UNLV Mascot History
During its nascent years, the tiny extension campus in Las Vegas that was struggling to emerge from the shadow of the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) drew the idea for Rebels from the natural rivalry that accompanied the split between what would become UNLV and UNR. After establishing the Rebels nickname, Nevada Southern students also created Beauregard, a cartoon wolf with a Confederate uniform, to “rebel” against UNR and its wolf-pack mascot in the North. Beauregard’s smirk and wink contrasted with UNR’s ferocious wolf, another nod to the fledgling school’s break from tradition and its older and more established peer. While it was a decision based in rivalry and fun, the choice of a Confederate-themed mascot was nonetheless misguided and unfortunate.
As Nevada Southern became UNLV, changing times across the country had an impact on campus as well—as students and staff began to question the propriety of a Confederate-themed mascot and other related campus traditions. Such change takes time, but UNLV’s opposition to those images and themes continued to grow until enough was finally enough. In the early 1970s, a group of African-American student-athletes voiced objection to the Confederate imagery surrounding the mascot. Campus leaders agreed, and in 1976, the student senate voted to officially banish Beauregard and thereby remove the association of the Confederacy with UNLV.
UNLV students relegated Beauregard and the Confederate symbols to the history books. Their only presence on campus today is in areas describing the history of the mascot (such as in athletic teams’ media guides) and in the Special Collections area of Lied Library. The symbol also existed for years on the floor of the Marjorie Barrick Museum, the former gymnasium that still has the old wood basketball floor, until it was removed and placed in storage in the summer of 2020.
The Rebel name was also put to a vote in the early 1970s, with students deciding 446 to 246 to retain it. According to the university’s 50th -anniversary book, UNLV: A History, “After all, ‘rebel’ stood for much more than a supporter of the Civil War against the Union. In the 1960s especially, it symbolized those who rejected convention, tradition, racism … Most of all, in southern Nevada it stood for those who had opposed northern domination in the state legislature and unwanted dependency upon Reno.”
UNLV acknowledges that its first generation of students opted for a great name in Rebels but chose to surround it with imagery and symbols that fell short of giving that name the honor it deserved.
It was in this time that the name "Runnin' Rebels" – which refers only to the men’s basketball team – was coined by then-sports information director Dominic Clark in 1974 for Coach Jerry Tarkanian’s up-tempo basketball squads.
1976-1982: Soldiers and Suns
After students voted to reject and abolish Beauregard, the Rebels briefly used a colonial soldier during the Bicentennial. Also for a time, the university adopted the mark of a sun with a period-style UNLV font encircling it. But UNLV went largely without a mascot until 1982.
1982-2020: Hey Reb!
Mike Miller, who passed away in 2014, said his inspiration for the Hey Reb! Character came from the Western trailblazers of the 1800s who ventured into uncharted Nevada to discover resources and build communities. “Pathfinders were severely independent people who went all around the West looking for new trails, agriculture, gold mining, and everything,” he said in a 2011 interview.
The design, which Miller sold to UNLV for one dollar, immediately resonated with students, fans, and the community. Hey Reb! saw some changes in the years since. He lost his rifle and added some muscles in 1997, and in 2017 the costume was again updated and the spirit mark completely redesigned to highlight a stronger connection with the symbolism of Las Vegas.
Though Hey Reb! was permanently retired in January 2021, the university is grateful for the contribution of Mike Miller who created Hey Reb! nearly 40 years ago.