Santoro: Is Nevada actually serious about football?

A 27-14 loss to quarterback Brayden Schager and Hawaii on Nov. 4 dropped the Wolf Pack to 2-7 on the season.

A 27-14 loss to quarterback Brayden Schager and Hawaii on Nov. 4 dropped the Wolf Pack to 2-7 on the season.
Photo by Steve Ranson.

Sports Fodder:

We are mired in one of the worst stretches of Nevada Wolf Pack football in the program’s long history. The Wolf Pack has won just four of 22 games since head coach Jay Norvell abandoned the program for Colorado State after the 2021 regular season.

The transition from Norvell to current coach Ken Wilson in December 2021 was a four-day, 96-hour blitz of destruction that still finds the Wolf Pack covered in rubble. Norvell was announced as Colorado State’s coach on Dec. 6, 2021, and Ken Wilson was announced as Nevada’s coach on Dec. 10, 2021.

It’s as if the previous four decades (1976-2021) of consistent winning and success (save for a few dark years sprinkled in now and then) never happened.

This current Nevada nightmare, a 4-18 record over its last 22 games, is the program’s worst 22-game stretch since it went 3-19 starting with the final three games of 1999 through the first seven games of 2001.

The program also went 4-18 from the start of 1963 through the first three games of 1965. Other 22-game Nevada nightmares were a 2-19-1 stretch starting with the final game of 1955 through the first four games of 1958 and a 3-17-2 record starting with the final four games of 1926 through the 1929 season.

But Pack football, as Chris Ault will tell you, all started in 1976 when he took over the program. And the Pack has gone through a 22-game nightmare like the one it currently finds itself stuck in just once before (1999-2001) since Ault took over.

That first nightmare at the turn of the century basically cost two coaches (Jeff Tisdel, Chris Tormey) their jobs. This current nightmare has yet to claim a coach. The highest paid coach (nearly $1 million a year) in Pack history, by the way.

Wilson, it seems, is the Teflon Pack Coach. Nothing sticks to him. Not even losing.


The hiring of Wilson was a shock back in December 2021 and, well, we are all now just a bit numb because of all the losing. Who hires a 57-year-old lifetime assistant coach, someone who took five years off in the middle of his coaching career to be an administrator, in just four days without seriously considering anyone else?

Well, an athletic director (Doug Knuth) who likely had some sort of an idea he would be fired just four months later, that’s who.

Wilson returning to Nevada after a nine-year absence raised eyebrows right from the start. The first thing he did after getting hired at Nevada that raised a flag or two was head back to Oregon to serve as the Ducks’ co-defensive coordinator in the Alamo Bowl against Oklahoma 19 days later.

Really? The Alamo Bowl? Don’t you have a lot of work to do at Nevada? Do you really want that sweet Alamo Bowl swag that badly?

Yes, it turns out Wilson was really just recruiting Oregon players for Nevada when he went back to the Ducks in December 2021. But couldn’t he have just done that with a text?

The Wolf Pack coaching staff had just been gutted by Norvell, who took almost the entire offensive staff and several offensive players with him to Colorado State, and Wilson decides he would go back to Oregon for three more weeks. How about hitting the ground running, getting a jump on recruiting and adding some much-needed players for your depleted roster?

Wilson, though, has simply turned Wolf Pack football into the place where castoff Ducks go to be mediocre.


How much do athletic director Stephanie Rempe and president Brian Sandoval want a successful football program?

It’s difficult to tell.

How much do they want to see 30,000 or so fans at Mackay Stadium as the Wolf Pack plays meaningful games on national television on a Friday or Saturday night?

How much do they want to have the premier football program in the Mountain West, one that ever-expanding Power Five conferences want to steal?

How much do they want Wolf Pack football to be important to Northern Nevada once again?

Right now, it doesn’t seem they care all that much about the sport of football or even know the potential rewards a successful football team can give an university.

Didn’t they just spend their time the last year or so trying to get a new basketball arena built in the Grand Sierra Resort parking lot?

The men’s basketball program, which just won 20-plus games and went to the NCAA tournament, isn’t in trouble, is it? Isn’t the program in trouble the one playing in shoulder pads and helmets at the outdated, uncomfortable erector set of a stadium know as Mackay? I guess Grand Sierra didn’t want to put a football stadium in its parking lot.

Football, for Rempe and Sandoval, seems be just an easy fundraising program, the one that gets all of that easy television money to help support the non-revenue sports just because it happens to exist.


We will find out for sure how much football means to Rempe and Sandoval next year if the losing continues.

Wilson likely won’t be fired even if he turns in his second consecutive 2-10 season this year. He’s too nice a guy, after all, doesn’t threaten or demand anything from anyone. It’s as if he’s just running a pleasant summer football camp for wayward players nobody else wants.

But if the monotonous losing continues in 2024, well, maybe it will finally be time for the athletic department to take responsibility for what we’re seeing at Mackay Stadium.

After the victories over San Diego State and New Mexico, there was a sense that Wilson had finally gotten his program at least pointed in the right direction. And then came a disheartening 27-14 loss at home to Hawaii this past Saturday.

Now we’re not so sure Wilson should be allowed to survive yet another 2-10 season. Where’s the sense of urgency? Where’s the demand for winning? Where’s the anger?

The last time the Pack won just four games over two consecutive seasons? You have to go back to 1963 (3-6) and 1964 (1-9). He was not only fired, he was rewarded with the athletic director’s job just five years later.

There is, thank goodness, much more on the table now in college football than there was in 1963 and 1964. Back then Nevada was basically just the biggest high school around. Now it is a huge business that is devouring the north end of town.

College football back in the 1960s was a nice activity for the students to bond over. Now it is a multi-million-dollar business. The Pack football program is leaving millions of dollars on the table the last two years by being one of the worst Division I programs in the nation.

The fan base is clearly at its tipping point and another 2-10 season followed by a long off-season might send that fan base to the point of no return.

There’s a ton of pressure on college football fans these days. It’s not enough anymore that they simply buy tickets. They must also pay the quarterback, defensive end and punt returner. We’ve all seen the commercials, you know, during the timeouts from all of the bad, boring football on the screen.

We’ll find out soon enough if Rempe and Sandoval care.


The loss to Hawaii this past Saturday might be the worst in Wilson’s 21-game head coaching career.

Losing to FCS schools Incarnate Word last year and Idaho this year was a disgrace. But those teams had more talent than the Pack, were certainly better coached and would have won more games in the Mountain West than the Pack.

Losing at home to Norvell and Colorado State last year was ugly. But it was just two ugly football teams, playing an ugly game that somebody had to win.

The loss at Hawaii last year was painful but it was in Honolulu where even good Pack teams (see 2010) have a tendency to struggle. And losing to UNLV last year and this year is never acceptable.

But the loss this past Saturday to an inept Hawaii team is inexcusable. It is the worst loss in the Wilson era so far simply because it was a one-sided loss at home to a bad team that has a sense of urgency about winning as low as the Pack’s.

That (a horrible loss to a horrible team at home) had not happened before in the woe-is-me Wilson era.

The last three games (at Utah State and Colorado State and home against Wyoming) are crucial for building any sort of momentum, hope and promise going into 2024.


Most of the Pack problems on the field since Wilson took over have been because of the offense. It’s not surprising because Wilson, a lifetime linebackers coach, knows nothing about offense.

The Pack under Wilson has scored just 384 points in 21 games, an average of just 18.3 points a game. Chris Ault used to get upset if his teams didn’t score 18 points on the opening drive.

Those 384 points include three touchdowns and one safety by the defense. So, the offense has actually scored just 364 points in 21 games under Wilson, an average of 17.3 points a game.

Nobody plays defense in college football anymore except a handful of big-money Power Five schools. So don’t blame the defense. Ault didn’t even know he had a defense until, of course, he looked up at the scoreboard and saw he lost and needed something to blame.

The Pack will never win anything meaningful until it fixes its offense. It was the same for Norvell and his dynamic Air Raid offense and it was the same for Ault, who never stopped tinkering with his offense.

The most Ault ever thought about his defense was when he took five minutes to fire his defensive coordinator. Offense was all that mattered.

Wilson needs to forget everything he has learned and think the same way.

Is Brendon Lewis the answer at quarterback for Wilson’s Pack? He might be if Wilson’s goal every year is simply to finish 6-6.

Is redshirt freshman A.J. Bianco the solution? If Wilson thinks so, it might be a good idea if he turns the offense over to him over the final three games and finds out one way or the other.


Wilson is making even UNLV head coaches look good.

Mike Sanford, Bobby Hauck and Tony Sanchez each were fired after five years at UNLV over a period of 15 seasons (2005-19). Marcus Arroyo got just three years (2020-22) before being fired.

Wilson, though, will be fortunate to be as successful as Sanford, Hauck, Sanchez and Arroyo. Forget trying to be Barry Odom, who is now 7-2 in his first season at UNLV and has the Rebels fighting to get in the Mountain West championship game.

UNLV’s Not-So-Fabulous Four (Sanford, Hauck, Sanchez, Arroyo) combined to win 58 games over 18 years, an average of 3.2 wins a year. Wilson will have to win two of his final three games this year to average 3.0 wins over his first two seasons. If he loses his final three games this year, he’ll have to win five games in 2024 to average 3.0 wins over his first three seasons.

Sanford, Hauck, Sanchez and Arroyo combined to win at least four games in a season eight times. They won five or more games five times. If Wilson ever wins five games in a season, he might get a five-year contract extension.

Yes, Pack fans, the goal now is to have a head coach as successful as Mike Sanford, Bobby Hauck, Tony Sanchez and Marcus Arroyo.


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