We Know the Numbers & History; What Will Mike Price Do To Make 2010 Different?
Before the season, I was approached by Dr. Saturday, the Birmingham News, and other publications who asked about Mike Price's job security coming into 2010. I always had the same answer that hit the same basic talking points:
1. Mike Price is highly respected in El Paso and has had success energizing the fan base, improving recruiting, and making UTEP a more respected football program nationally;
2. The firing of Osia Lewis pleased the fan base tremendously;
3. Miner fans thought Price earned the right to coach this senior class with a four year starting QB and the nations 2nd leading returning rusher;
4. If he could get UTEP to a bowl game, any bowl game, the fans will be more than pleased with his performance and let him choose whether he wants to come back. After all, can you name a Miner coach who took UTEP to three bowl games and averaged 38,000+ over his tenure? Reasonable fans didn't expect the Orange Bowl. But, we needed to see progress. Getting over th 4-8, or 5-7 season hump to 7-5 or even 6-6 would suffice.
Two thirds of the way into the 2010 season, I stand by those comments. The question to ask now is: Can Mike Price find a way to inspire this team to end this season fighting till the very end? Or, will this team ride off into the sunset pleased with a 5-1 start and an 0-6 finish?
The Tide is Turning
It's starting. Message boards are buzzing. Local journalists are starting to ask questions. Others have simply given up and declared the season to be over even with four games remaining. FireMikePrice.com, thankfully, is still for sale (as it should stay). There's no denying, though, that Miner fans are frustrated. I think it's an appropriate time to take a long look at Mike Price's tenure. As I started making a list, this natural order followed.
- Two bowl appearances on the heels of a stunning 16-8 record in his first two seasons at UTEP.
- 39-41 career record. I realize that's not quite .500 but do you remember the David Lee era? Miner fans would have given a limb in at any point in the 90's for a coach who could go 39-41.
- UTEP's offense has consistently been one of the best in the C-USA and competitive nationally.
- 5-2 record against New Mexico State
- 3-1 record against New Mexico
- The Houston win. Name another UTEP team that beat the #12 team in the nation.
- Close Ones: Price came incredibly close to beating Texas Tech and Colorado early in his tenure; those of us who remember Cal Poly can appreciate that a close one against programs like that is an incredible thing compared to UTEP before Price.
- Rankings: Price was the first UTEP coach to get UTEP into the AP Poll (2004, #23, 2005, #24)
- Attendance average for UTEP from 2005-2009: 38,843
- Hasn't been close to clinching the C-USA West since 2005.
- 8-16 record in November- Okay, that's ugly.
- Attendance average in 2010: 30,594.
- October 4, 2008. The last time UTEP won a C-USA road game.
- The end of the 2005 season: UTEP had multiple chances to clinch the C-USA West at the end of the season. But the Miners allowed a Tulsa team they beat to steal the division after another some inexplicable late season losses.
- Osia Lewis and the 3-3-5 experiment. Ultimately, that was Coach Price's call and that system wasted some talent on defense and set the Miners back two years of development.
- Consistent Late Season Collapes: I already touched on 2005. But, in 2006 the Miners lost 5 of their last 6. In 2007, the Miners lost 6 straight to end the season. in 2008, the Miners lost 4 of their last 6., In 2009, the Miners lost 4 of their last 5. Read that twice and you're head might explode.
The last two losses have reminded Miner fans of the sour way that the 2006-2009 seasons ended. Coming into 2010, I hammered out an extended post on my reasonable expectations of UTEP's season. I fully expected UTEP to use the first 6 games of the season to work the kinks out on defense and be in a position to go to a bowl game and possibly make some noise in the West. Obviously, UTEP won't compete for the division title in 2010. But, this season isn' t over yet. And, a bowl game is still there for the taking if Price can help his team leaders find the confidence they had when they blew out Rice, stormed back against Memphis, and pummeled their New Mexico rivals.
I'm not giving up on Mike Price or this team yet. I know UTEP can beat Marshall (who they beat last year) and can compete with SMU (who they nearly beat last season in Dallas) and Tulsa (who they beat last season in El Paso). Look at SMU and Tulsa. Are they light years ahead of where they were last year? No, SMU is more athletic on defense but their loss to David Piland's Houston shows they aren't invincible. Tulsa's offense is going to be hard to stop but the Hurricane are 4-3 and lost to SMU. Tulsa's best win is against Tulane.
So, it is possible that UTEP can win another game or two this season. The problem facing Price is that UTEP could have won, in fact should have won, similar games in prior years and failed. I want UTEP to win. I want to see Coach Price, Trevor Vittatoe, Donald Buckram, Alex Solot, Rod Huntley, and countless other Miners end their careers in orange with a winning record and maybe with a free trip to Ft. Worth or New Orleans.
But, Mike Price has to do something drastic now because we've seen how this story ends. Watching his Monday press conference, Coach Price talked about how UTEP fought hard and joked about Marshall's fans. He joked about being relieved that questioning on the Tulane game ended without really being pressed for answers. Last week, he joked about UAB's crowd (or lack of one).
Coach, you're great with the press, but the Miner Nation needs to hear you scream. This is a fan base desperate for some emotion from this team and more importantly from you. We don't want to hear about how special the special teams were. You lost two winnable games. We want to hear that it's open field for starting jobs. We want to hear that changes are being made. We want to hear that 2010 will be different than 2009 and the others. Clearly, the status quo isn't working.
If Trevor tosses a few picks against Marshall, maybe its time to go with James Thomas until Vittatoe is fully healthy or until he gets out of this current funk because the Miners can't afford to give another one away. If the young DT's are getting beat again against Marshall and the Herd are running it down UTEP's throat, send the house and make Brian Anderson throw the ball because guess what- he's not that good. Neither was Justin Brooks or Orleans Darkwa. Let's stop giving away career highs like they're candy. And if we do, let's see some anger.
If UTEP isn't good enough to win six games, then they aren't good enough to win six games. Miner fans can live with that, but we can't live with Coach Price acting like everything is fine again. With Mike Price's job in doubt and a full cast of veterans leaving, it's time to throw caution to the wind and pull out all the stops. I don't want to see UTEP limp out of this season the way they did the last few years. I want to see the Miners fight.
Coach, if you're going to go down; go down swinging. I think the Miner Nation will commend you for that. And, I know we will appreciate that.
At his Monday press conference, Coach Price asked "Who here doesn't believe we can beat Marshall?" We know you can, coach. But, it's your move. And, you're running out of chances to prove it.