The Faithful Rebel: Tina Kunzer-Murphy

UNLV athletic director

Photo by Jon Estrada

Photo by Jon Estrada

ACHIEVEMENTS In July 2013, not long after ending her dozen-year run as the executive director of the Las Vegas Bowl, Kunzer-Murphy returned to her beloved alma mater as interim athletic director, following the surprising departure of Jim Livengood. By December, the interim tag was dropped, making her the first female AD in UNLV history. Her 13 months on the job have been highlighted by two significant—and somewhat controversial—decisions: extending the contract of men’s basketball coach Dave Rice when South Florida was trying to lure him away last March, and replacing football coach Bobby Hauck with former Bishop Gorman High School head coach Tony Sanchez. How Rice and Sanchez perform in the coming years will go a long way toward determining their boss’ legacy.

TACKLING THE BIG PROBLEM When it comes to college sports, football is king—today more than ever. But UNLV’s gridiron program has been a bottom dweller for decades, with limited funding, marginal talent and a lack of fan support conspiring to create a losing (and apathetic) culture. But Kunzer-Murphy insists there is potential to turn the Rebels into not just a winner, but a revenue-generator. “The money associated with football is amazing,” she says. “The Mountain West [Conference] does a fine job with its TV deals, but for us, when you walk onto our campus as a student-athlete being recruited, you want to see that the UNLV community is making a full commitment to the football program.”

SUPPORTING THE TEAM That football commitment could come in the form of a shiny new on-campus practice facility, which has been rumored to be in the works since Sanchez’s hire. (Think something akin to the basketball team’s Mendenhall Center, only bigger and pricier.) In order to make those football upgrades a reality, it will be up to Kunzer-Murphy to pound the pavement and recruit donors—and it probably starts with securing that often-reported multimillion-dollar check from Station Casinos and UFC chief Lorenzo Fertitta.

BLEEDING RED Kunzer-Murphy’s loyalties to the Rebels are strong—she was once a student-athlete, then a tennis coach, then served in an athletic administration role during the glory years of Jerry Tarkanian. Thus she’s beyond determined to get the athletic department back on track. “Sometimes I feel like this past year has been like 10 in dog years,” she says. “But I realize how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to serve this institution. I realize how important it is to a lot of people in this community. I love UNLV, and I want to help UNLV athletics thrive.”

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