Five Candidates to Replace Ken Wilson at Nevada

Ken Wilson is out at Nevada. Who are the best candidates to replace him at Reno? This list includes former head coaches and a UNR legend.

Ken Wilson, a longtime Nevada assistant who eventually got elevated to Wolf Pack head coach in 2022, has been fired by the university. The announcement came Friday morning.

Wilson went 4-20 overall while leading Nevada.

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Who Can Replace Ken Wilson at Nevada? Five Candidates to Watch

The 2023 Wolf Pack ended the season 2-10, culminating in a 42-6 romp at the hands of Wyoming. It also didn’t help Nevada by watching Fremont Cannon rival UNLV play for the Mountain West Conference title. By dismissing Wilson, Nevada will be parting ways with a coach with three different stints in Reno.

Wilson began as an outside linebackers coach in 1989 at UNR before moving to defensive coordinator from 1996 to 1998. His second stint went from 2004 to 2012. After spending 2019 to 2021 at Oregon, he returned to Nevada by replacing Jay Norvell in 2022.

Wilson won’t cost the university a hefty buyout. Only $1 million.

However, Nevada has been on the short end of the money. Which is why Jay Norvell, the last head coach to take the Wolf Pack bowling, left for a higher paycheck within the Mountain West Conference at Colorado State.

In tying into the lack of money, Nevada is also lacking in the facilities upgrade department.

However, the Wolf Pack has proven to field successful teams. Nevada has produced 14 bowl teams since 2005. That includes the 2010 ‘Pack team that rose to No. 11 overall and took down a previous top-five Boise State team. Norvell’s Nevada teams went to four straight bowl games before leaving for Fort Collins. Nevada has respectable recruiting territories to pluck from too, with Reno, the Bay Area of California, the Central Valley and Southern California to choose from.

So, who are considered the top fits for this newest MWC opening? Here are five names to watch.

Nick Rolovich, Former Hawaii and Washington State Head Coach

Nick Rolovich’s name has already surfaced for the opening and “could be in the mix.”

Rolovich, currently the offensive coordinator for the XFL’s Seattle Sea Dragons, would make a lot of sense. He was a past UNR offensive coordinator from 2012 to 2015. He then went on to produce three bowl teams at Hawaii, where he went 28-27 overall. Rolovich then had his controversial ending at Washington State in the truncated 2020 season due to refusing to be vaccinated for COVID-19, as the state of Washington required all state employees, including coaches, to get the vaccine.

Rolovich, however, sounds like he’ll get another crack at college football coaching with Nevada and New Mexico now open. Given his deep ties to the MWC, including Reno, he’s facing a strong chance of landing on the shortlist for UNR.

Ken Niumatalolo, Former Navy Head Coach

Rolovich may not be the only past head coach who becomes attached to this job.

Niumatalolo, who spent 2023 with UCLA as a special advisor, is another name likely to be linked to the ‘Pack. His name was already recently mentioned with the San Diego State opening before it went to Sean Lewis. Niumatalolo was fired at Annapolis, Maryland, following three consecutive losing seasons, including back-to-back 4-8 campaigns. However, he took the Midshipmen to 11 bowl games and won six contests. He compiled a 109-83 record there.

Given Reno’s growing Polynesian population, Niumatalolo would be a prime fit for UNR. Furthermore, Nevada can continue its trend of running option-style offenses with Niumatalolo on board. He’s another who could see a new head coaching opportunity in 2024.

Vai Taua, Assistant Head Coach/Running Backs

Say Nevada opts to promote from within. Taua makes the most sense — and would be rewarded for his longstanding loyalty to the university.

For starters, he remained in Reno when Norvell accepted CSU’s offer. He even served as interim head coach of UNR. Of course, Nevada fans remember him for being the hard-nosed, downhill running back who went on to rewrite the school rushing record books.

The biggest key will be what kind of assistants Taua can be able to lure into Nevada if he’s given the head coaching reins. But he’s a hard one to rule out, given his legacy on the campus.

Donte Williams, USC Defensive Backs Coach

Williams is another attractive name, continuing with the current theme of past UNR assistants.

In his early years, he held the defensive quality control role at Nevada in 2010 — during the ‘Pack’s 13-1 campaign. Nevada ended up becoming his first NCAA Division I opportunity. Since then, Williams has carved out a strong reputation as a stout recruiter and molder of stsndout DB play. Among his more recent creations is San Francisco 49ers starting cornerback Deommodore Lenoir — who Williams coached at Oregon from 2018 to 2019.

Williams went 3-7 on an interim basis at USC in 2021. He did make a run at a MWC opening before. He interviewed for Fresno State in 2021 before Jeff Tedford returned. UNR could be a strong first true head coaching gig for the 41-year-old if hired.

Brent Vigen, Montana State Head Coach

If a Football Championship Subdivision head coach is ready to “re-jump” to the FBS level, it’s Vigen.

He knows the MWC well, having spent 2014-2020 working as Wyoming’s offensive coordinator. That was also when when the Cowboys took in a lightly recruited quarterback named Josh Allen.

Vigen is currently 32-8 in Bozeman, Montana. And he has the Bobcats heading to the FCS playoffs against a team he helped build up once before in national power North Dakota State. If Nevada wants to siphon a current head coach, Vigen is the best option.

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