Rebel with a Cause: Catching up with Bobby Hauck


June 25, 2012

After leading the Montana football team to a seven-year record of 80-17 and three national championship games, Bobby Hauck took over the UNLV job on Dec. 23, 2009. With Hauck on his way to Montana for some down time with his family, it felt like the perfect time to catch up with the former Griz coach. How would you characterize your time so far at UNLV?

Hauck: Winning is fun, but it's hard. Everybody is wildly competitive to try to get wins. Losing is no fun, so we didn't have all that much fun our first two years down here. What we've tried to do is fix the attitude on the team and get guys to embrace the idea of playing football because they love the game, not because they like the idea of being on a college football team. When you love playing it, you're going to love working at it and improving to get better.

What I think we've done these first two years is fix our attitude. I think we have great attitudes on the team right now, some great character and guys who love to compete. Now that we've got that fixed, it's a lot more fun to go to work and a lot more fun to be on the practice field with our team. After all the success you had at Montana, how hard has it been to go through the losses (UNLV has gone 4-21 in Hauck's first two seasons, more losses than in his seven years at Montana) that come with a rebuilding effort?

Hauck: It's definitely hard. Whether you win or lose, you're still working 100-plus-hour weeks during the season, so it's nice to have some payoffs on Saturdays. I feel for our assistant coaches and players. They've been putting in the time and not having much payoff.

We've needed to keep our eye down the road on the better days ahead. For all the success we had at Montana, it really allows you to be confident that you're doing the right thing. We know what we're doing. We know what we do works. We just need to stay with it and continue to challenge ourselves on a daily basis. You've gone winless in 14 road games through your first two seasons. What's been holding you back, and what needs to change before you have your breakthrough win?

Hauck: I've thought long and hard about that, obviously. I think the first thing we needed was to improve the talent level on our team. Second, we needed guys who love to play football.

It's not about playing at home or on the road. It's about loving the idea of taking the field against another team rather than just liking the idea of being on a college football team and telling the girls you're a college football player or liking the idea of going out in front of the home fans.

Once we transform our team into a bunch of guys who are competitive and love to play, we'll have a chance to break through on the road. And not playing games at Wisconsin and West Virginia this season will help a little bit, too. What is your recruiting footprint, and do you have a different approach to recruiting than you had at Montana?

Hauck: The home state, then the Southwest and Texas are where a majority of our players are going to come from. We'll go anywhere to get a player, but we want to get our kind of guy. And by that I mean guys with some stature, guys that can run for their position and guys who want to play with the attitude we believe in.

I think eight of our senior class in our last year at Montana went to an NFL camp. That tells me that unless our evaluation process is broken all of a sudden, we're going to be fine. Have you found it to be tough to separate UNLV from the perception of Las Vegas the city when you're selling your program to the parents of a recruit?

Hauck: We try to not ever let a recruit come in without at least one of their parents with them. Then they can see that this is a pretty good place to live and that we've got some good things going on.

We try to let them know that it's not where you are, it's who you are. Plus most parents understand that you need to have some money in your pocket to enjoy Las Vegas Boulevard, and college kids typically don't have it. You open the 2012 season with four consecutive home games against Minnesota, Northern Arizona, Washington State and Air Force. Is that kind of a start to the season good for your program, or would you rather have more balance?

Hauck: A few years ago (in 2007) we opened with five straight at home at Montana. It was really quirky, and I didn't like it much because the flip side is that the back end of your schedule is going to be loaded with road games. The schedule falls the way it does, and we'll make the best of it. You host Northern Arizona and Jerome Souers in your second game in the fall. Do you have a hand in your scheduling, or is it all done by Director of Athletics Jim Livengood?

Hauck: We collaborate on the schedule. We never schedule a game without discussing it. Hopefully that game will be good for NAU and hopefully good for us.

We have a ways to go as a program. We've got to fight hard to beat anybody. We wouldn't beat East Junior High without playing well, so we need to go out and play well on Saturdays. Hopefully that's one of the games on our schedule we can find a way to win. Rob Phenicie was your offensive coordinator at Montana and held the same position at UNLV your first two seasons. Same with defensive coordinator Kraig Paulson. After last season you replaced them both with other members of your staff. (Phenicie and Paulson remain on staff, Phenicie as the quarterbacks coach, Paulson as assistant head coach and outside linebackers coach).

How tough was that decision, and how hard was the conversation you had with Rob and Kraig?

Hauck: Parts of this business are not always comfortable. Sometimes you need to change the way you're doing things in order to get things going in the right direction. Certainly Rob and Kraig are quality guys and good friends, so one of the things I'm grateful for is we've found a way for them to stay on in a capacity that they are comfortable with. That allows us to kind of keep some continuity and at the same time veer a little bit in the direction we're taking. What has been the biggest difference between being the coach at Montana and the coach at UNLV?

Hauck: When we were at Montana we had to work hard to make it into a Division I-like environment. We tried the best we could to make it as close to that as possible for our players, and we had great boosters and donors that helped us accomplish that.

With the resources we have at UNLV, I have the ability to worry more about fixing things related to football. What is the difference between the athletic departments at Montana and UNLV?

Hauck: We have more sports at UNLV (17 to Montana's 14), so the department is bigger. The administrative staff is larger, and the support staff is substantially larger because of the department's resources.

But the one thing that's uniform is that the people I've got to enjoy working with at both places are awesome. The coaches from the other sports are tremendous and good friends, both up there and down here. It's one of the great things about being on a college campus and working in an athletic department: Being able to work with the other coaches of the other sports. They're fun to work with and to get to know. You averaged 20,612 fans in your first season at UNLV, 21,119 last fall at Sam Boyd Stadium, which seats 36,800. How would you characterize the differences in the two schools' fan bases?

Hauck: It's funny. Our people at UNLV right now are where Montana was in terms of history and tradition in the mid-80s. We're trying to get it going. UNLV people are buying into the idea that we're giving them hope. They are very supportive, because they know we're working our tails off. They believe that we'll win some football games, and I believe they'll get excited when we do. How does Sam Boyd Stadium, which is located off campus, compare to Washington-Grizzly Stadium?

Hauck: Washington-Grizzly Stadium is a special place, and it doesn't get any better. I've had a chance to coach at a lot of different places, and Washington-Grizzly is a great, great place to play.

In big games when we've got it rolling and we're playing well, it can be that kind of atmosphere down here. We just need to continue to build our program so we can have that on a week-to-week, consistent basis.

We're in the process of trying to build a stadium on campus, and again I go back to the 80s. When you look for things that turned football around at Montana, it was when Washington-Grizzly Stadium got built in the heart of campus. We're in the process of trying to do that right now.

There are great parallels in what we're trying to do and what was done 25 years ago at Montana. UNLV Director of Athletics Jim Livengood is a well-known college administrator. Prior to taking the job at UNLV he spent 15 years at Arizona and was there when the Wildcats won 11 national championships in men's basketball, women's golf, women's softball and men's and women's swimming and diving.

He was hired at UNLV six days before you were in December 2009 and his decision to hire you was his first major one. How is he to work for?

Hauck: Jim is a good friend and one of the best-known and renowned guys in the business. He's vastly experienced and has remarkable energy and know-how. To be able to work with somebody as competent and experienced as he is has been very good for me. It's a learning experience. It's rewarding to watch him do his job, because he is extremely good at it. How would you compare the media in Las Vegas to Missoula?

Hauck: When a guy runs a stop sign, it's not front-page news down here, which has been enjoyable. In terms of coverage and what they want and how they cover the team and our games, there are a few more people at the press conferences, but other than that it's pretty similar. You had a public feud with the Kaimin in 2009 when you refused to answer its press-conference questions after an article ran that your players objected to. What was the take-away lesson from that experience?

Hauck: That was our players' decision, and I just supported them. What you can take away from that incident is that you support your players. If you think the guys on your team are right, they deserve your support.

It goes back to what's right is right, and what's wrong is wrong. If you're right, you're right. You can't forsake doing the right thing because it's popular. That's called not having any character. You were the special teams coach during your time at Montana. Have you retained that job at UNLV?

Hauck: I have hung on to it. I said this when I was coaching at Montana: I got into coaching because I like to coach. Special teams is something we excelled at at Montana, and that's continued at UNLV. Las Vegas is going to be 104 degrees today, with an overnight low of 81. For a guy raised in cooler climates, how are you adapting to the heat, and what kind of concessions do you make as a team when you start practicing in August?

Hauck: I've enjoyed the climate in Vegas. For a guy who grew up with some harsh winters on the east slope of the mountains of Montana, you can keep your winters. I now believe that anywhere there are palm trees, you're in a good place. I've got a pool, and I enjoy it every chance I get.

In terms of fall camp, we take our training camp to the mountains in northeast Nevada. We practice in a small mining town at 6,500 feet, and it never gets much above 80 during the day. It's a great deal. Looking back to your decision in 2009 to pursue the UNLV job, how hard was it to convince your wife Stacey that it was the right move?

Hauck: With Stacey it's never been hard. She's always been really good. She knew the deal when we made this partnership.

Missoula is her alma mater as well as mine, and it's home to a lot of friend and family for both of us. It was kind of like going away from home when you leave for college. On to the next adventure. Have you found Las Vegas a good place to raise your four kids?

Hauck: It's been good. The kids are doing well in school and in their sports. We live in a great neighborhood and the kids go to public schools, and the schools are all close to where we live, within five minutes. Update everyone on your kids.

Hauck: Sydney and Ali are 16. Their main sports are volleyball and track. Robby is going to be an eighth grader in the fall. He is into football and basketball pretty heavy right now. Elise, the little one, is four and will be five in the fall, and she's the one running the show. Where is your brother Tim coaching now, and does he prefer coaching in the NFL compared to college?

Hauck: He's the secondary coach of the Cleveland Browns, one of just a few guys in the NFL who have the whole secondary to themselves. I think he's enjoying not just the NFL but Cleveland as well. He's always kind of had a blue-collar mentality, so he enjoys those people.

I think he would tell you that both the NFL and college games have their advantages, but I know he likes the NFL schedule in terms of its yearly calendar, and I know he likes coaching those kinds of athletes. Now that you're a head coach in your 40s, how has your perspective on your job changed compared to when you began coaching in your 20s?

Hauck: I've always enjoyed the job a lot, but early on when you're in your 20s and early 30s, you're just scrambling to try to put a roof over everybody's head and make a living.

Now it's more about enjoying the job, enjoying the guys and enjoying the coaches you work with. It becomes something you really relish, because you start to figure out that it's a finite period of time. You look at it like your playing career. It's going to come to an end at some point, so you just try to enjoy every season and every game.

I don't think you have that same perspective when you first start coaching. Is Mick Delaney the right man to lead the Montana football program going forward?

Hauck: With the turmoil at the time, it was a stroke of genius to bring Mick in and have him settle things down. He's exactly the right guy at this moment. What's been your reaction to the events of the University and the football program the last seven months?

Hauck: I was disappointed to see how everything went down, but it's my university, and I still think it's a wonderful place. There has been a lot of change on campus, and a lot of them were good friends, from the president, the director of residence life, the financial aid officer, the football coach, the AD, the executive vice president. In terms of personnel, it's a lot different.

Change happens, so everyone who loves the university should be grateful to those people who are not there any longer for their service and everything they put into making that place better. Then we should do our best to support the people that are next in line to try to do their part. If you bumped into somebody in Las Vegas whose entire perception of the Grizzly football program was what they'd read or heard since December, what would you tell them?

Hauck: I'd say, "Let's go get a beer. I have a long story to tell you." Besides the relationships you made in your seven years as head coach at Montana, what do you look back on and consider three highlights?

Hauck: I've got three that are my most vivid and best memories in terms of the football part of it.

First, the last three games we coached in that stadium were maybe three of the best games in the history of Washington-Grizzly. We came back from being down 48-21 late in the third quarter to beat South Dakota State. We shut out the No. 1 offense in the nation and beat Stephen F. Austin 51-0. And then we beat Appalachian State in probably the greatest game in the history of the stadium to go to the national championship game. All great. All special.

Second was winning the only road playoff game in the history of the school when we went and beat No. 1-ranked James Madison on their home field on national TV to go to the 2008 championship game. That was special.

But my favorite was breaking out the throwback uniforms that nobody knew about in 2008 and going out and beating the neighbors 35-3. That was pretty cool. Do you get up to Montana each summer?

Hauck: We're actually on our way right now. During the month of July we spend every day we can up in northwest Montana.

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