Nevada coach Chris Ault admitted to a bit of apprehension Monday when a local broadcaster who also works as a sheriff's deputy showed up at the annual football media day in his deputy's uniform.
"I see uniforms around, I get a little nervous," Ault joked.
Ault is keeping his sense of humor and his players say they are keeping their chins up despite the defection of several teammates over the summer and the recent arrests of three others - one for bank robbery.
"I'm excited about getting this program back on its feet," said Ault, who is beginning a third stint as head coach of the Wolf Pack after serving the past eight years as athletic director.
"It's been tough. But any time you've got cancer, you cut it out and you just move forward," he said about dismissing the three players facing criminal charges.
Sophomore cornerback Rodney Landingham was arrested Thursday on suspicion of robbing a bank, and police said he later admitted to three other armed robberies in Reno this summer.
On July 30, junior defensive end Brenton Kendrick and sophomore cornerback Steven Murphy were arrested on multiple drug charges in downtown Reno.
Ault said it is fortunate the arrests occurred before camp began Monday.
"Unfortunately, many suffered for a few. But there are some good young people on this squad," Ault said.
"It's good you find that out before you start, before you start going in the trenches and going after people," he said.
The arrests have overshadowed Nevada's lineup on the field, where the Wolf Pack return 12 starters from the team that finished 6-6 last year, 4-4 in the Western Athletic Conference.
Several team leaders said the Wolf Pack may ultimately benefit from the controversy off the field.
"Now that it has happened, I think we are a closer knit group," said Talib Wise, a fifth-year senior who is moving from running back to flanker this year.
"It's best that it all happened before camp started so we don't have to make changes later in our game plan," he said.
Quarterback Andy Heiser and defensive end J.J. Milan said the arrests embarrassed the team.
"I think the reaction was that we're glad they are off the team. We got rid of three bad eggs and we're ready to move on," Heiser said.
"They made us look bad. They shouldn't be here," Milan said.
Ault is Nevada's winningest coach with a record of 163-3-1 from 1976-92, and 1994-95. School president John Lilley hired him in December less than a week after Ault fired coach Chris Tormey after a season-ending loss at Boise State, 56-3.
The Wolf Pack open the 2004 season Sept. 6 with a 10 a.m. (PDT) kickoff at Louisiana Tech in a special WAC opener on Labor Day televised by ESPN2.
Nevada's is led by senior running back Chance Kretschmer, who led the NCAA with 1,732 yards rushing as a freshman. He missed most of his sophomore season with a knee injury, but ran for 1,162 yards last year.
Harvey Dahl, a junior from Fallon who is on the watch list for the Lombardi Award given to the NCAA's top offensive linemen, leads an improved offensive line. Ault said three other quarterbacks are competing with Heiser for playing time - sophomore Jeff Rowe, who played in three games last year, sophomore Travis Moore and freshman Ben Galbraith.
Defensive tackle Chris Barry and Milan will anchor the defensive line, which lost Derek Kennard Jr. and Jorge Cordova, who signed with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.
But the recent arrests combined with Marlon McLaughlin's decision to leave the team makes the already-thin secondary even thinner.
"The secondary is depleted. That is my number one concern right now," Ault said.
McLaughlin, a three-year starter at cornerback, is among six players who have quit since Ault took over in December.
Ault dismissed wideout Willie Johnson and cornerback Randy Landingham, Rodney Landingham's brother. Three others Wolf Pack players have had their careers ended by injuries - linebacker Logan Carter and defensive backs Kevin Ernst and Ekene Agwuenu.