LAS VEGAS (AP) — Marvin Menzies leaned in to the group and, intimating there was more of the story that could be told, asked with a laugh: “You want the off-the-record-version or the real version?”
One reporter was working on a story, so on the record it was.
UNLV’s first-year coach spent the next few minutes inside a Las Vegas hotel conference room describing the ruse he used to help convince San Diego State coach Steve Fisher to hire him as an assistant.
Menzies’ voice rose and fell with each plot twist, eyes gleaming, mischievous smirk growing to goatee-stretching belly laugh.
The story reached a perfect crescendo, spilling a roar of laughter from the room into the hallway.
The Menzies Effect at work.
“Marvin is instantly disarming as soon as you meet him. You feel like you have known him forever,” Fisher said. “He’s what you want someone to be.”
Menzies has a huge task in front of him, trying to turn around a UNLV program that’s still trying to regain the magic from the Jerry Tarkanian years.
Las Vegas teems with excitement when the Runnin’ Rebels are running and gunning, yet they haven’t given fans much reason to turn their attention toward the campus just east of The Strip.
Previous coach Dave Rice was a sharp basketball mind, a UNLV alum and had the ability to bring in some of the nation’s top recruiting classes.
But Rice did not win enough and may not have been flashy enough for a program had plenty of both under Tark the Shark.
Though not the first choice to run the Runnin’ Rebels — Chris Beard was initially hired, but bolted days later — Menzies may be the perfect person to run the show.
Like second-year UNLV football coach Tony Sanchez, Menzies knows the town, its people and the expectations of the job after working under Lon Kruger for a season.
Menzies knows basketball after working under Fisher and Rick Pitino, coaches who have both won national championships. He is a proven winner, leading New Mexico State to the NCAA Tournament five times in nine seasons.
The 55-year-old has plenty of recruiting chops, annually convincing some of the nation’s best players to play in Las Cruces.
And Menzies has a bit of showman in him, comfortable and confident enough to be the center of attention no matter where he is.
“Marvin would be a perfect fit anywhere,” Fisher said. “He’s happy in his own skin wherever he’s been.”
Menzies’ success comes, in part, from making people feel comfortable in theirs.
A natural talker, he’s like the life-of-the-party host who has guests in tears from a funny story, yet still makes sure everyone has what they need.
Menzies has an innate ability to make people, even strangers, feel comfortable around him. He nurtures those relationships by staying in touch with the people he’s met along the way, from former players, coaches, administrators to boosters.
“A lot of the success stories you have come from the relationships you have,” Menzies said. “I’ve done well and done right by the guys that I’ve had and can keep going back to that well.”
Creativity flows through every one of Menzies’ wells.
From his early days as a coach, he has never been afraid to go against the grain or take a risk if he believes something will work.
To get the job at San Diego State, Menzies hatched an elaborate plan — more on that later — and had a cartoonist draw a picture of Fisher, his assistant coach Brian Dutcher and Menzies together on the sideline of a game against UCLA. Above their heads were thought bubbles.
“Everybody is a true artist at heart; we’re all born with a certain level of creativity, a certain level of artistry,” he said. “If you trust your instincts and use your intuition and when you need to stay true to form, you can find some favorable results.”
Now, about that Fisher story.
The year was 1999 and Menzies was an assistant coach at Santa Monica College. Fisher was in town to visit a recruit and Menzies knew there was no way the coach who won a national championship at Michigan would notice a junior college assistant.
So Menzies hatched a plan.
He knew a local restaurant that was filled with waiters waiting to be actors and went in ahead of time, giving them his credit card and telling them to act like he was the most well-known person in town.
Menzies convinced Fisher to stop in for a bite while waiting for traffic to die down and the waiters put in Academy Award-winning performances, treating Menzies like Norm from “Cheers.” When Menzies whipped out his wallet — with no credit card in it — the waiters told him, “Coach, your money is no good here.”
Menzies looked like the king of Santa Monica and Fisher walked away impressed.
“We laughed about it after the fact,” Fisher said. “He wanted to make sure I had a good impression of him, but he didn’t have to do that.”
The Menzies Effect was already working.