Last season was unquestionably a trying one for Dave Rice. After UNLV reached the NCAA tournament in Rice’s first two years, the 2013-14 Rebels kept their coach guessing all season as to which team would take the floor. Would it be the selfless hard-nosed squad that won at New Mexico and nearly upset Arizona in Tucson? Or would it be the selfish, apathetic group that lost by 21 at home to UC Santa Barbara and gave little effort in an 18-point loss at Colorado State? Such inconsistency was a big reason the Rebels failed to earn a third straight NCAA tourney berth, leading Rice’s detractors to question if he’s capable of directing the highly regarded talent he has brought to UNLV—an ironic twist from when he was hired in 2011.
“When I got the job, the criticism from those who didn’t think I should get the job was, ‘We know Dave can coach, but we don’t think he can recruit,’” Rice says. “And now it’s, ‘He can really recruit, but we don’t know if he can coach.’”
As a first-time head coach after 18 seasons as an assistant, including 11 at UNLV, Rice acknowledges experiencing some growing pains in his first three seasons leading his alma mater. For starters, he says he probably recruited too many transfers, including bringing in some players who didn’t mesh with his coaching style. “We’re still going to explore the transfer market, but in this day and age—this last year there were over 700 transfers [nationwide]—we have to be extremely careful,” Rice says. “We’ll take it on a case-by-case basis, but we have to make sure that high school recruits are the foundation of recruiting.”
With that philosophy, UNLV’s roster features six freshmen, meaning teaching will be essential if the Rebels are to maximize their potential. To that end, Rice has assembled perhaps his most well-rounded coaching staff.
Newcomer Ryan Miller joins Rice after two seasons at Auburn, replacing Heath Schroyer, who in March accepted the head coaching job at Tennessee-Martin. Miller, 39, will assist Rice with the offensive game planning. He will be joined on the bench by former Findlay Prep head coach Todd Simon, who returns for his second year with the Rebels, along with former UNLV All-American Stacey Augmon, the lone holdover from Rice’s original staff. Rice says Augmon and Simon will work together as the team’s “defensive coordinators.”
“People are going to be excited when they see Coach Augmon’s impact on our team this year,” Rice says. “His role has been greatly expanded.”
In addition to his three full-time assistants, Rice added two other pieces to the mix, although neither is new to UNLV. Former Rebels assistant coach Max Good returns as a special assistant to Rice after spending the last six seasons as head coach at Loyola Marymount. Good, 73, worked with Rice when both were assistants under former UNLV coach Bill Bayno, and went 13-9 as the Rebels’ interim head coach to finish the 2000-01 season. Because of an NCAA rule that limits the number of full-time assistants, Good isn’t permitted to give on-court instruction during games or practices, or participate in off-campus recruiting. However, he can be in all coaches’ meetings, observe practices and offer advice, giving Rice the veteran adviser he’s lacked at UNLV.
“I had wanted for some time to create this position,” Rice says. “And to bring in someone like Coach Good, who has a wealth of knowledge, experience and credibility, having done it at a lot of different levels, it made perfect sense.”
While Good brings experience, Curtis Terry adds youthful energy. A four-year UNLV letterman from 2004-08 under former coach Lon Kruger, Terry, 29, returns as a graduate assistant after coaching girls high school basketball in the Seattle area last year.
“He doesn’t bring the experience that Coach Good does, but he’s younger and more the age of our players,” Rice says. “The combination of Coach Good and Curtis Terry, and the impact they can have on our players off the court, is a major positive.”
After losing its top five scorers and three leading rebounders from last season, UNLV was picked by the media to finish fourth in the Mountain West. But with a retooled staff and another year of experience under his belt, Rice insists that the Rebels will play hard and play together, and the rest will take care of itself.
“One of my adages is ‘Live and learn, but you better learn,’” Rice says. “I’m not afraid to say that there have been times I have not done as well as I would’ve liked, but I have learned from those things. There is no substitute for experience, and there’s always something to learn, but I’ve got a great staff in place and a program that’s moving in the right direction.”