Joe Santoro: Be patient with Ken Wilson, Pack fans

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Ken Wilson will be introduced as Nevada’s football coach on December 10, 2021 in Reno. (Photo: Nevada Athletics)

Does Ken Wilson really know what he’s got into with this Nevada Wolf Pack football team?
Yes, we understand Wilson bleeds silver and blue. It’s his dream job, he says. He kisses a statue of Chris Ault every night before turning off the light. He loves northern Nevada. Like his mentor Ault, he has nothing in his closet that resembles the color red. And like Ault, he will never leave the wolf pack. Bla bla bla. Now get to work, Ken. After what we saw in Detroit on Monday morning, Wilson may have bitten off more than he can chew.
Yeah, sure, Wilson could recognize Mackay Stadium. Perhaps he will even recognize Ault, who is now 75. And the Reno Arch is where it was on Virginia Street in 2013 when it left the pack. But that’s it.
The Nevada Wolf Pack that Wilson loves doesn’t really exist anymore. Hell, the wolf pack we saw 30 days ago no longer exists. This team competes in the NFL, Colorado State, Washington State, and San Jose State. One (linebacker Lamin Touray) even decided to go to East Washington of all places instead of staying in Nevada.
Yes, Pack fans, the Pack has been gutted thanks to Jay Norvell’s move to the state of Colorado. The 52-24 Quick Lane Bowl loss to mighty Western Michigan on Monday showed that this program is starting over. The 28-point defeat was not as competitive as the result suggests. It was a gruesome wake-up call on Monday morning and a reminder that that football program was being decimated. Wilson has a lot of work to do in the next eight months to make this football team respectable.
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The decimation of the wolf pack continued after the bowl game. Two pack players, defensive back Jordan Lee and defensive lineman Daniel Grzesiak, jumped into the transfer portal. Lee played in the bowl game and had nine tackles. According to official statistics, Grzesiak did not play against Western Michigan.
Lee had a breakout year for the pack of 86 tackles, five tackles for a loss, five fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles in 2021 and was arguably the second most productive player in this year’s Nevada for coordinator Brian Ward behind linebacker Daiyan Henley (Team.) Defense – high 103 tackles). And now all three (Ward, Henley, Lee) will play and train for Washington State next year.
So, yeah, Norvell wasn’t the only former pack coach to steal Nevada players this month.
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Wilson faces the largest and most complete rebuilding of the wolf pack since school brought the sport back after a year-long hiatus in 1952. But that was easy in 1952 compared to what Wilson will face in 2022.
The Pack, which did not have the funds to support big football in 1952 (according to Norvell, the program still does not have enough funds) simply canceled all scholarships and invited students to try their hand at the team 70 years ago. The pack only played five games in 1952 and 1953, and only went to street games (Idaho State, Davis, Fresno, and Chico State) where a full tank of fuel on a bus could carry them.
The pack couldn’t even afford a proper trainer from 1952 to 1954. Sporting director Jake Lawlor, a basketball coach, took over the program because he didn’t have the money to hire someone else. He only had one assistant coach (Hugh Smithwick), which is little less than Wilson now. This rebuilding in 1951 and 1952 left the wolf pack with a mediocre to terrible football program until Ault took over in 1976. Will the current reconstruction take that long?
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Be patient, Pack fans. Wilson has never done this before. In his three-decade coaching career, he was defensive coordinator for only a few years and for most of his coordinator years he was with a coordinator. He’s basically a 57-year-old linebacker coach who gets a head coach job because he meets the one criterion that sporting director Doug Knuth listed for the job: the selected candidate (Wilson was the only candidate) cannot leave.
Yes, the job of head coach in the wolf pack, like a Supreme Court judge, no longer has term limits. The only requirement is that you keep coming back to work. Does the pack really need that now or is it simply because Knuth no longer wants to deal with the hiring of a coach in his two most prominent sports? After all, basketball coach Steve Alford is under contract until the 2028/29 season. So give Wilson a chance. When the pack goes 2-10 next year, remember what it started with this winter. Given the expectations, the scholarship invested in the players and his salary (roughly $ 1 million a year), and the world we now live in, what-have-you-done-for-me, he is facing the most difficult job a rookie head coach has ever competed against each other in Wolf Pack history.
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The wolf pack would have had Chris Ault act as head coach in the bowl game. Imagine the interest in the game. Imagine the excitement for the players who would play for a pack legend. Ault would have loved it.
After all, the guy spent a couple of years teaching Italians how to wield the pistol. Don’t you think he would have had the chance to coach the pack one more time in a bowl game? You can bet he would have dumped the ball more than the 18 hits running backs Toa Taua and Devonte Lee got in Detroit. And you can bet the pack wouldn’t have been embarrassed by four touchdowns.
However, the pack missed a golden opportunity by not sending Ault to Detroit. Vai Taua is a nice guy, loves the pack, the players like him and he took the ball for his university as head coach in Detroit. But he was not qualified to lead the program last month. Taua has only been a full-time coach on the field for three years, and spent those three years coaching a position (running back) no less important to his head coach (Norvell). And now Wilson has already named Taua as his co-head coach. It seems a bit strange for a rookie head coach to have a relatively inexperienced coach as his assistant head coach. You’d think Wilson would have wanted a seasoned, grizzled veteran with more than two decades of coaching experience as assistant head coach. But then again, he has this guy (Ault) on his phone on speed dial.
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The biggest question in the new Wilson era is what offensive he will take. We have no idea what that offense was on Monday. It was sort of Air Raid Lite. Quarterback Nate Cox was mostly just running around trying to save his skin in the hopes that one of his wide receivers would open the fourth string.
It’s no wonder Carson Strong got himself out of this ridiculous (and gruesome) bowl game. Strong, who is about as quick as honey dripping from a jar, would probably have been discharged a dozen times on Monday.
Will Wilson hire Jim Mastro from Oregon and bring the gun back? Will he call former pack trainer Jeff Horton in San Diego state and ask him to revise Air Wolf’s 1993 offensive? The pack just doesn’t have a crime or the staff to carry out the airstrike, pistol, or air wolf at the moment. They don’t have the staff to operate wishbones, spreaders, wing-T’s, or even individual wings. The Pack, one of the most dynamic offensive schools in college football history, starts over on the offensive. An offensive coordinator will be Wilson’s key contributor.
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According to Internet reports, Wilson has hired a few of his Oregon colleagues. Nate Costa, Oregon’s chief offensive analyst for the past three years, will become the pack’s quarterback coach. Kwame Agyeman, who is in Oregon in his seventh year, will serve as defense co-ordinator. He has spent the past four years as a defensive analyst. There is no report that Wilson hired Mastro, who has been Oregon’s running game coordinator for the past four years and has trained at Washington State (with Wilson) and UCLA (2011) since his eleven-year career (2000-2000) from 2012 to 2017 has. 10) in Nevada under Chris Tormey and Ault. Mastro, like the pack’s former offensive coordinator Chris Klenakis, helped Ault develop the pistol and would fit perfectly in Nevada.
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Klenakis, who is a former Nevada offensive coordinator and offensive line coach and also bleeds silver and blue, would have been a good fit with Wilson’s wolf pack too. It was Wilson and Klenakis who were first hired as assistants in 2004 when Ault took on the program for the third time.
Like Wilson and Mastro, Klenakis has tremendous experience outside of Nevada. He has served as an assistant in Southern Mississippi, Central Missouri, Iowa State, Louisville, and other locations. But Klenakis was only recently hired as an offensive line coach at Liberty, which probably took him out of consideration for a Nevada job.
Don’t you think he wouldn’t have liked to go back to Nevada? He grew up in Fallon, trained at Gabbs High and Churchill County High and the Wolf Pack (1990-99, 2004-09). His father Tony gave Ault his first coaching job at Fallon High in 1968. However, Klenakis’ career has coached him at Florida A&M, South Alabama and now Liberty since he was fired in Louisville after pleading guilty to driving under the influence in August 2018.


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