College sports have always been home to a peculiar cult of the coach. The hard-ass who makes you run laps is regularly hailed as a savior, saint or CEO—often all of them at the same time. Never is that so true as when a college football program on the brink of irrelevance (see: Michigan) or utter obsolescence (see: UNLV) hires a new guy to make everything OK. On September 19, Michigan’s fresh savior—Jim Harbaugh, the capable and irascible former San Francisco 49ers coach—will host UNLV’s Tony Sanchez, who most recently coached Bishop Gorman High School.
The day is unlikely to turn out well for the Rebels (they’re 33-point underdogs for a reason), but that’s utterly beside the point. Sanchez, who was hired in December, has so far been very unlike Harbaugh, in a good way, charming Las Vegas fans, media and business folk, and making UNLV football, which has had five winning seasons in the past 30 years, once again a viable topic of local sports-radio conversation. Suddenly, UNLV is getting a first-rate on-campus training center, and talk has, almost miraculously, resumed about the possibility of an on-campus stadium.
Sanchez’s pedigree as a high school coach is impressive: In six seasons at Bishop Gorman, his teams won six state titles and went 85-5 while playing a national schedule. In the process, the Gaels became something close to a household name in the sort of households where high school football teams are household names. Sanchez coached such stars as Anu Solomon (starting quarterback at the University of Arizona), Alize Jones (an elite tight end headed for Notre Dame), and Cordell Broadus (a standout wide receiver who signed with UCLA).
Sanchez will certainly get a honeymoon with UNLV fans. Tune in a couple of years from now to see if it has led to a happy marriage.