Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

The Wolf of Virginia Street ~ New Coach on the Block

We're a little late this week, but it was all the better to regale you with as much perspective as is fit to print. Er, web publish.

The Bullet Points

  • But first, football! Wait, where are you going? This is a football take that’s actually good! At least, we think it’s good. Or hope it’s good. Yeah, that’s the right word for now. Doug Knuth made good on his desire to name a new head football coach within two weeks of “parting ways” with Brian Polian, and tabbed journeyman assistant coach Jay Norvell for the task. This came as something of a shock to fans who were under the impression the job was Beau Baldwin’s to lose. And I would know, because I was one of those fans. I even had a headline picked out for this week’s column with that assumption in mind: “Beau Knows.” Coupled with the one I would’ve written for what should’ve been the team’s win at Purdue back in September — “More like PurDON’T!” — and it’s clear the football gods think very little of my taste in headlines. Message received. In any case, Norvell saved the best interview for the last of the three known finalists for the job, and the rest is history.

  • When the news first leaked out courtesy of last Wednesday, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Getting your hopes up and heading down a path of certainty before getting yanked back in another direction can have that effect. And that’s unfair to Jay Norvell, as he made a positive first impression with fans at his introductory press conference. Well, mostly positive, as he made the old “Ne-VAH-da” mistake a couple of times after getting it right the first time. Yeah, there was an audible cringe in the room in response to that sound, but he the fact is that he grew up in the Midwest, and old habits die hard. In the time since then, I’ve warmed up to his hiring considerably, and the reasons can be tied to Nevada’s basketball coach, Eric Musselman. Like Muss, Norvell has a wide breadth of coaching experience across multiple levels, both as a player and a coach. Both men are lauded by their peers for their expertise, and greatly respected by the players who were coached by them. Both men are also making their debut as college head coaches, even though they probably could’ve easily used their respective connections to skip to the front of the proverbial line much earlier. And both men have a smoldering passion and infectious enthusiasm for their respective sports easily conveyed to fans, even in print form. In retrospect, it would’ve been surprising if Knuth had hired anyone BUT Norvell to lead the football team. If you’re still hesitant to be optimistic, consider this: Knuth brought a coach who had play-calling powers at Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas to town, and people were still slightly disappointed to hear about it. That’s a testament to Knuth’s ability to shift the paradigm of expectations at Nevada athletics. And compared to a lot of other head coaching hires in the last few weeks, that seems pretty spoiled of us. Would you rather have seen Brent Brennan hired here? I don’t think so.

  • Meanwhile on the hardwood, the basketball team picked up a pair of wins after a week of much-needed rest, starting with a high-scoring barn burner at Washington. It was one of those Mylanta chewing, “defense is for sissies” kind of games, with both teams lighting up the scoreboard with prodigious offensive displays. The Huskies shot nearly 11 percentage points better than Nevada, but free throws, rebounds and a slightly slower tempo ultimately won out for the visitors. Marcus Marshall all but carried the Pack on his back for long stretches of the night, finishing with a game-high 32 points and ending the game itself with a crazy, off-balance runner with 0.2 seconds left that earned the victory. The team followed that up by managing the rare feat of looking equally impressive and unimpressive in a 76-69 win over UC Irvine. Impressive yin: the 13 three pointers they made (10 in the first half alone) were a season high, and Jordan Caroline had what might’ve been the hardest-earned 15 points and 13 rebounds I’ve ever seen. Unimpressive yang: they clearly struggled to hang with the Anteaters in the paint, made barely half of their free throws, and had real trouble putting away the visitors all game long. Right from the opening tip, when the two teams went nearly seven minutes trading baskets with nary a whistle to be heard, it was a rousing, frustrating, frantic and disjointed performance all around.

  • Next up is a jaunt down to Las Vegas — the first of three such jaunts this season — for a pair of games against Towson and UC Santa Barbara in what will be a mostly empty South Point Arena. Where the Tigers have at least been mediocre, the Gauchos have been putrid, failing to beat a single D-I team in their eight regular season games thus far. They’re the latest entries in a string of what have turned out to be disappointing additions to the Pack’s schedule, and Mountain West play is unlikely to give them much help for an at-large bid. It’s getting to the point where every big deficit, scoring drought or defeat of any kind could seriously derail the team’s chances of dancing into March. On the bright side, at least that lackluster Mountain West slate increases the Pack’s chances of actually winning it all at the conference tournament, right? Right?

The Beer

Anchor Our Special Ale (San Francisco, California) ~ You know a beer is going to be hard to pin down when even its name can’t seem to be agreed upon. I’ve seen places that call this one “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,” “Christmas Ale” and “Our Special Ale,” and technically, none of them are wrong. The recipe and the label for each year’s version both get updated, and I still look forward to re-trying it with fresh eyes — er, taste buds. OSA poured dark brown, almost black, with minimal head in my glass. It smelled faintly of molasses and fruitcake, the latter of which might come as either a pleasant or unpleasant surprise, depending on your personal tastes. I liked it fine enough, and the taste got even better from there, with caramel malt and lightly spiced chocolate flavors making for a lovely combination. The whole thing was smooth and medium-bodied, finishing unobtrusively. The only real complaints I had were the relative lack of carbonation, and not being able to pick out each of the flavors mentioned in the retail description. Other than that, this is a great entry in their OSA series, and is worth a try whether you’re familiar with it or not. I give it four tipsy Wolfies out of five.

All fan mail (burning or otherwise) can be sent to:

Andrew Maurins

c/o North RV Lot

Campus of THE University of Nevada

Reno, NV 89557

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