A Job of Her Own

What will it take for interim UNLV athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy to make the post permanent?

Illustration by Ryan Olbrysh

Illustration by Ryan Olbrysh

So it’s official: Tina Kunzer-Murphy, who has been UNLV’s interim athletic director since May, has been named UNLV’s new interim athletic director. It’s an odd sort of promotion, but one the Nevada Board of Regents approved on October 18, putting a stamp on UNLV President Neal Smatresk’s recommendation to extend Kunzer-Murphy’s interim-hood through December 31, 2014.

Several UNLV coaches attended the regents’ meeting to support a boss they’ve come to trust and respect. Most prominent among them was men’s basketball coach Dave Rice, who told the regents, “The [Rebel] coaches are 100 percent behind Tina Kunzer-Murphy.”

After Jim Livengood announced his retirement in early May, Smatresk swiftly said that whatever interim he hired would not be a candidate to take over permanently. But now it seems clear that the part-timer he installed—Kunzer-Murphy—is very much in the running for the full-time post. Before he called off his national search on October 8, Smatresk gathered all of UNLV’s coaches to take their temperature on Kunzer-Murphy. They all sung her praises. “But the one who knocked me over the edge,” Smatresk says, “was Jim Reitz, the swim coach. He said, ‘Neal, I’ve been here for 35 years and I’ve had 12 ADs that I’ve reported to, and in three months Tina’s the best AD we’ve ever had.’”

Cue the obvious question: Why didn’t Smatresk rip the interim tag off Kunzer-Murphy’s title? After all, here’s a lifelong Las Vegan who is a UNLV alumna in every sense of the word (Kunzer-Murphy holds graduate and undergraduate degrees from the university; she was a one-time student-athlete; and she worked in the athletic department in the 1990s). Here’s someone who furthered her athletic administrative experience with a successful 12-year run as the executive director of the Las Vegas Bowl. Here’s someone who quickly stabilized things on Maryland Parkway after agreeing to the interim post in May. And here’s someone who has the ability and connections to rally community support … at a time when UNLV badly needs community support.

Smatresk’s answer to the aforementioned obvious question is a complex one that essentially boils down to bureaucratic red tape and “curious university bylaws—which I did not write.” Yet, even as he lauds Kunzer-Murphy for “knocking it out of the park” so far, Smatresk in the next breath talks about wanting to see “what kind of vision she’ll assemble” in the coming months, about wanting to evaluate “what kind of success she’s had.”

Most anyone would perceive Smatresk’s “prove it to me” prerequisite as a slight—certainly most women attempting to advance in a male-dominated field would. But as UNLV’s first female AD, Kunzer-Murphy swears she’s just grateful that Smatresk retracted his edict that the interim wouldn’t have a shot at the permanent job. In fact, she believes she should have to prove herself.

“I’ve told Neal, ‘I don’t care what you call me.’ I’m happy with this opportunity, because I don’t feel like I’m entitled to anything,” says Kunzer-Murphy, who was working in the school’s Alumni Relations department before moving into the AD’s seat. “I haven’t been in the business for 30 years. I don’t have all that history behind me. He took a chance on me, and he knows he’s got somebody who will work really hard, who’s committed to this university and to the city of Las Vegas. So it is what it is, and I’m fine with it. I really am fine with it.”

Still, while she won’t politic for the job, Kunzer-Murphy doesn’t deny that this is a gig she has long wanted: “To say that this is my dream job is not a stretch. It’s the truth.”

Others apparently share her dream: Two days prior to the Board of Regents meeting (which ended with a standing ovation), Kunzer-Murphy attended a big dinner at a local resort when a husband and wife—a couple she didn’t know—approached her. “They said, ‘You’re the new interim AD, right?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ It was pretty funny. And the wife says, ‘Take that asterisk away. Take that interim away. We’re all rooting for you!’”