According to a report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Dave Rice has interviewed for the vacant head coaching position at South Florida and has officially been offered the job.
The USF job would reportedly pay $1.2 million per year for five years; Rice’s contract at UNLV has three years remaining at $700,000 per, so the bump in salary would be substantial.
A quick look at what this means for UNLV:
If Rice takes the South Florida job, the next step will be for UNLV athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy to start the process of hiring a replacement. There are no internal candidates—current assistants Stacey Augmon and Todd Simon are probably too inexperienced—so that means the search will expand outwards.
Expect Reggie Theus’ name to enter the conversation quickly—he was a finalist along with Rice back in 2011 when Rice got the job, and Theus had some success as the head coach at Cal State Northridge this season, taking the previously downtrodden Matadors to the final of the Big West Conference tournament.
The R-J report also listed Ben Howland and Shaka Smart as potential candidates, and though Smart seems like the longest of long shots—he’s turned down better jobs for more money than UNLV will probably offer—Howland could be a possibility, considering his West Coast ties.
The Rebels are currently counting on a top-five recruiting class to help turn things around next year, but if Rice leaves for USF, there’s a good chance UNLV’s incoming class could crumble.
Dwayne Morgan has already signed a letter of intent, but if the two men most responsible for recruiting him—Rice and departed assistant Heath Schroyer—are gone, expect Morgan to strongly reconsider his position. He wouldn’t be able to go elsewhere unless UNLV lets him out of his LOI, but considering the circumstances, it’s hard to imagine the university standing in his way.
Goodluck Okonoboh has also signed a letter of intent, so put him in the same boat as Morgan. And the jewel of the class, Rashad Vaughn, hasn’t signed yet, so he would be free to re-open his recruitment immediately. Expect him to field a few hundred recruiting calls this weekend.
There’s probably no way UNLV would be able to act quickly enough to give any new hire a chance at keeping the entire class intact. If Rice leaves, expect some player defections as well.
Rice has come under fire for his in-game coaching and his inability to get the team to play up to its potential on the court, but it’s hard to criticize the overall direction of the program under his watch. The Rebels are in the process of trying to build the program back into a national brand, and Rice has done just about everything right in that regard. He’s successfully recruited high-profile players to a mid-major conference, put players into the NBA and put together a national schedule that will see the Rebels play some of the most prestigious teams in the country next season. And he’s done it on the cheap—his salary puts him on the low end of the scale for national-level coaches, as evidenced by South Florida offering nearly double what he currently makes.
Rice hasn’t guided the team to NCAA tournament success yet, but the process of rebuilding the program is ongoing. The question now is, how much does UNLV value Rice? Will the university step up financially and give Rice incentive to stay?
I think they should make every effort to keep Rice. Fans may get on him for fielding an underachieving team and losing control of the locker room this season, but being a head coach at a major Division I university carries so many responsibilities beyond just coaching the team on the floor. Rice is so good at the rest of the job—recruiting, fundraising, scheduling, work ethic and just representing the university in a way that it can be proud of—that I expect UNLV to come up with the extra cash and bank on him improving the on-court product in due time.
We’ll find out how UNLV really feels about Rice soon enough.
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