Slide stumps
Nevada, Tormey

Ghosts of champions past
have increasingly impatient
Reno fans turning up the heat

RENO, Nev. >> Before you say it's just Nevada, that sports aren't really that important here, that they aren't very good, that there is no tradition, you need to visit a place called Tribute to Champions at Legacy Hall.

UH at Nevada

When: Tomorrow, 10:05 a.m., Hawaii time

Where: Mackay Stadium, Reno, Nev.

TV: Live, KFVE (Ch. 5)

Radio: Live, KKEA 1420-AM

Line: Hawaii favored by 3

Most of the names aren't all that familiar, but Nevada certainly owns its share of athletic accolades and honors. They are displayed in a new museum-like setting featuring Roman-style pillars that surround the photos, trophies and plaques.

And Nevada does have a strong football tradition, albeit in the Big Sky and Big West conferences, leagues that will never be mistaken for Big Time.

Legacy Hall is dominated by the achievements of the Wolf Pack under coach Chris Ault, a former Nevada quarterback who is now the athletic director. He is a member of the school's hall of fame, and the teams he coached went 163-63-1 with seven conference titles.

But Nevada's current coach, Chris Tormey, pulled off the biggest win in school history last month, when the Wolf Pack beat the big-name school he was once an assistant at: Washington. And those who saw it say the 28-17 win -- at Seattle -- was no fluke.

But now, the entire town is mystified by what has happened since. No one can explain the three-game slide. Not the poker dealer at the Reno Hilton, nor the counter girl at The Record Stop Cafe a block off campus.

Tormey could've been elected mayor a month ago when Nevada was 3-0 in the Western Athletic Conference and 5-2 overall. Now there are those who want Tormey to leave town if his team doesn't beat Hawaii tomorrow or Boise State on the road to end the season Nov. 29. That would be a tall order, even when Nevada was playing well.

The combined score of the three losses is 121-86.

Ault, who is Tormey's boss, and without intending to be, his albatross because of what he did when he was coach, said he will evaluate Tormey's performance at the end of the season.

"That's this profession," Tormey said after a team meeting and before practice yesterday. "You never know, you can never get too low, never get too high. You just have to focus on the next game and get ready to play and play as hard as you can."

Tormey said he can't explain why the Pack lost to Louisiana Tech, at Rice and against Fresno State after looking like contenders for the league title. It doesn't bode well for Nevada tomorrow that Hawaii, its final home opponent, has beaten all three of those teams.

"I don't know if there's any one or two things," Tormey said. "It's just a matter of making plays at crucial times of games. We haven't done that recently. We still have the same players who played against Washington. We're still capable of making big plays. We just have to make more plays."

Nevada's Chance Kretschmer has 1,034 rushing yards so far this season. The junior led the nation in rushing as a freshman.

Senior defensive end Jorge Cordova -- one of the most productive players in the nation in the first two months -- has gotten his body all over opposing quarterbacks with five of his 29 career sacks coming this season. But he can't put his finger on the reasons for Nevada's losing streak.

"I really have no answer for that," he said. "I have no idea what happened. We were on such a high. I guess our focus just disappeared. It's sad to be in this type of situation."

Running back Chance Kretschmer has 1,034 rushing yards, but not one definitive reason why Nevada hasn't been able to win lately.

"I don't know. Things just kind of fell apart," he said. "Everything looked good early in the season. But you've got to play all 11 or 12 weeks."

The Wolf Pack improved its record in the last two of Tormey's three seasons. Nevada was 2-10 in 2000, his first year, and finished 3-8 and then 5-7. The not-so-hushed whispers are that 5-7 again might not be good enough for Tormey to enjoy the final blooming of his first recruiting class.

Kretschmer is a junior who walked on at Nevada and was the nation's top rusher as a freshman in 2001. He wants to play his final season under Tormey. And he doesn't think the coach can turn things around; in his mind, Tormey already has.

"He's changed the program 180 degrees and he's a good guy to play for. It was tough going the first three years, but he's recruited good people and the future is bright. He's definitely tops on my list," Kretschmer said. "A lot of people are front-runners. They love you when you're winning, but when you're losing you're a bad man."

And even at Nevada, there are those who consider you a bad man if you can't live up to championships past.


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