If we had to stick a label on UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood, who recently announced his retirement effective June 30, it would be “The Idealist.” Taking over an athletic department in turmoil in 2009, Livengood substantially improved fundraising, hired Dave Rice to coach a basketball team that continues to reassert itself on the national stage and worked to bring an on-campus football stadium to the university. But his hire of Bobby Hauck as football coach has not revived a moribund football program on the field or on the balance sheet. Meanwhile, the athletic department—like all UNLV departments—continues to battle slim budgets.
Nonetheless, Livengood is UNLV’s best AD since Brad Rothermel, whom we’ll call “The Standard-Setter” for his leadership during the 1980s, when the arrival of the Thomas & Mack Center and the basketball team’s success boosted revenues for every sport on campus.
Between Rothermel and Livengood, UNLV had seven ADs (including interims). Among them were Jim Weaver (“The Fall Guy”), who helped negotiate a secret supplemental contract for unpopular basketball coach Rollie Massimino before resigning in 1994; Charles Cavagnaro (“The Good-Ole Boy”), who helped orchestrate UNLV’s move into the Mountain West Conference but was accused of making racist and sexist remarks about UNLV athletes, and bungled the potential hiring of Rick Pitino as basketball coach in 2001 before retiring the next year; John Robinson (“The Legend”), who added AD to his football coaching duties in 2002 but dropped the dual role after 17 months, citing his health and his wife’s fight with breast cancer; and Mike Hamrick (“The Stabilizer”), who did a good job in hiring Lon Kruger as basketball coach but not so good hiring Mike Sanford as football coach before resigning in 2009.
The fiscal challenges facing UNLV will make landing a suitable athletic director difficult, says Jim Rogers, the CEO of Intermountain West Communications Company and a former Nevada System of Higher Education chancellor. “For an up-and-coming athletic director, this is death row,” he says. “There’s no support. The private sector wants to go to great football games and play against Ohio State, and not spend any money to do it.”
UNLV President Neal Smatresk says the school will search nationwide, with a new AD ideally in place by September. While no official candidate list has been divulged, here are some familiar Nevada names who could someday earn labels of their own:
Up until a few weeks ago, Allen was UNLV’s senior associate athletic director of communications, but he recently left the school to focus on local entrepreneurial efforts. He was mentioned as a potential Livengood successor while he was at UNLV, and it’s possible the university could reach out to him in its search for the next athletic director. He’s had business success in the private sector, he’s familiar with the department’s challenges and he’s popular within the wider Rebels community.
Koloskie, UNLV’s deputy director of athletics, has been with the school for almost 30 years. He was the interim athletic director for six months before the university hired Livengood in 2009, so he would be able to step in seamlessly.
Knight is one of UNLV’s most successful coaches, guiding the men’s golf team to a national championship in 1998, and he’s earned a lot of respect in the athletic department during his 26 years at the school. He’s also a tremendous fundraiser.
Kunzer-Murphy is on record as saying the UNLV athletic director position is her dream job and that she would like to be considered in the event of an opening. Well, it’s open now, and Kunzer-Murphy may look like a good fit to the people doing the hiring. Not only is she a Las Vegas lifer with plenty of experience in UNLV athletics (she played tennis and volleyball at UNLV, coached the women’s tennis team, directed the cheerleading program and worked as an administrator), but she’s also got a successful track record when it comes to generating revenue through college football: She was the executive director of the Las Vegas Bowl from 2000-12 and helped turn it into a lucrative event, and she also served as chairperson for the Football Bowl Association.
Stallworth, a candidate for the job in 2009, is the general manager of the South Point Arena, and he has a long connection with UNLV, starting when was a quarterback for the Rebels from 1983-86. He’s also served as UNLV’s director of sports marketing, and was the associate director of the Thomas & Mack Center for a stretch.
“The Wild Card”
The former UNR football coach also served as athletic director at UNR for 18 years. He built a strong program despite budget challenges, and he did it in crowd-pleasing fashion. If the 66-year-old can be coaxed back into college sports (he retired from UNR last year and is a consultant for the Kansas City Chiefs), this could be an interesting fit. Plus, it would make Wolf Pack fans’ heads explode.