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Wednesday, August 18, 2021

UNLV’S HEAD FOOTBALL COACH SHARES HIS TAKE ON REBEL FOOTBALL

UNLV’S HEAD FOOTBALL COACH SHARES HIS TAKE ON REBEL FOOTBALL, THE MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE, ALLEGIANT STADIUM,
AND LIVING IN LAS VEGAS

 

In December of 2019, UNLV Football named a new head coach—Marcus Arroyo. This was literally days after Arroyo helped lead the University of Oregon Ducks to a Pac-12 Conference Championship. For the three years prior, Arroyo was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Ducks, and was the assistant head coach coming into the 2019 season. A quarterback himself, Arroyo played for San Jose State University from 1998 to 2002. He has since enjoyed climbing the ranks of college football, culminating in his first head coach position with the Rebels. Along the way he learned from the best, many of whom he credits in this interview. Arroyo is touted as an incredible recruiter, and has already lived up to that reputation, even during a pandemic. He is looking forward with eagerness to his first true year with his Rebels, one that will hopefully have no pandemic shutdowns or limitations. He’s thrilled to have not only the new Fertitta Football Complex, but also the magnificent Allegiant Stadium as their home. 

Arroyo’s enthusiasm and optimism were palpable as we talked, and his words reflect those bright outlooks.

Q

: We have heard about the energy you’ve brought and your fire as a coach, that all your coaches have for that matter. There’s an excitement in the building. Was it difficult and is it still hard to get the culture you want? How hard is it to change a culture to the direction you want? 

A

rroyo: It is difficult, but something you have to go out there and do every day. It is part of who you are. Over the course of my career, and I am bumping on 20 years of coaching now, the thing that stood out as the most important part of this role I now have is to be yourself. I remember Chris Petersen and David Shaw, guys that I had a chance to coach against and grow up watching and to be around, they have that message. I reached back to them again during the pandemic, reiterating the importance of just being yourself. I am one of those eternal optimists in a lot of ways. I have pretty high energy all the time. I don’t get too high on the highs or too low on the lows. Everyone is looking at you and your response is going to be reciprocated throughout the building, throughout the tone of the game, or whatever it may be. Also the perspective of what I have been around and lived through outside of football has helped me. I have been through a lot. Making sure everyone understands that it can always be worse. There are always other things out there. Not let our egos get in the way, celebrate each other. That plays into how our culture is run. And setting really good standards, attitudes, behaviors, and habits—and committing to that. It is hard to set certain standards and behaviors, especially in a place you have never been before. But the more you do it, the more you explain it, build pictures for young men or even coaches. You set that standard and you don’t deviate. That in itself really starts to hit home.

Q

: You’ve had quite the journey working with some legendary coaches including Dick Tomey, Lovie Smith, and the Oregon Ducks with Mario Cristobal. Has any one coach really impacted your growth as a coach over the years? Any one coach you really loved working for or program that molded your style? 

A

rroyo: I think everyone. I think they all have had an impact. I go all the way back to growing up near Rocklin, California where the 49ers had their training camp. That is back when Bill Walsh (he was the 49ers coach in that era) and all those guys were there, and we had a chance as young kids to go down and see those guys often. You mentioned a few names, and I won’t be able to mention all of them here since there are just too many. Coach Tomey as you mentioned was a huge influence on me. Coach [Jeff] Tedford is another one at Cal, with the success he has had in football let alone the position of quarterback, which is really where I have probably made the most hay. But I think I have taken something from all of those guys. To be around Jeff Tedford, Todd Monken, Mike Gundy, and Dirk Koetter. Even to internships and the Bill Belichick camp in New England. What we did at Oregon, and to be around the people, not just the coaches. The people that make up all of football. To sit down with Phil Knight, to sit down with Tinker Hatfield (a famous shoe designer for Nike) to sit down and hear how not only football but the bigger pieces of what do come into play. We are around kids, we are developing people, we are around a lot of alphas and great coaches. I think managing people is probably the most important thing that we do. The kids, coaches, assistants, interns, strength coaches….football is easy, people are complicated. I am fortunate enough to have been around a lot of good leaders to see how to build a plan, a philosophy around being a part of something great.

 

Q

: You’ve been around and worked with some great quarterbacks. Do you have one that you just loved being around or working with, and why? 

A

rroyo: There are a lot. I have been fortunate to be around a lot of quarterbacks that have a chance to go on and play. Guys that I have had a chance to recruit and then eventually get drafted. Even a lot of guys who said they couldn’t make it. The Jared Goff recruitment, Nick Mullens out of Southern Miss, and the one that sticks out obviously is Justin [Herbert]. We built a really strong relationship during the years that I was there. It was very organic, it was very real. I was more mature at that stage than at other stages, was a better person and was able to make it into about him. We taught each other a lot, we went through a lot. The last year was a rocky one for me, personally off the field. I lost a child in the season, and we shared a lot of things. I have lost two children during the last eight years and we really had some hard conversations about life and perspective and how to see things and the big picture. That relationship with Justin is one that continues to this day. That one will be something that will go a long way. We shared a lot of laughs and hugs and tears. We did a lot of stuff that wasn’t football related in regards to leadership. I think we really helped him mold that fact that he can be himself and still lead.

 

Q

: Who motivates you outside of football?

 

A

rroyo: Outside of football, my family motivates me. I have one daughter and just recently welcomed a son, and have been married 11 years. I am the first of my family to graduate high school, let alone college. To get a scholarship. I have a tough background, broken home. I think whatever that is, it’s there. I think a lot of us still try to find throughout the course of our life what exactly motivates us. I had some good role models. I was raised by a village. I am from a town of about 1,000 people, really small town, with one stop light that is for a crosswalk not traffic. I think all the people in my town, all my closest friends motivate me a lot. I keep doing and make them proud. I have always felt like I don’t want to let people down. I have some people in my life that I reach out to when I have to think about certain things. There is a guy that I am close to in regards to mental training and team building: Brett Ledbetter is a guy who does a lot of things with basketball teams, and he worked with us at Oregon. And he has been a really good sounding board on ways to coach a team.

 

Q

: Are you in favor of the playoff expansion that is being discussed right now? If so, which number is the right one in your opinion, 8 or 12 or another option? 

A

rroyo: Well, I am a fan of it because I think it is really going to highlight some more teams in the country. Some more coaches and players, and universities and cities, and even markets that haven’t had the exposure. That is going to be really good. I think it is going to widen the lens a little bit. This is good in a lot of ways: market value, social responsibility, different areas of our country, different ways to do it. I think that could be good. There is obviously inherent stuff that comes with it—more games and all the other stuff are still moving targets. I think getting more market value for a collegiate athlete and college sports in general, I think that’s cool. I think that helps educate the greater group a lot of the time.

 

Q

: What do you think about the new stadium? How big of a role is it playing in your preparation and recruiting? I have heard there are already record ticket sales.

A

rroyo: I think infrastructure, that is one of the reasons we are here. I have been fortunate to be around a lot of places, and all the teams I have been with, all the markets I have been in, all the levels of football, the marketers I have been around. The Boone Pickens, the Phil Knights, the Fertittas, the people that have put their stamp behind some things…and I say that because I have seen how infrastructure and market value of college sports, how a team and a city can really play a hand in the success and ability to do things that at one point maybe you weren’t able to do not given those modalities. A stadium like this, a 2-billion-dollar stadium that is in town and a 40-million-dollar brand new Fertitta Complex helps the infrastructure of our program exponentially.

Having Allegiant Stadium as our home stadium is a big deal. It’s our field that rolls out, we don’t play any games in Sam Boyd. It is a big deal, and it wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t city funded. They have made a commitment, it shows a commitment in a market that is very timely. We are in probably the fastest growing sports market in the world right now. There are cities in this country that would cut their right arm off to try and get a pro football team and for us to get one here in two years is just unheard of. There is a lot of market value in what we do, a lot of money generated from it. They said you couldn’t recruit here when I was thinking about this job, there weren’t many people that said go do it. More people said you can’t recruit there, they don’t have the facilities, there is no culture. We have shattered every academic record, we have had zero issues off the field, we have shattered the recruiting here. We have had the top one or two classes in both publications the last two years. Part of that is the infrastructure. The other piece of that is the staff we have recruited. They are all family men. There are 60 years of Power 5 football in our building, 11 years of NFL Coaching, there are 70 players in the NFL that these guys have coached, there are Super Bowls in this office, there are first round draft quarterbacks, NFL rookies of the year. There is a lot of really good success and pedigree in the building. I say all that because they are good people, they are good coaches. All the buildings in the country are hollow without good people.

 

Q

: Thoughts on the conference this year? Are there some teams that are particularly dangerous? 

A

rroyo: Dangerous is probably the wrong word. Football is beautiful because there are so many teams that have really good talent nowadays. The talent in this conference is great. One of my ex-coworkers, we were coordinators together, Andy is now at Boise. My best friend is the coach at San Jose State, where I played, and they just won the conference. Fresno has been always really good, my mentor Jeff Tedford did a really nice job of turning them over. Danny Gonzales is New Mexico has done a really good job. Brady has done a great job at San Diego State. This is a great conference, there are a lot of really great teams in it and coaches in it. I have played in it, and now I have coached in it, and I have seen it mature. And now to have this here in this city with this conference, and I am fired up. The market value of the conference is a really big deal, and our city's impact is really going to help.

Games this year—we have got a really tough schedule. Eastern Washington coming to town. We have Arizona State at Arizona State, and that’s a Power 5 Pac 12 school that has done a really good job. Iowa State is coming here, and they are going to be a really tough top 10 team. Matt Campbell has done an amazing job there, they are tough as nails. And then you get into our conference play. We have a tough schedule for a young team in our infant stages, but I am excited to see our guys go out there and compete and see where we are at in really our first full year finally together in football.

 

Q

: Now that you’ve settled into Vegas, any go-to restaurants or bars that are your favorites? Anything surprise you about Vegas that you didn’t expect? 

A

rroyo: Ahhh, I can’t name just one, I will get in trouble! I say this, in all the cities I have lived in so far the thing that plays the most for my family is the access to really good food, to all of the transportation, entertainment, and a lot of things that are really cool. We like to eat, I like food, I will go anywhere. I love the steak houses, tacos, sushi….there are a lot of places in this town that aren’t on The Strip, but more off in the local areas. That is the thing that kind of wowed us. There are 2.5-million people here, it isn’t just a destination or tourist stop anymore. There is structure here. I have a boat at Lake Mead where we go a ton, I love to get out. Red Rock is a great place to go to. All the stuff that is available to do. I can go snowboarding in Utah. The access is a huge piece. We have been in really small towns before, and they have their own amazing parts. But this city is unbelievable with just the access it has to everything. That is something we underestimated. How much that stuff really matters. I am out a lot. All we do is football, but when I do get out, to live in a place where I can easily go play golf, go to the lake, go do anything. I am blown away with how happy we are here as a family. I love golf, but I am pretty crappy at it. I like the mental part of the game, just being beat up mentally with how hard of a game it is. It is fun as heck, that is why I like it.

 

Q

: Can you share your most embarrassing moment as a coach or player? 

A

rroyo: Embarrassing to me is probably different than everyone else. Well shoot, ironically one of my first snaps in college football as a freshman was at Oregon. The snap went between my hands and between my legs and I was like 2nd and 40 versus Oregon. And I couldn’t even take a snap. It was crazy as a true freshman. It was pretty embarrassing. But I ended up with a decent career. 

 

Q

: What about your quarterback. Is it truly an open book?

 

A

rroyo: It is important that everyone understands the philosophy. That position has to be…here is nothing short of experience and being able to produce. Production is key. You won’t really know about a quarterback and his ability to lead a team until you get out there and the lights come on. We don’t have that yet. We don’t have enough guys with playing experience. We have some really talented guys and I am excited to see them go out there and compete. By the time we have our first game I will have a starter named, and hopefully I am confident enough that that guy will take the whole game. We just haven’t had enough football here yet. It is not like we are protecting the roster and protecting the name. I am excited for these guys to get the proper training, a full year without pandemic issues. And then put them out there and go to work. Yes, we are wide open and I am excited to see who pulls away with it.

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