Wayne Nunnely, the only Black head football coach in UNLV history and only alumnus to ascend to that position, died at 68. No cause of death was given.
Nunnely’s teams went 19-25 from 1986 to 1989. He played fullback for UNLV in 1972.
“Graduating from UNLV was one of the highlights of my life, and coming back as its head coach was the greatest point in my career at the time,” Nunnely told the Review-Journal in 2008.
He also invented a football on a stick, called The Snapper, that many defensive line coaches use in practice.
When UNLV named Nunnely the interim coach in 1986 after Harvey Hyde was fired, he became the first Black head coach on the West Coast and the fifth in Division I history.
“He was a great recruiter and a great coach,” said Steve Stallworth, the quarterback on that team and now the South Point Arena general manager. “He brought in Kirk Jones and Ickey Woods, just some great running backs.”
Woods led the nation in rushing in 1987 with 1,658 yards.
Nunnely’s UNLV coaching highlight came his first season in a 17-7 victory over Wisconsin at Sam Boyd Stadium. That victory earned him the position on a full-time basis.
Before a 1987 game against UNR, Nunnely was disappointed with what he thought was a lackluster warmup. He told the players he would coach the first half in uniform. Nunnely stayed true to his word, and UNLV took a 21-3 halftime lead in what became a 24-19 victory.
Nunnely later coached running backs at Southern California in 1991 and 1992 and the defensive line at UCLA in 1993 and 1994.
Then he embarked on an NFL career, coaching the defensive line for the New Orleans Saints (1995-96), San Diego Chargers (1997-2008) and Denver Broncos (2009-11).
It was while with the Saints that Nunnely invented The Snapper because he had knee problems. The device allowed him to stay on his feet while directing the defensive linemen in drills. Nunnely began selling The Snapper out of his garage while with the Chargers.
He is survived by his wife Velda, sons Steven, Channing and Aaron, and daughter Amber.