UNLV is the only team in the Mountain West to lose a coach to a power conference job without having an NCAA Tournament appearance. And they’ve done it twice.
In the history of the conference seven coaches have bolted from Mountain West schools to a power conference. The four coaching outside of Las Vegas (and 1 of the 3 coaching in Vegas) had reached the NCAA Tournament with their Mountain West team.
Jeff Bzdelik (Air Force)
Bzdelik won 50 games in two seasons at Air Force. He made the NCAA Tournament in his first season and had the Falcons in the semifinal of the NIT the following year. In 2007 Colorado poached him, but he was under .500 in all three seasons with the Buffaloes.
Lon Kruger (UNLV)
UNLV did manage to lose a coach after seeing on-court success. Kruger left for Oklahoma in 2011. But before taking the Bog 12 job, he took UNLV to four NCAA Tournaments in seven seasons.
Tim Miles (Colorado State)
Miles left for Nebraska back in 2012. He elevated the Rams from seven wins in his first season to an 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament in his last.
Steve Alford (New Mexico)
Alford ditched New Mexico for UCLA in 2013. New Mexico was disappointing in the NCAA, but they made it three times in six seasons under Alford. And all three times they were a 5 seed or better.
Eric Musselman (Nevada)
Musselman turned Nevada into a Mountain West powerhouse with three NCAA Tournaments in four seasons. He even reached the Sweet 16 as a seven seed. But he left for Arkansas in 2019.
The reality of the Mountain West is that you will lose good coaches. Even San Diego State, the top job in the conference, might lose Brian Dutcher to Minnesota. If you have success in this conference, a bigger job (or a dream job) will come knocking.
But UNLV hasn’t seen that success.
Chris Beard was UNLV’s head coach for less than a month before the Josh Pastner leaving Memphis domino effect led to Texas Tech having an opening. Beard left and has taken Texas Tech to three NCAA Tournaments in five seasons (and likely would have had a fourth last season).
It was unfortunate timing for UNLV, as Beard has proven to be one of the best coaches in college basketball. UNLV should have been rewarded with at least one season of success. But all they got was a $1 million buyout.
Now T.J. Otzelberger is leaving for Iowa State after two seasons at UNLV. Two seasons that did not produce an NCAA Tournament team.
To be fair to Otzelberger, his first season – by Ken Pom rank and Mountain West record – was the best UNLV team since 2013-14. His second season sucked. But that did not deter Iowa State.
The Mountain West will remain a conference that is mined for coaching talent (Craig Smith, Niko Medved and Dutcher could all upgrade jobs soon). Somehow UNLV has managed to avoid any success while still contributing to the Big 12 gold rush.