UTEP Miners

Associated Press

Mike Price returns to UTEP as interim head coach

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After an unsettling start to the 2017 season, old is new for UTEP football once again.

Over the weekend, and after a 0-5 start to the year, Sean Kugler resigned as the head coach at UTEP.  That move came exactly two weeks after Kugler had fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

Monday evening, the football program announced that Mike Price has been named as the Miners’ interim head coach.  According to the school, Price will meet with the team for the first time Tuesday afternoon and will conduct his first practice with the squad a day later.

“I’ve asked Mike if he could help us in this situation,” athletic director Bob Stull said in a statement. “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.”

“I was surprised and flattered by Bob’s call and appreciate the opportunity to help this program one more time,” a statement from Price began. “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.”

Price was the head coach at UTEP from 2004-12.  After a nine-year run with the Miners saw him guide the team to a 48-61 mark — only one other coach in the program’s history led the team to three bowl appearances — Price announced in November of 2012 that he would be retiring at season’s end.

Prior to UTEP, Price was the head coach at Washington State from 1989-2002.  While Price went to two Rose Bowls during his 14-year stint with the Cougars, he’s most known for his very brief tenure at Alabama.

After leaving Wazzu for ‘Bama in December of 2002, he was fired in May following an infamous strip club imbroglio and never coached a single down for the Tide.

Since retiring from UTEP in 2012, the 71-year-old Price has been out of the coaching profession in any official capacity.

Sean Kugler resigns at UTEP

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The coaching carousel for the 2017-18 cycle is officially spinning as Sean Kugler has resigned as the head coach at UTEP.

UTEP is off to an 0-5 start to the year after falling 35-21 to Army on Saturday. After making the trip from West Point back to El Paso, the Miners announced the change on Sunday.

Kugler was a loyal soldier for UTEP. A former Miners player, he served as an assistant previously and left his job in 2012 as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line coach to return to his alma mater. That faith went unrewarded for both sides, as Kugler stumbled to an 18-36 mark in his four-plus seasons.

The move is actually convenient for those inside the athletics department as longtime AD Bob Stull announced his retirement on Aug. 31. Removing Kugler allows UTEP to shop the position on the open market knowing the new AD will get to make their own football hire as his or her first order of business.

UTEP already dismissed offensive coordinator Brent Pease earlier this season.

UTEP returns to action on Saturday against two-time defending Conference USA champion Western Kentucky.

UTEP stays in-house to replace fired OC Brent Pease

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Not surprisingly, UTEP will stay in-house following its in-season dismissal of one of its coordinators.

The Miners confirmed Sunday that offensive coordinator Brent Pease had been fired.  A day later, the football program announced that Brian Natkin has been given the keys to the offense by Sean Kugler and will call the plays moving forward.

Natkin began the season as special teams coordinator and tight ends coach.  He was an All-American tight end at UTEP a decade-and-a-half ago and became a full-time assistant at his alma mater in 2011.

Through three games, UTEP ranks second-to-last nationally in total offense at 204.7 yards per game and in yards per play (3.89). The Miners are also 125th (out of 130 teams) in scoring at 13 points per game.

The promotion of Natkin also means there will be some additional adjustments to Kugler’s staff.  Wide receivers coach Chuck Veliz will take over Pease’s other role as quarterbacks coach, while safeties coach Don Yanowsky assume Natkin’s duties as special teams coordinator.

Natkin will continue in his role as tight ends coach.

UTEP fires offensive coordinator Brent Pease

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UTEP has fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease after an 0-3 start. Bret Bloomquist of the El Paso Times first reported the news, which was later confirmed to the paper by head coach Sean Kugler.

“Yes, making a change and will address it at press conference (Monday) as far as any staff change responsibilities,” Kugler told the Times via text message.

UTEP becomes the third FBS team to make a coordinator change through three weeks of the season. East Carolina and Missouri have already replaced their defensive coordinators.

The Miners were blown out 63-16 by Arizona on Saturday night in a game that was sparsely attended.

Through three games UTEP ranks second-to-last nationally in total offense at 204.7 yards per game and in yards per play (3.89). The Miners place 125th in scoring at 13 points per game.

The firing represents another professional fall in a series of such falls for Pease. Once regarded as one of the top offensive minds in the game, Pease was a top lieutenant to Chris Petersen at Boise State, considered at the time to be an equal of current Broncos head coach Bryan Harsin. Pease was Boise State’s assistant head coach and wide receivers coach from 2007-10, and took over offensive coordinator duties when Harsin left for Texas in 2011. He parlayed that season into a job as Will Muschamp‘s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Florida, but lasted only two seasons after ranking 92nd and 110th nationally in yards per play. Pease returned to Petersen’s employ as the wide receivers coach at Washington, but was let go by his old boss after two seasons. He lasted a season and a quarter at UTEP.

One has to wonder if the changes will stop at Pease for UTEP. The Miners are 18-34 under Kugler, a former UTEP football player, and 9-18 since reaching the New Mexico Bowl in 2014. The program is a far, far cry from going 16-8 under Mike Price in 2004-05.

Big Ten, Conference USA swapping bowl tie-in for 2017

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The middle of September isn’t typically the time that bowl arrangements are tweaked but that doesn’t mean they can’t happen.

Conference USA confirmed details of a bowl tie-in “swap” with the Big Ten on Wednesday, causing a bit of a Texas two-step in the postseason picture for both leagues in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. The move on the Big Ten’s end was originally announced back in May but it appears the CUSA end is just now being confirmed officially.

As a result:

  • A Conference USA team will now play in the Armed Forces Bowl. They’ll play against Army if the Black Knights are eligible,
  • The Big Ten will place a team in Heart of Dallas Bowl against vs. a Big 12 opponent

While the exact reason for the swap is unclear, it certainly makes a little more sense for a Big Ten team to be in Dallas against a fellow Power Five conference like the Big 12. In addition, the Big Ten has not had a team filled a slot in the Heart of Dallas Bowl since 2014 and have actually never scored a victory in the game either.

There was supposed to be a B1G squad in the bowl last season but, because of shortages elsewhere in terms of eligible teams, the game wound up being an Army win over an eventual 5-8 North Texas squad.  Conference USA apparently remains contractually tied to the Heart of Dallas Bowl until 2019, just not this year.

The Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 23 in Fort Worth while the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl is slated to be played on Tuesday, Dec. 26.