Jeff Horton enters his fourth year at the helm of Rebel Football expecting to see the first real results of a complete program overhaul he has steadily implemented since his arrival in Las Vegas.
Having already navigated the program through its most important voyage in history -- the trek into the Western Athletic Conference -- Horton heads into 1997 with a largely new group of assistants, a highly rated recruiting class and real depth at positions on the field that have long been baren.
Despite two consecutive sub-par years in terms of wins and losses, the dream of UNLV football success is close to becoming reality because of Horton's decision to build a true program instead of repeating past plans to field a quick-fix team. And despite the many figurative and literal bumps and bruises for he and his players, Horton and Co. have surely stayed the course.
From the day he was hired on Nov. 23, 1993, there were assurances of a stable program that a university could be proud of. Vows of developing enthusiastic players who never quit, whether during a blowout loss or a mid-term exam. Pledges of an exciting product on the field for a city famous for ignoring the bland. And, perhaps most alarming to skeptical media and community, a promise of future success for UNLV Football. Horton is now considered to be the man who has regenerated a program that was dying from lack of leadership.
And it almost never happened.
Truly portraying the term Rebel, Horton broke away from a winning environment at the University of Nevada, Reno, to come back to UNLV despite his extensive Reno roots. He graduated from UNR in 1981 and spent seven years in two stints (1985-89, 1992-93) coaching at the school, eventually becoming the hand-picked successor of 17-year Wolf Pack head coach Chris Ault.
However, after only one season at the helm of the Pack, Horton, who had been an assistant for the Rebels in 1990-91, stunned the entire Reno community by agreeing to become the seventh head coach in UNLV history.
He convinced eight Reno assistants to buy into his dream and join him in the move. Horton immediately cleared the air with UNLV's veteran players, making known what was expected to be a member of a rising program. He put the area media on notice that UNLV Football would bring excitement back to Sam Boyd Stadium even while rebuilding.
Then -- much sooner than anyone outside of the program expected -- he won. Turning a team that had limped to a 3-8 record the year before and lost eight starters into a championship squad that put on a show for the nation in the Las Vegas Bowl, it became clear that Rebel football finally had its man.
The 5-1 league record in '94 was the second-best mark ever for a UNLV team and meant Horton was the first Rebel coach to win a conference title in his first season as he was named Big West Co-Coach of the Year.
Now with the team entering its second year in the WAC, Horton believes UNLV can, and will, develop over time one of the best football atmospheres in the West.
"Las Vegas is the perfect city for football," says Horton. "The resources in this town are unlimited and the community truly loves a winner."
Horton at a Glance
Coaching Record YEAR SCHOOL RECORD PCT. 1993 UNR 7-4-0 .636 1994 UNLV 7-5-0 .583 1995 UNLV 2-9-0 .182 1996 UNLV 1-11 .083 TOTALS 17-29-0 .370 BORN: July 13, 1957 WIFE: The former Teri Arden EDUCATION: Nevada, Reno, 1981 -- bachelor's degree in physical education University of San Francisco, 1993 -- master's degree in educational administration PLAYING EXPERIENCE: Arkansas, 1977-79 -- wide receiver COACHING EXPERIENCE: 1994-pr. UNLV -- head coach 1993 UNR -- head coach 1992 UNR -- receivers and special teams 1990-91 UNLV -- asst. head coach/running backs 1985-89 UNR -- receivers, defensive backs, running backs and special teams 1984 Minnesota -- grad. asst., running backs 1981-83 Bishop Manogue HS (Reno) -- head