Seven Questions for UNLV Football Coach Tony Sanchez

The new Rebels leader on making the jump from high school, the Fertitta donation rumors and whether his old team could beat his new team


Photo by Jon Estrada

What’s the last week been like for you?

It’s been a whirlwind—from media, to going [before] the Board of Regents, to the press conference. A big part was saying goodbye to a wonderful group of kids [at Bishop Gorman High School] and a wonderful group of administrators and people who had supported me relentlessly for the last six years. It was emotional. It’s been crazy, but you don’t take jobs like this to rest. You understand that it’s going to be a grind, and you’re going to put in a lot of hours and burn the candle. And that’s fun, too.

Why was now the right time to make this move?

I’ve had a great 11 years as a head coach in high school and a couple more as an assistant. We’ve kind of accomplished all we can at the high school level. Obviously you can continue to do it, but I’ve always been one who looks for the next challenge, and this is a great opportunity to stay at home in a place that I love and to lead a university’s football program that can be successful.

I’ve had multiple [college coaching]opportunities. I’ve talked to a number of coaches about being a coordinator [or a] position coach and one school about a head coaching job. I wanted to make sure we saw the entire thing through at Bishop Gorman. That was something I was committed to—making sure we got it where it is today. There was some unfinished business [at Gorman] when I had certain opportunities. I actually talked to another school a year ago about the same situation, and it didn’t seem like the right time. But this one felt right.

What is your first priority, and what are some of your long-term goals for the program? 

The biggest thing immediately was [getting] a staff together. Let’s see where we are on the recruiting trail, and evaluating our guys, evaluating our current team.

Moving forward, there are things we need to bring to the community and that we need support on. We need a quality football facility. From weight room to coaching offices to meeting rooms, academic centers, computer labs, training table—we need to have a football complex. Like the Mendenhall Center and how that houses the basketball program, we need something like that for Rebel football.

Before you were hired, there was much speculation about Lorenzo Fertitta committing money to the program if you got the job. What is your relationship with him?

I’ve got a great relationship with that family, based on my relationship with Bishop Gorman and [the Fertitta family’s] love for the school. They’ve done some tremendous things for that school and this entire community. We’ve got Fertitta Middle School and a tennis complex here at UNLV that’s already named after the family. They’ve been unbelievable for this community. But a lot of things were said and a lot of things were alluded to that just weren’t factual at all. And a lot of people just kind of misstepped when they wrote those things.

We’re going to ask everybody in this community to step up and help. One family can’t fix anything. It’s going to take a group of people coming together who believe that Rebel football can be successful. If they can step up and support the kids and support us and our vision and get everybody engaged, I think we have a great opportunity to get those things done.

Was there any indication during your hiring process that Fertitta would support the program financially?

Absolutely not.

If there’s a local player who is considering schools like Oregon, Arizona and USC, how do you get UNLV onto that list?

You can’t wait until their senior year for them to know who you are. We’ve got to be out there, we need to be out in the community. We need to show some progress, we’ve got to show some initiative by people investing in facilities and doing those things. But we’ve got to recruit the Las Vegas kid. There’s a lot of talent here. … I know that’s easier said than done, but we’ve got to identify kids early, we’ve got to get to know them, they’ve got to get to know us, and we’ve got to get into the conversation. I don’t care where their other opportunities are, we’ve got to be in consideration.

 The 2014 undefeated state-champion Bishop Gorman team vs. UNLV on a neutral field—what happens? 

That’s a really silly question. You’re talking about college athletes who are on full scholarship. There’s no high school in the country that can compete with any college at any level. You’re talking about grown men. I think people who don’t understand football might consider that. But it’s not even in the equation.

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