Nevada athletic director Chris Ault, the winningest football coach in school history, agreed Wednesday to return to the head coaching job a third time to try to snap a five-year streak without a winning record.
School president John Lilley announced the move at a campus news conference with Gov. Kenny Guinn three days after Ault fired Wolf Pack Coach Chris Tormey, whose best record in four seasons was this year's 6-6.
Ault, 57, won seven conference championships and posted a 163-63-1 record during 19 seasons at Nevada from 1976-92 and 1994-95.
"His record and his reputation proceed him," Lilley said Wednesday.
"It's not very often you get a chance to appoint a guy coach who already is in the College Football Hall of Fame," Lilley said.
"This is a time I think he can take us to the next level. He can and he will."
A record-setting quarterback in his playing days at Nevada in the 1960s, Ault was elected to the hall of fame last year.
Twice he was selected the national coach of the year in NCAA Division I-AA. His teams were known for high-powered passing offenses before he stepped down from the job a second time in 1995 and became just the athletic director in 1996 - a job he'd held since 1986.
"I'm not coming back because I feel I have anything to prove," Ault said Wednesday. "I'm coming back because I think I can make a difference."
"It's what I think I do best. I am privileged to have the honor and the opportunity to end my career where it began, here at the University of Nevada," he said.
Ault intends to resign as athletic director but will serve as interim AD until a replacement is hired. He said he'll retain three coaches from Tormey's staff - recruiting coordinator and running backs coach Jim Mastro, tight ends coach Cameron Norcross and defensive line coach Barry Sacks.
He vowed to return to a "wide-open, attack-style offense" and try to recruit more "impact players."
"There will be no excuses," Ault said. "I know I can coach. This isn't about Xs and Os, though that is the fun part. This is about attitude.
"I'm optimistic we've got a nucleus here to build on," he said.
Lilley said Ault had started reviewing dozens of potential candidates when Lilley approached him Monday evening about the job.
"I have to admit no one is more surprised about this than I," Lilley told reporters during the news conference at Legacy Hall.
He said he asked Ault if he might be interested in stepping down as athletic director to become coach "fully expecting him to say, `no.'
"To my utter astonishment, he said, `Could be.' ... I was thrilled," Lilley said.
Ault said his lifestyle is in for a big change as he returns to the long days of coaching, going from "that expensive wine and cheese" world of athletic directors "back to beer and pizza.
"And I'm damn glad to be having beer and pizza again," he said.
Guinn said he's known Ault since the Wolf Pack coach tried more than 20 years ago to recruit his son, Jeff Guinn, who went on to play linebacker at Arizona State.
"I'm kind of happy to see him do this because he won't be over at the Legislature next year" seeking more money for the university, Guinn joked.
Reno Mayor Bob Cashell and state Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio also attended the news conference.
Ault announced Tormey's firing on Sunday after the Wolf Pack closed the season with a 56-3 loss at No. 18 Boise State, going 1-4 down the stretch to finish 6-6 overall and 4-4 in the Western Athletic Conference.
Ault cited Tormey's overall record of 16-31 and failure to beat in-state rival UNLV as factors in his decision. The loss to Boise State was the deciding factor, he said.
"That was tough to sit through," Ault said. "We used to handle Boise. The roles are reversed and I don't like it.
Tormey came to Nevada after posting a 33-23 record as head coach at Idaho from 1995 to 1999.