Marcus Arroyo celebrated winning the Pac-12 football championship as the offensive coordinator of the Oregon Ducks Dec. 6. A week later, he stood in front of room full of Las Vegas administrators, players, and alumni as the new head coach of the Rebels.
Walking through the long corridor overlooking the Fertitta Football Complex’s weight room, monitor after monitor displayed the same welcome message over and over, the word “coach” dominating the screens.
Facing a packed house in the Gaughan Family Dining Hall, he took a quick breath.
“Here we go. This is awesome. This is amazing,” he said.
Arroyo arrives at a major inflection point in the history of UNLV football, with the opening of both the complex and Allegiant Stadium next year, and an inflection point within the school, joining T.J. Otzelberger in men’s basketball as new faces at the top of the university’s flagship men's athletics programs.
It's been a long time since Arroyo first headed this way from his hometown of Colfax in Northern California (that time it was a roadtrip Arizona where he rode in the middle of the bench seat of a ’72 El Camino listening to Bonnie Raitt and Santana).
This time, he flew down from the Pacific Northwest and into a program he’s eager to put his stamp on as a first-time head coach.
“A high-character, low-ego, high-output group is what I'm going to put forth with you guys,” Arroyo said. “We take our academics process very serious. It’s one aspect in the student athlete's life that we can measure and achieve with success year-round. It's different than football. We only get 12 opportunities to really be gauged [on the field], but your academic endeavors over the course of your career here can be measured throughout.”
Arroyo was a standout quarterback at San Jose State from 1998-2002 and worked at that university at the same time that UNLV's Athletics Director Desiree Reed-Francois served as its director of compliance. She had the chance to see Arroyo up close, and the memory stuck with her over the years.
After entering the coaching ranks, Arroyo has served as the running backs coach at Oklahoma State University, offensive coordinator at University of Southern Mississippi, passing game coordinator at University of California, offensive coordinator at University of Wyoming, and co-offensive coordinator with San Jose State. He also spent a season in the NFL as interim offensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2014.
Experience as both a collegiate player and coach brings perspective on how to retain and re-recruit current players and how to begin the recruiting process for the next generation of Rebels.
“I've been in their shoes,” he said. “You can't forget for a second what those guys are going through, and they're pivotal to our success. You've got to recruit every place different. Every town has its own bullet points, and I think a town like this has way more positives than it does negatives in regard to its diversity, its wherewithal in sports, and just timing. The timing of a place is huge."
Rebel football has had some impressive wins recently, capturing and retaining the Fremont Cannon for the last two years. But it’s also a program that hasn't gone to a bowl game since 2013, and Arroyo didn’t shy away from that. Addressing fans directly he said, “Rebel nation: We will win. The goal is to compete for championships. We'll block out the naysayers. We'll build a winner that will last. The enthusiasm, the passion in this community is contagious right now. It drew me to this job.”