When Ron Meyer came to Las Vegas to coach the UNLV Rebels, he took over a young program. The University of Nevada-Las Vegas, as it’s known, hadn’t even been open for 20 years. The football program only started in 1968. Meyer took the reins in 1973 as the second head coach in the program’s history.
Coming straight from the Dallas Cowboys, this would be the 32-year-old’s first head coaching gig at the collegiate level. He would, of course, go on to greater fame (and probably infamy) at SMU, before taking a couple of turns in the NFL ranks.
Most people will likely remember Meyer for his Pony Express efforts at SMU. Some might remember him as the New England Patriots Head Coach. It’s even possible that some people will remember his stint as Chicago Enforcers Head Coach for the XFL.
No matter, few will likely remember what he did at UNLV. However, if it wasn’t for his Rebels teams, we likely wouldn’t be talking about what he did after that.
Meyer had experience, but not nearly as much as he’d gain coaching UNLV. He served several seasons as an assistant at Purdue, where he walked on as a defensive back. He received a few accolades during his playing days at Purdue Most notably, Meyer received the prestigious Big Ten Medal of Honor.
Just after college, Meyer scored his first head coaching gig at Penn High School in Mishawaka, Indiana. From there, that led to the assistant coaching gig, which he would take full advantage of and build himself up for the future.
Just prior to coming to Vegas, Meyer spent a couple of seasons as a scout for the Dallas Cowboys.
This wasn’t that big Division I job that everyone always wants. It wasn’t even a big school. At that time, UNLV played as a small college, at the Division II level. They weren’t even part of a conference.
Meyer took over for Bill Ireland, who started the new program strong with an 8-1 record in its inaugural season. However, the team never replicated its success and in ’72, Ireland’s final season, the team went 1-10.
In all three seasons that Meyer coached at UNLV, he led the Rebels to a winning record. His best season, by far, took place in 1974. But the signs looked good for the team during Meyer’s first year in ’73.
The Rebels knocked off Marshall and Boise State, the latter of whom would go on to win the Big Sky. The Rebels finished 8-3 but missed out on the playoffs.
It would be the 1974 season that would give the Rebels their first appearance in the playoffs. The team went undefeated in the regular season, defeating Boise State and Idaho State along the way. The Rebels even climbed the rankings, reaching second in both the AP and UPI small school polls.
In the first round of the playoffs, UNLV scored a 35-22 victory over Acorn State. That would get them into the Grantland Rice Bowl, or the D-2 semifinals, where they’d face the Delaware Blue Hens.
UNLV got on the board early with a field goal. However, Delaware scored 42 unanswered points, led by the two-pronged rushing attack by Vern Roberts and Nate Beasley, who combined to score five touchdowns. The Blue Hens went on to win the game 49-11.
Even with the loss, the Rebels finished sixth in the country in the final AP Poll. The 12 wins that season was the best in program history.
Meyer stayed one more season before going to Dallas to be the head coach at SMU. Ironically, Meyer returned 19 years later to coach a season for the Las Vegas Posse, which was a CFL expansion team.
Ron Meyer will always be connected with his coaching jobs post-UNLV. He’ll be remembered for his time at SMU as well as with the New England Patriots. But those weren’t his only moments. It’s always nice to get an idea of where someone starts. That connection for UNLV with Meyer will always be there.