UNLV Athletics Director Jim Livengood has announced the hiring of Dave Rice as head coach of the Runnin' Rebel men's basketball program, pending the approval by Nevada's Board of Regents.
"Dave is coming home," Livengood said. "And we are sure glad to have him."
Rice, 42, returns to UNLV where he was part of the 1990 National Championship team as a player, was a Rhodes Scholar candidate while earning his bachelor's degree in political science (UNLV '91), earned his master's of business administration (UNLV '93), and served as a Runnin' Rebel assistant coach for 11 seasons (1991-92, 1994-2004).
The first former player to become head coach of the program, Rice played for two seasons (1989-91) at UNLV as a reserve guard on two of legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian's Final Four teams. His 11 seasons as a UNLV assistant coach is second-most in school history to Tim Grgurich (12).
"First off, this is all about the guys on the team, not about me," Rice said. "We have a lot of experience and talent coming back and we think we can do some great things with this group. But this is about 'we,' not about 'me.'"
On Sunday night, the new head coach met with his players after a whirlwind day that included the five-hour drive to Las Vegas from Provo, Utah, with his wife, Mindy, and their two sons, Travis, 13, and Dylan, 8.
"This is an amazing time for our family - to be honored by being named head coach of the Runnin' Rebel program," said Rice, whose wife is also a UNLV graduate. "Over the past two decades, I worked hard hoping that one day I might put myself in the position to be the head coach at UNLV. We love this city and we love this university. But my commitment to Runnin' Rebel fans is to work even harder now that we are in this position. We want them to be proud of what we accomplish with this program. This is not the end of a journey, this is just the beginning."
Obviously, winning is the main objective when you are in this profession, Rice said. But he said two things he wants his program to be known for will be style of play and consistency.
"Winning is No. 1, I get that - but style of play is going to be 1a," Rice said. "We're going to get out and run - we're the Runnin' Rebels. Everything will be up-tempo. We also want to be known for being consistent. Every day in practice and every single game, we want to be consistent. That is not exciting to hear and it sounds like coach-speak, but consistency leads to great results."
Rice - who has 18 years of experience as an assistant coach at the Division-I level - most recently served as associate head coach at BYU helping the Cougars to five straight 25-win seasons and five consecutive NCAA Tournament berths, including a Sweet 16 appearance last month. As the coach in charge of coordinating BYU's high-powered offense as well as the program's recruiting efforts, Rice's reputation in the industry has grown in recent years as he has been regarded as one of the top assistant coaches in the nation. Rice has become known as one of the top offensive minds in all of college basketball as the Cougars led the Mountain West Conference in scoring offense in all six of Rice's seasons at BYU.
"Being away from UNLV for seven years prepared me to come back as the program's head coach. I'm a better person because of the experience and a better coach. I will never be able to thank Coach Dave Rose enough for the opportunity he gave to me."
Rice joined the BYU staff in 2005 as an assistant coach, then was promoted to associate head coach in 2008. He also spent a year (2004-05) as assistant coach at Utah State under Coach Stew Morrill after his long tenure as assistant at UNLV.
"Dave Rice is the right person at the right time for UNLV basketball on so many different levels," Livengood said. "Everyone we talked to in the industry raved about his work ethic and his ability to make things happen the right way. He epitomizes what the student-athlete experience at UNLV is about. He was a Rhodes Scholar candidate and has his MBA from UNLV. He has tremendous ties at the prep level for top-level recruits. He comes from the great Runnin' Rebel tradition and is passionate about this city, this university and this program. Simply put, he's the right person at the right time."
Livengood said the hiring is more about Rice's future than Rice's past.
"Most importantly, he has a vision how to keep growing this program to enjoy sustained success on a national level," Livengood said. "He has a plan to build a great staff, to have great success recruiting locally, in California, and throughout the West. And our fans are going to love the up-tempo offensive system he brings to our Runnin' Rebels. Today is a great day to be a Rebel."
UNLV President Neal Smatresk said he appreciated Livengood's efforts throughout the search process and leaned on the veteran athletic director's experience in making the decision that was the best fit for the university.
"Jim has shown in the past he knows how to make good coaching decisions, and his recent success at Arizona is a testament to his success," Smatresk said. "He brought four great candidates to interview, and I am confident that Dave Rice will be a great coach for the Runnin' Rebels here at UNLV."
Rice replaces Lon Kruger, who left UNLV on April 1 to become head coach at Oklahoma. The former Runnin' Rebel inherits a program which has averaged 25 wins a season for the past five seasons and has appeared in four NCAA Tournaments in the past five years. Seven key members from last year's 24-9 team, which qualified for the NCAA Tournament, are expected to return next year for the Runnin' Rebels.
"We have so much respect for what Coach Kruger accomplished in his time at UNLV," Rice said. "Not only did he enjoy great success on the court, but he re-engaged so many former players and fans with the program as well as helped developed so many new fans. He did amazing things in the community and we intend to learn from that and use the position of Runnin' Rebel head coach to do good things during our time here."
Rice said one of the first congratulatory phone calls he received on Sunday was from Kruger.
"Coach Kruger left this program in great shape for us to keep growing it," Rice said. "He played a critical role in UNLV basketball history and we are glad he is part of the Rebel family. Just like he always welcomed back any and all Rebels to be a part of the program while he was here, he will always be part of the program while we are here."
Rice said he has great respect for the players on the current UNLV roster that he and his staff will be inheriting.
"We've had terrific battles against these guys for the past few years," Rice said. "We'll have a learning curve anytime a new system is put in place, but we want our guys to have high expectations immediately. It's time to get to work."
Rice is now the head coach of his Runnin' Rebels, where he once played for and coached with Tarkanian, the same man who approached Rice about entering the coaching world after Rice's playing career was over. Rice actually served on Tarkanian's staff during the legendary coach's final season at UNLV in 1991-92.
"I owe so much to Coach Tark, Coach Grgurich and all of those involved with my career who have put me in the position to be where I am today," Rice said. "So many great people have been involved with this program throughout the years and the Runnin' Rebels mean so much to so many people in Las Vegas. It's humbling to think my name will be associated with 'head coach of the UNLV Runnin' Rebels.' "
Rice is the sixth UNLV graduate in any sport to become a head coach at the school, following Tina Kunzer-Murphy in women's tennis (head coach from 1978-81), Wayne Nunnely in football (1986-89), Dan Abdalla in women's soccer (2000-04), Kathy Olivier in women's basketball (2008-present) and Rich Ryerson in men's soccer (2010-present).
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