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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Raw & Real - UNVL Head Football Coach Tony Sanchez

Raw and Real

UNLV Football under the new era of Tony Sanchez

Story by Brian Hurlburt, @LVGolfInsider

Photography provided by UNLV Athletics

The only way to do justice to the passion of Tony Sanchez, the potential savior of UNLV football, is to reveal his thoughts in his own words. Sanchez left Las Vegas’s Bishop Gorman High School in the midst of six straight Nevada state titles to take over one of the worst programs in college football. He just might become the first man in history to bring consistent winning ways to the Rebels.

Tony Sanchez is raw and real. And ready.

What do Rebel fans need to know as you begin your UNLV journey?

I think the story begins with who I am and what I believe in. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity and I have worked extremely hard for it and I have taken a lot of risks to get here. I didn’t take a normal path to get to where I am. I moved around in high school football to different states. My wife and I made some major sacrifices.

Having this opportunity to take this next leap to the Division I level and to be able to do it in a town that I absolutely love, and to be able to take over a program that hasn’t had much success, is a huge opportunity. I think the toughness and the risks I’ve taken in my career will help me. We’re going to need that type of a backbone to get the things done that we want to accomplish.

To win at UNLV, we need to think outside of the box and we can’t just settle on the ol’ status quo. If we’re going to win at UNLV, number one, we need to ignite this community. We have to go out and ask people for their support and that will come in a number of different ways from sitting in the stands to donating financially. We need to build facilities that will allow us to compete at a high level. Nothing has been done at UNLV in that area in several years so there’s been a real lack of attention when it comes to keeping up with our peers.

At the end of the day, to be successful, I need to be a good teacher to the kids we are recruiting and those who are on the current roster. We need them to understand that they need to be better than they are right now in every way. That’s in the classroom, on the field, the way we lift, the way we eat. We have to get better in every single thing we do. None of us are good enough right now, but in order to change, we all have to commit to changing as people.

You just said that it is all about who you are and what you believe in. Who is Tony Sanchez?

I’m old school. I believe you show up every day and you punch your time card, and you give your greatest effort. Not a good effort, not a quality effort—you have to give your best effort and you have to be enthusiastic about it. At the end of the day, from the kids being recruited to the current roster to guys like you who I am talking to, if I’m not passionate or if my passion is fake or phony people are going to see that right away.

You have to be raw, you gotta be real, and you have to be up front with people. Plus you’ve got to work at a pace that people aren’t used to so that’s what we have to do and who we have to be. We live in one of the most energetic, entertaining cities in the world and we have to work that way. We need to walk that way, talk that way, and everything about us has to be high energy.

What do you believe in?

Not making excuses. Being accountable. There’s not many things you truly control in life, but your attitude and effort are the two things that when you wake up every single day that you are completely in control of.

I know one thing, you better have a great attitude if you’re going to be a part of this program; you can’t sit around and worry about what you don’t have or what hasn’t happened here. We gotta be fired up. And if we show up every single day and work as hard as we can intelligently, how can we not be successful in any endeavor?

I always tell our guys that our program is about paper routes and fist fights. When I grew up we all had paper routes and we had to get up at five in the morning to fold them and deliver them, and then after school we went to the park and got in a few fist fights. If we can be a little blue collar and a little tough then we have an opportunity to be successful.

What did you say to the team in the first 30 seconds of your first meeting?

When I walked in I told them how fired up I was to be here and I told them if you’re a senior, don’t worry because I’m not going to talk to you about my five-year plan because I know you only have one season left and we’re going to do the best we can to win and win right now. The last thing those juniors and seniors wanted to hear was, “Well, in four or five years we’re going to be here.”

They want to win now. I want to win now. That’s easier said than done and we’ve got an uphill battle ahead of us and a tough schedule, but I think the kids knew immediately I was committed to them.

I also told them that we’re going to do everything we can to get better and we’re going to put as much energy into them as any class that ever comes through UNLV.

I heard from a faculty member who attends recruiting breakfasts that you recently told a recruit and his father that UNLV probably wasn’t the right place for him because you didn’t like how he texted throughout the meeting. I was also told that the player signed with UNLV. To many people in this day and age of treating recruits with kid gloves, that might seem like a risky thing to do. Is that story true and what are your thoughts about it?

That’s a 100 percent true story. We are fortunate to have professors who are so integral to what we do and our success. They will help our kids earn a degree and that has to be the gold standard for us because at the end of the day giving these kids a great education is what is important. And I appreciate that.

We have these professionals coming in on the weekend and this kid was texting throughout the presentation so I just told him, “I don’t know if you’re cut out to be a Rebel and you’re not the kind of kid I want around here so enjoy your trip, but at the end of the day this might not be the right place for you.”

I was dead serious about it and it bothered me. To me it was very disrespectful, but he’s a kid and kids make mistakes. He probably was never challenged about that where he came from, but I made it very evident to him that I didn’t want him around unless he was committed to change. He immediately apologized and at the end of the weekend he told me that this is exactly what he needs in his life and he was very humble.

To me, that was a very important moment because if he didn’t like me addressing that then he shouldn’t come here because he now knows the kind of guy that I am. Education is very important to me. The only reason that I’ve gotten this opportunity is because I was able to get an associate’s degree, then a bachelor’s degree then a master’s degree. I worked hard for those things.

To me it’s so pivotal that these kids leave UNLV with a degree and that’s what we’re trying to get done here. We’re trying to win football games, and there’s no one more competitive than me, but there’s nothing that makes you prouder as a coach than one of your players walking across the stage as a graduate. We won a lot of football games at my previous schools, but when former students send you thank you cards and you see what they have gone on to accomplish, that is what’s important.

Togasii Peko played for me at Gorman and he recently came by to see me. He went to the Naval Academy and he was in his dress uniform when he came by to say hello. He’s graduated and is now going to be stationed on nuclear submarines. We won a lot of games at Gorman: big deal. Togasii Peko? That’s a real victory right there.

What has surprised you the most in your first few months as UNLV’s head football coach?

I’ll be honest with you, when I first walked in, the thing that was really surprising to me was how rundown the whole facility was. And how much we really needed to address those issues. We’ve cleaned them up and it looks better now, but compared to our peers like Colorado State, Fresno State, and Reno, we were way behind so we had to make quick changes because things like that are a big deal in recruiting and we owe it to our players to give them a first-class Division I football experience and I am not sure that’s been done in the past. We needed to address that quickly and we have.

As for on the field, football is football so that part hasn’t been too surprising.

What needs to happen to turn around a program that has had very little success?

When I was at Cal High (2004-08), they had never won a playoff game in their history and you’re talking 33 years. They had never even had back-to-back winning seasons. It was basically like UNLV, but the high school version. We won eight games in year two, then in year four we won 11 games and we were in the coliseum playing powerhouse De La Salle in the playoffs and it was amazing to see that turn around. We built that thing so strong that now winning and excellence is a part of the culture and tradition in the city of San Ramon.

When we got there, and it is the case here, we knew we would have to be relentless in our pursuit of excellence. And when I say relentless, we needed the support of everyone involved. At Cal High we asked the kids to work harder than they ever had in their lives and that will be the case here.

Anytime you ask people to step out of their comfort zone it’s going to be uncomfortable and some people aren’t going to like it, but that’s okay. We’re not here to make everyone comfortable. But if you want to have success you have to do things that are uncomfortable. Kind of like me taking this job. Hey, there are some uncomfortable things about it, but that’s what you have to do if you’re going to reach the pinnacle.

It’s not often that a coach gets a college coaching job and doesn’t have to move. What is that like?

It’s unbelievably special to get this opportunity and to not have to move. I went to the Fiesta Bowl Coaches Summit in April and I can’t tell you how many head coaches were telling me how happy they were for me and how special it is to not have to move. It’s hard for coaches because we love this game and to get to the pinnacle we have to move around.

To have this opportunity and to be able to stay at home and not have to pull my kids out of school or me have to leave and be gone for six months that was huge because it kept the whole family unit intact and that’s where I draw my strength. At the same time it is wonderful to see my family so happy. We love Las Vegas and this is home for us now.


What do you love about Las Vegas?

The things I love about Las Vegas are, first of all, it’s a big, small town. It’s always felt that way to me. What I mean is that when you’ve been here awhile you build so many great relationships and it has the feel of a town where everybody knows everybody.

Plus I’ve been to the little league fields, the soccer fields, the parks and that is special. I know this place. We have been a part of this community and I just love how warm and welcoming everyone is.

I love our weather. And I love that it is such a vibrant city and that you can do pretty much anything you want. Is there any place better in the world to get a great meal? You can get anything you want, any day of the week here. There’s entertainment. There are great golf courses. We’re still only three and half hours from the beach.

Like I said, I love our weather and I love the people.


UNLV kicks of the Sanchez era September 15 at Northern Illinois. To support UNLV football, visit UNLVRebels.com.

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