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Football’s coaching search depends on new athletic director


When fans began calling for head coach Sean Kugler’s firing after the first few–not so unexpected–losses this season, they may not have taken a few very important things into account that would take place following the firing.

First, there was the “search” for an interim head coach. It ended in the stands of the Don Haskins Center next to some kids with a “Fire Floyd” sign apparently.

Second, there’s the fact that UTEP only kind of has an athletic director right now, as may be evidenced by the interim head coach search. Now, UTEP is stuck not being able to hire a full-time coach–most likely–until they hire a new athletic director.

Lastly, Kugler was coaching for pennies, compared to other FBS coaches. I don’t know if you can tell from the modern Sun Bowl luxury boxes or the up-to-date Don Haskins vendors and restrooms, but the UTEP boosters and donors aren’t really making it rain on the university these days. A new coach would need to be paid a little more than the lowest salary in all of FBS football.

All of that being said, Kugler is gone, Price is doing something and we need a head coach. It’s all speculation, but there are rumors out there. Here are the best guesses right now. Open your ears future AD.

Mike Price, interim UTEP head coach

“I am not interviewing for the future job, and I’m not going to be the future head coach,” said Price at his re-introductory press conference three weeks ago. Mmhmm. We’ve all heard that before. It’s the obligatory vote of confidence from a team owner before the manager gets fired. I mean, I’m sure there were some votes of confidence for Price before he was fired from Alabama for, ummm, indiscretions. So, let’s not assume that a win or two before the end of the season wouldn’t get Price an offer, for at least another season, despite the 0-3 start.

Art Briles, former Baylor head coach

Speaking of indiscretions, not that Briles himself did anything in particular. He was fired from Baylor after an internal investigation found that football coaches failed to report sexual “misconduct” by football players. The Baylor football team under Briles developed a reputation for running rampant on campus without punishment from coaches or the Waco police. At the same time, the team ran wild on the field with a 65-37 record during Briles’ tenure. Briles could be perfect for UTEP in that he would come at a major discount like Mike Price and Tim Floyd did initially, due to the scandal that followed them.

Brian Natkin, current UTEP offensive coordinator

Natkin is now the longest-tenured coach on UTEP’s staff, beginning as a graduate assistant under Price in 2004 and becoming the tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator in 2012. Natkin most likely was disappointed when he did not become the interim head coach over Price, after campaigning for the interim head coach to come from within the team. It remains to be seen if he would actually take the job if offered. But, if he were offered the job, Natkin checks off a lot of the blocks that the new AD would be looking to fill. He is experienced in recruiting the right areas, he knows the offense and the transition would be a smooth one. He is also a UTEP man, which always works in El Paso–but may not be what the team needs right now.

Robert Rodriguez, Minnesota Vikings assistant defensive line coach

Speaking of UTEP men, there are a few guys that UTEP may look to bring back home. Although, with a new AD coming in–who may or may not have ties to UTEP themselves–this might not matter. Former Montwood and UTEP star, as well as former UTEP coach and current NFL coach, Rodriguez, could be brought back to the Sun City as a head coach for the first time in his career. The NFL experience is always a plus when it comes to working at the FBS level. The UTEP defense could definitely use the help from someone like Rodriguez, who has helped the Vikings’ defense become the third best in the league in 2016. The new AD may be looking for a little more experience in their head coach, however.

Andre Patterson, Minnesota Vikings defensive line coach

The extra experience needed to become an FBS head coach could definitely come in the way of UTEP alum Andre Patterson. Patterson has worked as a defensive line coach with numerous NFL teams and as a defensive coordinator with several FBS teams. Twice Patterson has worked as an assistant head coach at the FBS level (UNLV 2008, 2009 and FIU 2013). Patterson interviewed with Bob Stull before losing out to Kugler, to the rumored disappointment of many players who had played under defensive coordinator Patterson at UTEP from 2010 to 2012. This could be Patterson’s chance–and possibly Rodriguez’s chance to come home as a defensive coordinator, as well.

Tony Sanchez, UNLV head coach

Not all connections to UTEP and El Paso are as clear-cut as Rodriguez and Patterson’s are. Tony Sanchez began his coaching career as a student assistant at New Mexico State in 1996, where he played wide receiver. He spent one season as the wide receivers coach at Irvin in 2000 before heading to high school football powerhouse Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas. From 2009 to 2014, Sanchez was 85-5 as a high school head coach. The jump to UNLV has not been as kind to Sanchez. In his three seasons, the Runnin’ Rebels have amassed a 9-22 record. It may not be the kind of recent record that the fans want for an incoming coach, but his past record is impressive and so is his reported 2016 salary of $428,433. Remember, UTEP has to work within some limits.

Paul Petrino, Idaho head coach

Another head coach with a reported salary in the UTEP range is Bobby Petrino’s younger brother Paul. Paul finally quit following Bobby from job to job in 2013 when he took the job at Idaho and took the team to a 1-11 record. The Vandals have steadily improved every season so far, and found themselves tied for third in the Sun Belt last season and in the Famous (their word, not mine) Idaho Potato Bowl, which they won. This season’s team, however, has reverted back to losing what should be winnable games (currently 2-5). It being Idaho, there hasn’t been much of a call for Petrino’s firing–this isn’t El Paso after all. But, Petrino may be available for that big-time UTEP money!

Guy Holliday, Utah WR Coach

Holliday has coached football for a quarter of a century, spending four of those years (2008-12) as the UTEP wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. He has worked as an offensive coordinator at several schools, but it would be his ability to lead and his experience recruiting the area that would bring him back to El Paso for his first head coaching gig. Holliday is known as an excellent motivator, who prides himself on molding young men from tough upbringings like his in urban Baltimore. Holliday’s name has already been mentioned for several head coaching vacancies and UTEP may actually find themselves in a bit of a competition for him–possibly with a foot in the door, as he has already coached under Mike Price.

Four other names making the rounds are Mike Yurcich (Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator), Graham Harrell (North Texas’ offensive coordinator), Colby Carthel (Texas A&M-Commerce head coach) and K.C. Keeler (Sam Houston State head coach). Personally, I think Yurcich is too hot of a name and will go somewhere else for big-time money. The three other names probably don’t have much of a chance either.

Stull seems to have learned his lesson about hiring hot young coaches with no connection to the school a few years back–in basketball at least. I assume that knowledge will be passed on to his predecessor, which is why the other three did not make my list.

These are all speculated informed guesses. Of course, if UTEP wants me as the new athletic director, I’m available. Just like the rest of the fans, I always think I can do better.

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Jason Green, Contributor
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Football’s coaching search depends on new athletic director