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Ranking every head coach in Nevada football history from worst to best

Chris Ault
Chris Ault led Nevada to nine of its 14 conference championships. (Nevada athletics)

This week, I received a Monday Mailbag question asking me to rank every Wolf Pack football coach in program history, a project I was actually working on as a follow up to my ranking of every Nevada starting quarterback over the last five decades. In total, 26 head coaches have led Nevada football, a number that will rise to 27 when newly hired Ken Wilson makes his debut in 2022. Of those 26 coaches, 11 have winning records during their Nevada tenures. Without further ado, here is my ranking of every Wolf Pack football coach, which is based solely on their tenure at Nevada, which is important, especially for one specific coach (the No. 18 coach on this list).

Ranking every Nevada football coach

26. Gordon McEachron (1955-58): I'm sorry to do this to you, Gordon, but you did post the worst winning percentage of any Wolf Pack coach with at least one victory. His teams went 6-23-1, winning 21.7 percent of their games over a four-year stretch in the mid-1950s after Nevada restarted its program following a shuttering in 1951. That included a 1-15-1 mark from 1956-57. A U.S. Army Air Forces officer (thank you for your service), McEachron also was Pepperdine's coach for two seasons, going 9-8.

25. Frank Taylor (1896): The first head coach in Wolf Pack football history (the school was called Nevada State University at the time; it also was known as the Sagebrushers rather than the Wolf Pack), Taylor lasted just one season, going 0-2. That included losses to Belmont (70-0) and Cal's JV team (40-0). "The initial chapter of the athletic history of the University was one of defeat," the school's 1901 Artemesia read. Well, at least they played hard. Or at least we can assume they did.

24. William H. Harrelson (1897): The second coach in program history, William H. Harrelson — sounds like a president — also failed to record a victory, but he only lost one game. Nevada's only opponent in 1897 was Cal's JV team, with the Sagebrushers fell to 20-6 (much improved over the previous year!). There were only 28 programs in the nation that season, so just getting on the field was an accomplishment for Harrelson's crew. Before becoming Nevada's coach, Harrelson was a quarterback at Stanford. He went 0-1 as a coach.

23. Jack Glascock (1915-17): The lesser famous of the Jack Glascocks born in the 1800s (there was a baseball player named Jack Glasscock who had 2,041 MLB hits), Nevada's version was the Wolf Pack's coach for three seasons, going 4-13. He went 0-5 in his debut season, 3-5 in his second season and 1-3 in his final chapter and was 0-4 against the Cal freshman team during his tenure, being out-scored 184-6 in those games. His teams went 0-5 on the road.

22. Doug Dashiell (1936-38): A graduate of Las Vegas High, Dashiell eventually fought in World War II in the U.S. Army Air Forces, but before that he coached the Nevada football team, going 8-13-1 before an open rebellion from his players the led to his ouster. Forty football players signed a petition requesting Dashiell and athletic director J.E. Martie to be fired. So if you hear people say, "The athletes these days ..." know athletes in the early 1900s got coaches fired, too.

21. George Philbrook (1929-31): Philbrook had a three-year run at Nevada, going 6-14-5, a 34 percent winning mark. The Wolf Pack won exactly two games in all three of his seasons, which is a record we've come to expect out of UNLV's coaches. Philbrook was a football and track and field star at Notre Dame (his roommate was Knute Rockne) who competed in the 1912 Summer Olympics. Before coming to Nevada, he was Whittier's head coach for two seasons, going 9-6-2.

20. Bruce Shorts (1904): Bruce's tenure at Nevada was Shorts — pun intended — lasting just one 3-3 season. He was a 6-foot, 190-pound tackle for the undefeated 1901 Michigan team that won all 11 games that season, all via shutout, including a 49-0 Rose Bowl win over Stanford that led to a national championship. After one season at Nevada, he became the head coach of the Oregon Webfoots (yep, that Oregon), going 4-2-2 in one year before becoming a corporate lawyer.

19. Charlie Erb (1924): A quarterback on Cal's Wonder Teams of the early 1920s, Erb played in two Rose Bowls, winning one and tying another. His head-coaching career began at Nevada, where he went 3-4-1, before leaving for Idaho, where he went 10-9-5 in three seasons. He went to Humboldt State after that, posting a 15-6-1 record. His son, Charles "Boots" Erb, also played for Cal, making the Erbs the first father-son duo to quarterback in the Rose Bowl.

18. L.T. "Buck" Shaw (1925-28): A reminder these rankings are based on their Nevada tenure only, which is important in this case. Shaw went 10-20-3 with the Wolf Pack over four seasons, his 34.8 win percentage tied for the fifth lowest among Nevada coaches who won at least one game. Shaw went on to great things from there, including seven excellent seasons at Santa Clara (including two Sugar Bowl wins over LSU) and stints at Cal, Air Force and NC State before becoming the first head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, serving in that role for nine years. He also coached the Eagles for three seasons, beating Vince Lombardi's Packers for the 1960 NFL Championship. He retired after the win. A 1972 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, Shaw went 90-55-5 in the NFL and 62-29-9 in his non-Nevada college seasons. That's a record of 152-84-14 outside of his below-par Wolf Pack tenure.

17. A. King Dickson (1899): The fourth head coach in program history, Dickson went 3-2 in his lone season. (Nevada's first five head coaches all lasted only one year, a trend ended by A.C. Steckle in 1901). Dickson's losses were to Cal and Stanford, both fairly competitive games. Prior to his coaching career, Dickson was a football and baseball player at Pennsylvania. He went on to banking after his brief coaching career. His full name was Alexander King Dickson Jr.

16. Chris Tormey (2000-2003): The lowest-ranked member of Nevada's FBS era coaches, Tormey was plucked out of Idaho after going 7-4 in 1999, including a 42-33 win over Nevada. Things didn't go as well with the Wolf Pack, although Tormey did improve his win total all four seasons, going 2-10, 3-8, 5-7 and 6-6 (16-31 overall). Nevada started his final season 5-2, including a big win at Washington, before finishing 1-4. He was fired by Chris Ault, who then took his position.

15. A.C. Steckle (1901-03): A Michigan alum, Allen Chubb Steckle (A.C. for short) went 6-9-2 in three seasons at Nevada. That included a stunning 6-2 win over Cal in 1903 that produced the headline, "California's proud colors lowered by the Doughty Eleven from Sagebrushdom." It was the biggest win in school history at the time (Nevada tied Stanford the week prior). That helped Steckle get the Oregon Agricultural (now Oregon State) job, where he went 10-5 in two seasons.

14. C.L. "Brick" Mitchell (1932-35): The longest-named Wolf Pack football coach, Clarence Leon Brick Mitchell ran the program for four seasons, going 10-20-3 while winning Far Western Conference championships in 1932 (2-0-1 in conference) and 1933 (3-0 in conference). So while his overall win-loss record wasn't great, he did guide Nevada to its first two conference titles, which has to be worth something. He was a standout end at Oregon in the 1910s.

13. James Hopper (1900): The only Wolf Pack coach born internationally, Hopper was born in Paris and played football for Cal before becoming Nevada's head coach for one season, going 4-2-1 in 1900, which included a 6-0 win over Stanford, the school's first victory over a "major" program. Hopper also spent one year as Cal's coach, going 6-1-1 in 1904, but he made his name as a well-known magazine writer who befriended famed authors such as Sinclair Lewis and Jack London.

12. Brian Polian (2013-16): While he was ultimately unsuccessful on the field, Polian's tenure was far from a disaster. The Wolf Pack reached two bowl games in four seasons under Polian, making him one of four Nevada coaches to accomplish that. His teams went a combined 23-27, including back-to-back 7-6 campaigns in 2014 and 2015. Replacing a legend is never easy, as Polian did with Chris Ault, and he had his missteps, but Nevada typically put a competitive team on the field under Polian before he was fired following the 2016 season.

11. F.F. Ellis (1898): Who has the best career winning percentage in Nevada football history? That'd be Frank F. Ellis, the third coach in program history. Ellis won 80 percent of his games, albeit in just one season, a 4-1 campaign that included shutouts of Pacific, Belmont and Stanford's JV team as well as a win over Stewart Indian School. His only loss came to Santa Clara, by a 12-6 margin. Ellis was the first Nevada football coach to win a game, and for that the Cal alum gets a spot just outside the top 10.

10. Jerry Scattini (1969-75): Chris Ault's predecessor, Scattini was a halfback at Cal in the 1950s and 1960s under Pro Football Hall of Famer Marv Levy (more than a half-dozen Nevada head coaches played for Cal, by far the most of any school). Scattini went .500 or better in his first five seasons before 5-6 and 3-8 records in his final two years. He finished 37-36-1 before being fired and replaced by Ault. Scattini then made the transition to the finance world. His biggest win came in 1969 in the first Fremont Cannon game, a 30-28 decision over the Rebels.

9. Jeff Tisdel (1996-1999): One of four Nevada alums to become the Wolf Pack's head coach, Tisdel was a Division II All-American quarterback for the team in the 1970s. His four-year run started with back-to-back Big West titles, albeit with a 5-6 overall in the second of those two seasons. Tisdel went 23-22 overall in four seasons, which included a 4-0 record against UNLV, the most wins without a loss by any coach in the rivalry. Tisdel was fired after a 3-8 season in 1999 and eventually was a successful head coach at Sierra College (79-32 in 11 seasons).

8. Jeff Horton (1993): One of eight one-year wonders on this list, Horton's departure from Nevada is the most famous (although Jay Norvell's recent departure gave it a run for its money). Hand-picked by Chris Ault to succeed him in 1993, Horton lasted just one year, going 7-4 before leaving for rival UNLV, where he faded fast (13-44 in five seasons, including 6-39 in his final four years). What if Horton had stayed at Nevada for the long haul? It's one of the great "What ifs?" in Wolf Pack history.

7. Glenn "Jake" Lawlor (1952-54): Lawlor is known more for his tenure as the Wolf Pack basketball coach, his 204 career wins ranking first in program history and the team's arena named after him. But Lawlor also coached Nevada baseball, golf, tennis and football. He went 6-11 in three seasons, not a great record. So why is he this high on the list? He restarted the shuttered program in 1952 after the football team was slashed in 1951. He deserves credit for that because without football returning to campus who knows if Nevada would even have a program these days.

6. Dick Trachok (1959-68): A star player for the Wolf Pack in the late 1940s, Trachok led Reno High to six state titles while being dubbed "one of Nevada's most successful high school gridiron coaches" before getting the Wolf Pack job. He is second in program history in wins (40) and second in losses (47), adding three ties. His best season came in 1966 when Nevada went 6-3, two seasons after a 1-9 campaign. He stepped down in 1968 to become Nevada's athletic director and was the one who hired Chris Ault, his former quarterback, in 1976.

5. Joe Sheeketski (1947-50): Serving as football coach and AD. Sheeketski guided the 1947 and 1948 Nevada teams to an 18-4 record those years, including the school's first national ranking in 1948 when the Wolf Pack peaked at No. 10 in the AP poll, which remains a school record. But the ex-Notre Dame running back couldn't keep up the success, going 5-5 in 1949 and 1-9 in 1950 before the program was shuttered after a vote from the Nevada Board of Regents. Sheeketski spent four seasons at Nevada, including the school's first two bowl berths, but his success largely came from the players Jim Aiken recruited. He finished 24-18 overall, making him one of six coaches in Nevada history who posted a winning record while being on the job for at least two seasons.

4. Jay Norvell (2017-21): Plucked out of relative obscurity (he was Arizona State's receivers coach) after a run as a Power 5 coordinator at UCLA, Nebraska and Oklahoma, Norvell had a rough first season, going 3-9 before turning Nevada into one of the Mountain West's best teams, albeit without winning a division or conference crown. Over his final four seasons, Norvell went 30-17 with four bowl berths (2-1 in the bowls he coached). He went 33-26 overall and 23-17 in the MW over five seasons, finishing fifth in program history in wins (33) and fifth in winning percentage (55.9) among coaches who spent at least two years on the job. He left Nevada for in-conference foe Colorado State after the 2021 season, citing more support in the Rams program.

3. R.E. Courtright (1919-23): After a stint at Pittsburgh State, Courtright was hired as Nevada's AD and football, basketball, baseball and track coach. Known as Corky, he led Nevada football for five seasons, including an 8-1-1 record in his first campaign, doubling the previous single-season win record. In 1919, Nevada outscored its opponents 450-32, including wins of 132-0 and 102-0. His best "win" was a 0-0 tie against Cal's "Wonder Team" in 1923 as the Bears were in the middle of a 31-game unbeaten streak. Cal had outscored its opponents 151-0 entering that game and won four straight national titles from 1920-23. Courtright went 26-13-7 during his Nevada tenure with a plus-529 scoring margin before moving on to Colorado Mines (he also coached Michigan golf to back-to-back national titles). Courtright's 64.4 winning percent is second in school history behind Ault among those who coached at least 10 games.

2. Jim Aiken (1939-46): After three record-breaking seasons at Akron, Aiken was hired by Nevada in 1939. In seven seasons with the Wolf Pack, Aiken went 38-26-4 and won the 1939 NCAC title. He recruited some of the best players in school history, notably future Pro Football Hall of Famer Marion Motley as well as Stan Heath, Tom Kalmanir, Dan Orlich, Bill Mackrides, Scott Beasley, Buster McClure, Dick Trachok, Wes Goodner, William Parish, Ken Sinofsky, Sherman Howard and Williams Morris, all Nevada Hall of Famers. Add Horace Gillom, whom Aiken recruited, and he brought eight future NFL players to Nevada when the school wasn't sending guys to the pros. And while he didn't coach the historic 1947 and 1948 teams, the first two in school history to reach bowls, Aiken put together the rosters that created that success before leaving for Oregon, where he coached from 1947-50, going 21-20.

1. Chris Ault (1976-92, 94-95, 04-12): As easy a No. 1 as we've ever had, Ault is a College Football Hall of Famer who is synonymous with Nevada football. He went 233-109-1 in his career, those 233 wins being 193 more than any other Wolf Pack coach. Taking over a program with minimal history of high-level success, Ault led Nevada from Division II to Division I-A to the Big Sky, the WAC and the Mountain West. His teams reached seven FCS playoffs and 10 bowl games in 12 seasons at the FBS level. He was a six-time conference coach of the year who won nine of the Wolf Pack's 14 all-time conference championships. During Ault's 28 years as a head coach (over three tenures), Nevada won 67.9 percent of its games. In all other seasons combined, Wolf Pack football has won 44.6 percent of its games. Ault is, and always will be, Mr. Nevada Football.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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