LAS VEGAS — Dave Rice knew there was pressure heading into this season. A third straight year of not making the NCAA Tournament would not go over well at UNLV, particularly with all the talent he had accumulated.
As the Runnin' Rebels' struggles reached a low point this weekend, the pressure became too much.
Rice, who served as an assistant coach under Dave Rose at BYU from 2005-11, resigned in the middle of his fifth season Sunday night, a day after UNLV lost its third straight game to open the Mountain West Conference season.
"I want to do what's right. I'm a team guy. My whole concern is for the players," Rice said. "Whether it was coming in as a player, an assistant coach or the head coach, I just wanted to be a part of something special."
Associate head coach Todd Simon will serve as interim coach for the rest of the season.
"Earlier today I met with Dave Rice and after discussing the direction of our season, we mutually agreed that it was time for a change," UNLV athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy said in a statement.
"Dave has had a great deal of success during his tenure as our head coach. He loves this University, this community and his players. He will always be a cherished member of the Runnin' Rebel family and we are grateful for all he has done for this program. However, being winless in conference play and losing five of the last six games is simply not good enough for Runnin' Rebel basketball."
Rice, a member of the Runnin' Rebels' 1990 national championship team, was expected to pick up where Lon Kruger left off when he headed to Oklahoma in 2011. Rice got off to a solid start, leading UNLV to the NCAA Tournament each of his first two seasons.
The Runnin' Rebels began to fall off after that.
UNLV went through a season of turmoil in 2013-14 to finish 20-13 and last season was hampered injuries and inconsistencies for an 18-15 finish.
Coaching at a history-rich program like UNLV, Rice knew he needed to win headed into this season, particularly with a solid group of returning players and a strong recruiting class, headed by 7-foot center Stephen Zimmerman.
The Runnin' Rebels looked decent early in the season, their only loss coming to UCLA in the Maui Invitational. But with Zimmerman battling injuries, UNLV was swept by Arizona State and Arizona, then struggled start Mountain West play. UNLV lost at home to Fresno State on Dec. 30 and followed with a dismal trip that included losses to Colorado State and Wyoming.
The 59-57 loss to the Cowboys on Saturday dropped the Runnin' Rebels to 9-7 overall and 0-3 in the conference.
Rice was 98-54, leaving Las Vegas with the third-most wins in program history. He will be paid the remainder of his base salary in a contract that spans the next three years, the university said.
"I want to thank Coach Dave Rice for all of his efforts," UNLV President Len Jessup said. "Unfortunately, the results on the court did not reflect the passion and dedication he has for the program. Dave is a role model as a person who has demonstrated professionalism throughout his tenure. This was not an easy decision but sometimes change is necessary to move forward."
Simon is in his third season at UNLV, where he had a previous stint as a video assistant under Kruger from 2004-06.
"The best message I can give to Runnin' Rebel fans is to come out and support these guys," Simon said.