To put it simply, Randell Cunningham is a Vegas legend. He brought UNLV football to its first Division I bowl game in school history and won it 30-13 against the Toledo Rockets in 1984. Cunningham is responsible for the only season in which UNLV has ever won over 10 games. UNLV eventually forfeited the season because they supposedly used ineligible players during the season although the NCAA doesn’t acknowledge their forfeit. It is interesting to note that these ineligible players were not played during that bowl game. Randell’s 148.4 passer rating in his Junior season is comparable to Derek Carr’s 50 touchdown season with a 156.3 passer rating back in 2013. Randell was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2016. He would then be drafted in the second round for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1985 NFL draft. He played for them for 11 seasons before going having his best season with the Vikings in 1998 in which he set a record for most points in the regular season at the time. He was a pioneer of his time having so much success running with his legs that certainly influenced players like Lamar Jackson that we watch today.
Randall Cunningham offers his opinion as to why he believes the UNLV football program has struggled to win football games:
“You look now at the last season we played (last winning season) 82’ I think it was and we went 11-2, we set many records and did many things. After that point, there were many things that went on for the whole school. Just a lot of things that weren’t good with the NCAA. I think we went through a time of having to recheck and try to figure out a new way of doing things. A lot of changing of face. With what Desiree is doing, we are turning things around. It’s a place now where people want to come back to UNLV.”
Desiree was counting her blessings when a deal to have UNLV play in the new Raiders stadium was announced. That public attention was probably the biggest reason that Marcus Arroyo came to UNLV. If he can take UNLV to a bowl game, I have no doubt that he will leave the school for a big SEC coaching vacancy. I can’t say that I blame him either. He was very successful as the offensive coordinator for Oregon I don’t believe this job was ever his main objective. While I admire his appreciation for Desiree, I am trying to look at the situation with a more realistic mindset.
Sharp asks Cunningham:
“Do you think that Sam Boyd stadium itself and the fact that it was almost 25 minutes away from campus was a deterrent?”
“I don’t think that’s necessarily the case because when we were winning, we were getting 20,00 way back then and there were only 10,000 students in the school.”
Winning programs are always going to garnish a lot of attention especially now with social media. To say that Sam Boyd stadium isn’t a deterrent is simply wrong. Sam Boyd is in an inconvenient location. It’s as if the football team is associated to the school by name only. Most colleges have their stadiums within the campus grounds and students plan their weekends around the game. Since UNLV is already a commuter school, the extra drive into Henderson almost guarantees that not a lot of people are not going to go.
Cunningham had this to say when asked about whether he had been reached out to prior to this hiring:
“Let me go this route. There were so many people that said ‘Randall would you be our head coach for a dollar’. I really put a lot of consideration for that. It was years backs. It was to the point that they did come to me but starting a new church and trying to recruit and everything like that didn’t allow it to happen. The other thing I wanted to say was that when Marcus called me, he said hey ‘bro this is Marcus’. I want you to be involved. I want to see your face.”
UNLV loves to hire former players to major roles within its sports programs. It’s never a good idea. I’m sure Cunningham has a bevy of valuable football knowledge but has never coached at the collegiate level. To ask someone to take on that role while also inherently asking them to increase attendance is unfair. I’m sure Cunningham felt the same way. It was nice to hear that coach Arroyo is getting Cunningham involved in the right way. Instead of asking him to be in a pressured position, he reached out to him and asked him to be just be a part of the program. He could be a huge source of inspiration for the team.
Sharp asked Randell how he would feel if Marcus reached out to him and asked him to take on the quarterback coaching job:
“I would strongly consider it, but I am not expecting that call. I think he knows what he wants to do. I think that if I wasn’t pastoring a church it would be more of an opportunity, but I think he has already been thinking about coaching. In his mind, I’m sure he already has the pieces to the puzzle.
Cunningham is absolutely right. While it would be great to see the headlines of Cunningham being hired by UNLV, it’s not the right decision. Coach Arroyo is trying to build his own staff of people that he already knows. He is going to have to change a lot about this program and he needs people who already fit his system. The quarterbacking coach is going to an extremely important position for UNLV. Arroyo is not going to have a Justin Herbert at his disposal so he will need someone who can really develop of a 3-star level recruit and I don’t think Cunningham has that kind of coaching knowledge right now.
Cunningham was asked if players ever discussed the point spread going into games:
“No. It wasn’t anything I was involved in. You know I didn’t get involved in sports gambling. A lot of things going on in the media kept us from that. You could really get in trouble and lose your job.
I can believe that Cunningham has stayed away from gambling talk, but I have no doubt that it has been a prominent topic in many NFL locker rooms. The internet has propelled gambling to new heights and I’m sure all NFL players are aware of point spreads going into games. I guarantee this has affected players returning meaningless fumbles and retuning pick sixes knowing that the line could shift with their score. We have seen it way too many times over the past couple of years for it to be a coincidence.
Cunningham gave his opinion on whether he believed mobile quarterbacks were the future of the NFL:
“No. It’s dangerous in the pocket but it’s not as dangerous as when I played. They could blow your knees out and your shoulder. Our defense in Philly was ferocious and they used to put quarterbacks out every single game. Dudes could lay you out if you run as a quarterback now. In the pocket they can’t even touch your legs. I would have played totally different it I had the rules they have now. Lamar is no doubt that the best running quarterback in the history of the NFL.”
It’s amazing that Cunningham was able to play until age 38 in the NFL. Quarterback safety was nonexistent. A lot of the times he was running for his life. You can have a much more prolonged career in football now if you primarily stay in the pocket. Additionally, most quarterbacks are not built to have a run heavy season. There is a reason that the majority of running backs only have 4 or 5 good seasons. Even Cam Newton’s body is starting to feel the effects of his power running play style. Lamar Jackson, on the other hand, is much smarter when it comes to running. He does not often lower his helmet and look for contact. He run style is much more akin to Michael Vick. The biggest part of Jackson’s success is his passing game. He improved substantially in that category. It has allowed him to run the ball much more effectively considering how well his deep ball has developed. A runner of his talents is much more generational rather than yearly.