Royce Writes: Chub Drakulich
Feb. 22, 2012
This is the first in a special series of three stories looking back at some of the people who helped build UNLV Athletics. A member of the Nevada Press Association Hall of Fame and Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame, the author retired in 2004 after 37 years as a Las Vegas sports writer. This story originally ran in The Ely Times and is posted here with permission.
By Royce Feour (Rfeour@aol.com)
The reason I volunteered to write this series is the chance to remember and write about such outstanding people as Michael "Chub" Drakulich, who was born in Kimberly and grew up in McGill.
Drakulich was literally the founder of the athletics program at UNLV, which was known as Nevada Southern University when he became the program's first basketball coach in 1958.
Drakulich, who died in 2004 at the age of 80, truly deserved the description of the "Founding Father" for Rebels athletics as the school's first athletic director, first baseball coach and first golf coach in addition to being the first basketball coach.
He also hired Bill Ireland, a fellow McGill native, to start the Rebels first football season in 1968. It's hard to have many more "firsts" in Rebel athletics than Drakulich, a 1942 graduate of White Pine High School.
I first met Drakulich when he was the basketball coach when Rancho High School began play in 1954. He came down from Churchill County High School in Fallon.
I covered high school sports for the Las Vegas Review-Journal in Drakulich's years of coaching at Rancho while I was still a student at Las Vegas High School. Chub was cooperative and treated me with respect, even though I was just a kid.
Drakulich moved up to Nevada Southern University to start the school's first basketball program from scratch. There's an expression about doing something on a "shoestring," but Chub did just that at NSU. He started with nothing and had to come up with the most basic necessities, such as players and a schedule.
Drakulich's daughter, Terry Miller-Newcomb, recalls, "Dad would reminisce about the early years of the basketball program and laugh about the $10,000 budget, making phone calls to Nellis Air Force Base to secure a team to fill out the season schedule, getting uniforms, equipment and station wagons for travel."
The Rebels played that first season at Dula Center, playing the historic first game against College of Southern Utah and losing, 57-52. In fact, NSU lost its first nine games before winning its first game at Nellis AFB, 52-47. That fact could win you a bet. Who did the Rebel basketball team beat for their first victory?
NSU finished that first season with a 5-13 record, with wins coming over Nellis, Long Beach Navy (twice) and the University of Nevada freshmen team (twice). As a student at the University of Nevada in Reno, I made sure to come down for the two games against the new Rebel squad.
NSU improved to 13-8 in its second season under Chub.
The star on the first three Rebel basketball teams was Bernie Fumagalli, a product of Basic High School. Fumagalli was a very good player who was voted No. 42 on the all-time Top 100 Rebel basketball players in a poll by the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2010.
"Without Chub it would have never happened," he said. "He just did a great job. He was really a salesman. He was the driving force behind it. He was the Father of Rebel basketball. He was a good man. His players loved Chub."
Drakulich was the head basketball coach for five seasons, compiling a 68-45 record, including a stellar 21-4 mark in his final season in 1962-63.
Chub started baseball in 1961 with no players on scholarship, according to Dan Taylor who pitched on that team. The first team, which was led by Jerry Goyeneche, went 4-11.
Taylor had come back from the Korean War and was an "old" player at 28.
Taylor, now a retired insurance man, said, "Chub was a patient man. He was a guy you could talk to and work out your problems. He worked with you on the field and off the field. He was interested in our lives."
Marc Ratner, the vice president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and former executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission, said, "Chub was fun to be around. I enjoyed being around him. He was just a good, good guy. I thought he did a good job as athletic director."
Drakulich coached baseball until 1965 and then took over as head golf coach in 1966 through 1987.
He retired as athletic director in 1973. He was most deservedly inducted into the UNLV Athletics Hall of Fame in 1987 as a member of the first class.
As a member of the UNLV Athletics Hall of Fame Selection Committee, I remember Chub making one of the most impassioned speeches I ever heard on behalf of inducting that first Rebel basketball team of 1958-59. Drakulich's first team was inducted despite its losing record.
Miller-Newcomb said "A visiting nurse asked him what he'd like to do if he felt a little better and he said, `Well, I'd like to go to another Rebel (basketball) game.' He loved watching the Rebels play and walking into either the Convention Center or the Thomas & Mack being greeted by dozens of old fiends saying, `Hi coach or Hi Chub.'"
Miller-Newcomb also said, "The night before he died, out of the blue, he said, `You know, I'm the luckiest guy alive. Along my career there was always someone there giving me good advice or suggesting I try something out.' He often talked about his mentor, Jake Lawlor of Reno. Jake told him to move to Las Vegas and take the teaching and coaching job at Rancho High School, knowing that plans for NSU were in the works."
Drakulich served in the U.S. Army in World War II and was graduated from Nevada in 1948. He played professional baseball for the Reno Silver Sox in the 1950s.