LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- The University of Nevada, Las Vegas football program is mourning the loss of former player and head coach Wayne Nunnely who died at the age of 68.

“We are saddened to learn of the passing of former head coach Wayne Nunnely,” said UNLV Director of Athletics Desiree Reed-Francois. “He was a role model as our only football alumnus to later become head coach and was truly blessed to have touched so many lives while teaching the sport he loved for nearly four decades.”  

Nunnely had a rich legacy while attending and playing at UNLV. He is the only player in the football program's history to become a rebel head coach.

The former Rebel fullback transferred to UNLV in 1972 after playing junior college football in California. He began coaching at UNLV as a graduate assistant in 1976 after serving as a high school coach at Valley High School.

Nunnely continued coaching on the West Coast and spent time at Cal Poly Pomona (1977-78), Cal State Fullerton (1979) and Pacific (1980-81). He returned to Las Vegas and coached running backs in 1982.

After several years as the Rebels running back coach, Nunnely was given the interim head coaching job in 1986. With UNLV giving the interim title to Nunnely, he became the first Black head coach on the West Coast and the fifth in NCAA Division One history.

As the leader of the Rebels' football program, Nunnely lead UNLV to a 17-7 victory over Wisconsin in front of a packed Sam Boyd Stadium. The win over one the Big Ten's most notable football programs was enough to land Nunnely full-time head coaching job. In addition to the upset win over the Badgers, Nunnely coached legendary running back Icky Woods to the 1987 rushing title that tallied 1658 yards.

Nunnley was apart of another historic moment in 1988 when the Rebels played the University of Ohio. That game pinned two Black head coaches against each other for the first time on the FBS-level.

Barriers were broken with Nunnely until 1989 when he stopped coaching the Rebels. He tallied a 19-25 record during his four year stint on the sidelines.

Following a short stint as UNLV's director of minority student affairs, Nunnely felt the urge to coach again. He stayed on the West Coast, and found himself coaching in the Pac-12 conference in the early 1990s. 

Nunnely's coaching career took him to National Football League. He spent time with Denver Broncos as their defensive line coach, the then San Diego Charges and New Orleans Saints.

After 36 years of roaming the professional and collegiate sidelines, Nunnely hung up his whistle. 

 “It has been an absolute dream come true for me to coach for 36 years,” Nunnely said at the time of his retirement and before becoming a regular visitor to the UNLV campus. “I am so thankful for all the opportunities I have been given to have a positive impact on others through the game of football.”

Wayne Nunnley is survived by his wife Velda, three sons, Steve, Channing, Aaron, and daughter Amber.

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