before Eric Musselman arrived, guiding the Pack to the tourney each of the past three seasons.

Where they win: “Brand-new practice facility and success at various points in recent years.” – Mountain West head coach

The knock: “They don’t charter as much as many of the teams in the league, and it’s a fickle fan base. It’s a tougher job than people think – and Reno as a city doesn’t exactly have a lot of curb appeal.” – Mountain West assistant coach

"Reno as a city doesn’t exactly have a lot of curb appeal." I believe the city, surrounding area and campus are a big plus for Nevada. Perhaps those low outside expectations play in the Wolf Pack's favor because Nevada has a high commit rate once it gets a recruit into town. You can do a lot worse than take a prospect to Lake Tahoe or the 15th green at Lakeridge, which oversees the city (the Wolf Pack does both). And Nevada's campus is the best of any in the Mountain West along with Colorado State (as somebody who has walked all of them). Downtown Reno is not good. I've been on board with that train of thought for a long time. Outside of the river walk, downtown is a drag. But, overall, Reno does have a lot of curb appeal.

My rankings

And for the record, here's how I would rank the MW basketball jobs (with how the MW coaches ranked the job in parentheses).

1. San Diego State (1) — Great fans, excellent facilities, the MW's biggest budget, a great recruiting footprint, a history of winning and Kawhi Leonard

2. UNLV (2) — Unrealistic fan expectations, but an excellent history (in the 1970s-1990s), good brand recognition, great facilities, a history of putting players in the NBA and plentiful local recruits.

3. New Mexico (3) — The best fans in the conference, a good budget and a history of winning, although not as much winning as most people would assume.

4. Nevada (4) — The program has really elevated over the last four seasons, but it doesn't have as much long-term success as those above (it's really just 2003-07 and 2016-19).

5. Fresno State (7) — I'm higher on Fresno State than the MW coaches, apparently. The arena is great and the recruiting terrain is good. The budget and fan support isn't. If funded correctly, this could be a killer program.

6. Boise State (5) — Budget is an issue and the program will always play second fiddle to football, but the facilities are solid. This is exactly a mid-tier MW program that's been elevated by Leon Rice.

7. Colorado State (6) — Colorado State spends on athletics, so the budget is good and the Rams have some history of getting to the tournament. The fan base is just OK.

8. Utah State (9) — The tradition, facilities and fan base are good and the budget is solid. But Logan isn't an easy place to recruit (the school is isolated and the weather is cold). You could argue for Utah State up to the No. 6 spot.

9. Wyoming (8) — This job is similar to Utah State, only it is the only D-I school in the state. Wyoming did win a national title in 1943 but has just two NCAA Tournament bids since 1989. Facilities are better than the budget.

10. San Jose State (11) — Maybe the Spartans should have called Eric Musselman back when he inquired about their job a few years ago.

11. Air Force (10) — It's really hard to win at a service academy, although the standard to keep your job is lowered as a result.

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