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THE STORY BEHIND A COACHING SHUFFLE : UNLV Football: a New Deal : Player Incidents Cost Harvey Hyde Job After 4 1/2 Years

November 05, 1986|TRACY DODDS | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS — Harvey Hyde was in Pasadena a few weeks ago to address the local Quarterback Club. He's known there as the former football coach at Pasadena City College, but he was telling his old buddies the tale of what he went through, establishing major college football at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Hyde became the football coach at Las Vegas just as it was joining the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. and stepping up to Division I-A football five years ago.

After his speech and before his flight back to Las Vegas, he went over the whole triumphant nightmare once again. Hyde was intensely emotional as he gloried in the highlight of this football season.

"When I went to the Wisconsin game and looked around at that sellout crowd and watched the players I had recruited and the coaching staff that I had gathered beat that Big Ten team--I said, my 4 1/2 years were well worth it!" Hyde said.

"When we scheduled that game four years ago, people laughed at us, but after what I experienced that day, I said, 'We have brought big-time football to UNLV.' I can't tell you how proud I was."

He paused for a moment, but he didn't loose any intensity as he added, more quietly: "I'm not going to say it didn't hurt me to be there, in the stands, not being a part of the game. I bled inside. But I wouldn't have missed it for anything. I just told myself that whatever had to be sacrificed to make that happen, we made the sacrifices and we made it happen."

The president of UNLV, Robert Maxson, fired Harvey Hyde last April. He instructed the athletic director, Brad Rothermel, to buy out the remaining three years of Hyde's contract at an estimated $186,000, even though football is still operating in the red.

Maxson was that embarrassed by the program and that convinced that Hyde had to go. He decided that football would be allowed to stay.

After the Wisconsin game, a 17-7 upset in the third game of this season before the largest crowd ever drawn to its stadium in the middle of the desert, Las Vegas football was looking good.

Two days later, Wayne Nunnely, the man who had been serving as interim coach, was given a three-year contract.

It was a time of hope and celebration. The players whooped and whistled when they were told that this coach would be staying.

Maxson then made a rather unusual speech to the ecstatic football players, telling them: "Don't do anything stupid that's going to embarrass (Coach Nunnely) or yourselves. Don't go out and get in scuffles that make the front page of the newspaper. If you do, you're going to break this man's heart. . . .

"We're going to be testing for drugs shortly, and I don't want a single one of you to test positive.

"You black players here are seeing a pioneer. This is the man who's going to open the door for jobs for you. Don't ruin it for him.

"I want you to win every game you play, but if you don't, just be sure you conduct yourselves properly at all times. If you can hold your heads up with pride, then we'll be with you. Football is here to stay at UNLV and it's just going to get bigger and bigger and bigger.

"Give your head coach the respect he deserves."

Why would the president of a university give such a speech to his football team?

--Because, in the interest of integrity, he had truly been on the brink of dropping football.

--Because of the series of events that had so embarrassed the university that Maxson had fired Hyde.

--Because of the kind of publicity that comes with having players charged with everything from purse snatching to embezzlement to assault on an officer to lewd and lascivious behavior.

It got so bad last April that the Las Vegas Review-Journal admitted that its police reporter had a hefty filed labeled "UNLV Jock-Thugs."

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The University of Nevada Las Vegas is, itself, a new institution. Founded in 1958, it still bills itself as "young and growing."

It was Coach Jerry Tarkanian's basketball team that put the school on the map. Tarkanian's "Runnin' Rebels" gave the school a national reputation, albeit with the same hint of wild and crazy raucousness that fits the image of this city of night life and gambling.

Football is even newer. Las Vegas has been competing since 1968 and was an independent until joining the PCAA and stepping up to Division I-A in time for the 1982 season.

The Rebels lost their opener that season to BYU on national television, 27-0.

That was the debut of Coach Harvey Hyde.

And that was the start of something big. Depending upon who's telling it, Hyde was either the ticket to the big time or the start of big-time trouble.

Harvey Hyde rolled into town with grand plans and a cocky attitude that turned off some of the school's longtime boosters.

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