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With Kugler gone and Price in, what’s to come of UTEP football?


If you were to tell anyone who knows the slightest thing about UTEP football that at the start of the season Athletic Director Bob Stull would retire, Sean Kugler would resign after starting 0-5—firing offensive coordinator Brent Pease along the way—and Mike Price, 71, would come out of retirement to serve as the interim head coach, they would say that you are probably ridiculous.

Well that ridiculousness has turned into a reality.

After UTEP lost its fifth consecutive game this past Saturday to Army 35-21, Stull and Kugler mutually agreed that it would be best for Kugler to resign as head coach of the program.

Kugler played for the Miners in the ‘80s and served as an assistant coach in the ‘90s. UTEP hired him for his first head coaching position, in which he coached a grim 18-36 record in four and almost a half a season.

Currently, the Miners have been outscored by their opponents 226-72 and were ranked last in the FBS in offense and rushing yards last week. This is the first time since 1992 that the Miners are 0-5.

Throughout these five games, he used words like “disappointing” and “tough loss” repeatedly. He told the media that he would never give up on his team as long as he was the head coach.

During the weekly press conference on Monday, Oct. 2, Stull stated that he didn’t have some sort of grand plan to fire Kugler after a rough start, contrary to popular speculation. Kugler resigned on his own after an extensive meeting with Stull.

“I didn’t wake up (Sunday) morning expecting to be in this situation,” Stull said. “I don’t believe in making changes until the end of the season. But no one cares more for UTEP than Sean… We agreed the best thing for him to do was to step down.”

During the weekly press conference, Stull first said that it would be a “50-50” chance they would hire someone internally, then quickly corrected himself after, saying it would be a “85 percent” chance they would.

That 15 percent was filled as soon as Stull offered retired coach Price the job as interim head coach.

“I was surprised and flattered by Bob’s call and appreciate the opportunity to help this program one more time,” Price said in a press release.  “I am not interviewing for the future job, and I’m not going to be the future head coach.  I’m going to manage the program and provide leadership for the rest of the year.”   

Recently taking over as offensive coordinator for the Miners after Pease was fired, Brian Natkin has turned the UTEP offense around. This made him one of the likely contenders for the job.

“I wouldn’t consider it a slap in the face (when Price was named interim head coach) but I expressed what I felt was best for our team,” Natkin said. “We know our team better than everyone on campus. But we can’t sit here like ‘boo-hoo,’ we have to focus on what’s next.”

In the 35-21 loss to Army, UTEP amassed their season-high of 152 yards on the ground and 16 first downs. The offense was led by running back Quadraiz Wadley, who picked up 156 yards on the ground, making it his career best.

“We’re going to run,” Natkin said. “No one is going to talk me out of that. It might be an unpopular opinion, but it’s what we do here at UTEP.”

Quarterback Ryan Metz went out in the first half with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, and he will be out for a couple weeks. Zack Greenlee will take the starting gig for the team.

On becoming the interim head coach, Natkin said he does not play into the politics involved and trusts that whoever it is will be a good decision.

“We lost our head man, our leader, so there’s no politicizing for whoever it is,” Natkin said. “I’m not going to go out of my way to beg for a job. Whatever is the best situation, we’ll do whatever we can to be competitive.”

Similarly, defensive coordinator Tom Mason said he does not care who’s called to be Kugler’s temporary replacement, as long as it was someone from within the staff.  In his 39 years of coaching, Mason believed he brought the most history to the table. He actually was an interim head coach on two separate occasions at SMU and Boise State.

Now, the experience he had will not be at the forefront as the interim head coach.

However, Mason did touch on the fact that the job brings a lot of challenges, and the biggest one being the task to unite the team.

“It’s the biggest challenge,” Mason said. “Being the interim guy, you have to get them something to fight for—get things back to normal.”

But the team is far from normal. Disregarding both Natkin and Mason’s wishes, Stull made the phone call to bring in Price.

Price will conduct the team’s first practice with the team on Wednesday morning and will meet with the team tomorrow afternoon.

He was head coach at UTEP from 2004-12 and took the Miners to three bowl games—2004, 2005 and 2010. He’s 177-183 all-time as a head coach.

He was named National Coach of the Year in 1997 as he coached an illustrious career with Washington State from 1989-2002. He also coached at Weber State from 1981-88.

“I’ve asked Mike if he could help us in this situation,” Stull said in a press release.  “He has thankfully agreed.  We’ve lost two coaches, and while we have two fine coordinators who are capable of doing the job, I just felt like it was important to bring in somebody with head coaching experience that is familiar with El Paso and our program.”

Reflecting on Kugler Stull and the two coordinators characterized Kugler as an emotional coach and always being there for the players–that his drive for the program was what made the news so shocking for the staff.

“Extremely difficult situation that we’re in,” Natkin said. “One of the major reasons I came to this university was because of him. He’s a Miner. No one wanted to turn this program around more than him. He gave everything he had to it and unfortunately, it wasn’t good enough. He’s already missed.”

Like Natkin, Mason thought the news came out of nowhere. They both felt Kugler acted normal after the Army loss and they didn’t expect him to resign.

“It gets to the point where the losses start to weigh on you and you have to step down,” Mason said. “It’s always hard on these kids. He’s a strong leader. If you’re 18-22 years old, you’re not going to challenge Sean Kugler They’ve got to know we have to move on.”

Natkin’s appreciation of Kugler stems from his loyalty to the program and how he held his players accountable on and off the field.

“We lost someone who was not only a head coach, but also some of these players’ male role model,” Natkin said. “It’s okay to be sad, I’ve done that. You have to continue plugging and move on.”

Homecoming showdown

Squaring off against returning Conference USA champions Western Kentucky couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time for the Miners.

The Hilltoppers are well rested, coming off a significant bye week for their program. Although they’re 2-2, (0-1 C-USA), Western Kentucky has put up impressive numbers against some quality opponents thus far.

After beating Ball State 33-21, the Hilltoppers fell short in a close battle to LA Tech, 23-22. Then they beat out the likes of Eastern Kentucky 31-17, and fell to Illinois 21-7 on Sept. 16.

What makes this team so elite is their exceptional play from quarterback Mike White, who has the ability to make big plays through the air. He’s put up 1,047 passing yards thus far with two touchdowns, ranking third in C-USA for total passing yards and yards per game (261.8).

His two main targets include Nacarius Fant and Lucky Jackson. While Fant leads the team with 21 total receptions, Jackson tops the team in receiving yards, totaling 253 so far.

“He’s (White) probably going to be one of the best quarterbacks we face all year, with the exception of the quarterback from Oklahoma (Baker Mayfield),” Mason said.

This will be the first time Western Kentucky comes into the Sun Bowl as the Miners will host them for the 86th Homecoming Game on Saturday, Oct. 7.

The Miners are 38-46-1 all-time in homecoming games and desperate for their first win of the season.

Despite the mishaps and tough start, Stull encourages fans to help the team this season.

“Every school across the country has ups and downs,” he said. “We don’t need to get down. We need great people to rally behind us. It’s tough when you aren’t winning–not just here, but everywhere else.”

Offensively, Wadley showed against Army that he has the capability to turn this team’s offensive struggle around with his skills running the ball.

Natkin alluded to using Wadley at his upmost advantage throughout the rest of the season and wants to continue to run him.

If Metz is still out, Zach Greenlee is most likely going to be the Miners’ backup due to his poise against Army.

Ultimately, the coaching staff shows that they do not want to make excuses anymore and want to produce wins down the stretch.

“We’re making steps in the right direction, but we lost (against Army),” Natkin said. “We have to get together and get a plan going.”

Kickoff between UTEP and WKU is slated for 6 p.m. in the Sun Bowl.

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About the Contributor
Adrian Broaddus, Sports Editor
Adrian Broaddus is the sports editor for The Prospector. He is a junior multimedia journalism major with a minor in political science.   Adrian was born and raised in El Paso, TX, and is a graduate of Franklin high school. He entered college in the fall of 2015 in hopes to better his career in journalism.   Along with sports, Adrian enjoys writing music reviews, perspective columns and news stories on politics.   Although he is pursuing his degree in journalism, Adrian would like to go to law school and be an attorney while doing part-time work in journalism.  
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With Kugler gone and Price in, what’s to come of UTEP football?