A recent stellar stretch for UNLV baseball boss Tim Chambers included home victories on five consecutive evenings, the announcement that his contract was extended through 2015 and a stunning three-game sweep at ninth-ranked Stanford, which put the Hustlin’ Rebels into the national rankings, at No. 21, for the first time since 2003. It was a sign that the rebuilding phase of the Tim Chambers Project was over at UNLV, and that the real fun was about to begin.
Chambers is determined to be successful at three different levels in the same city. He helped build Bishop Gorman High School into a national power, then won a junior college national championship at the College of Southern Nevada in 2003. At UNLV, largely through private donors, he has overseen about $400,000 worth of upgrades to Wilson Stadium. But Chambers knows his triple-crown Las Vegas legacy will only be cemented by guiding UNLV to Omaha, Nebraska, and the College World Series.
He says this year’s squad has responded to a boost in his own energy. A three-hour lower-back operation in October left him with four pins, three rods, two cages and two fusions. Now his X-ray looks like a mousetrap has been inserted into his lower spine. But, at 48, he says he feels like he’s 25 again.
Did we just see you skip up a concrete staircase three steps at a time, only four months after back surgery? For three years, it was tough. The previous year was unbearable. [New Mexico coach] Ray Birmingham sees me and says, “You feel really good, don’t you?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “I can see it in your face. You look so much different than a year ago. You were in misery.” I felt like hell. It’s hard for your players to have energy if the coach is sittin’ on the bench. Being healthy right now is awesome.
You’ve said that when you were growing up in Southern California and Pleasant Grove, Utah, you got in more than 150 fights by the time you were 21. Are you still that guy? I’m way different. But when you grow up in a single-parent family in poverty, having gone to 13 grade schools by the time I was 12 … who do people mess with? The new kid. You’re always having to prove yourself. I still get feisty, but I won’t fight anymore. I’d get my butt kicked; I’m old.
Are you still trying to prove yourself? Every single day, I’m trying to prove we’re on our way. Not that we deserve any respect from our first two years [a combined 59-56 record]. Before, I felt like [opponents] just had to come to the ballpark and they were gonna get a ‘W.’ Now, you better play to beat us.
What did the Stanford sweep do for the program? Four days later we locked up a [recruit] from California … I think because we were ranked. I said, “We got offers from other guys. You need to make a decision.” He called back 10 minutes later and committed.
We hear that Fred Dallimore, the successful longtime UNLV baseball coach, visited you during your first fall ball session here in 2010? I come back from lunch and he’s standing outside the stadium. He talked to the kids and said how excited he was that I got the job, and he wanted to support the program. He’d been away for about 10 years; he wasn’t really happy with the program, saying they had lost their pride and destroyed his facility. Freddie bleeds Rebels baseball. I think he’s pretty pumped about where we’re goin’.
The Rebels haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2005. Is talk of the College World Series a bit lofty? No. Our goal is to get to Omaha. If you set yourself up for, “We got to get to a regional,” you’ll get to a regional, and lose. The mindset we need is getting to Omaha. I don’t know if it’s gonna happen now, but I don’t know if it’s not gonna happen now. If we can beat Stanford three times on its yard, I’m pretty sure we can compete with anybody. Can you imagine Rebels baseball getting to Omaha? This town would go crazy. Hell, I might not ever have to buy dinner again!