The news of UTEP head football coach Mike Price returning for his 9th season, the final year on his contract, has sparked much debate throughout Miner Nation as to if this is the right decision for the university. In fact, even just a couple games into the season, people were already calling for CMP to be fired. But, what is really best for UTEP?
Here are the facts. Mike Price currently ranks 3rd in all time wins at UTEP. Granted, that doesn't exactly say a lot, but it does show where he is in comparison to other UTEP coaches over the last nearly 100 years! And just for the record, we're talking about a total of 24 coaches. Also, with CMP returning for a ninth season, only one coach in UTEP history (Mack Saxon, 13 years) has headed the UTEP football program for a longer period of time.
In the 30 years before Mike Price made his way to El Paso, the UTEP football program had 22 seasons with 3 wins or less. In the 8 years that Mike Price has headed the program the Miners have never finished with less than 4 wins, and 4 wins has only happened twice in those 8 years. That means that 75% of the time, Mike Price's teams are at the very least competing to go to a bowl.
UTEP football has just been more competitive in general under Mike Price. From 1996 to 2003, the Miners were beat by more than 25 points 30 times. That amounted to 32.2% of games. Under CMP, that percentage has dropped to 15.4%, with only 15 being lost such a margin. More than that, of UTEP's 52 losses in the Mike Price era, 32 of them were within two scores. In the 8 years before, only 19 of the 65 losses were that close.
Now, there's obviously the other side to the coin. Even though CMP team's have undoubtedly been more competitive, the Miners have now had six straight losing seasons. Although, one of those seasons was one in which we went to a bowl and finished 6-7.
On top of that, Mike Price teams have been known to start strong, and fade out for the second half of the season. CMP has a .625 winning percentage in games played in the first half of the season, while experiencing only a .306 winning percentage in the second half.
Of course, no one wants to settle for mediocrity. We dream of, and strive for a program that wins 10 games a year, goes to bowl games on a regular basis, and competes for conference championships every year. That's fine and dandy, but we have to realize where we come from as a program first. No program, experiences long term success without being built from the ground up.
Considering where UTEP football was before Mike Price was here, this program is being built from the basement up. I would love to think that a young and enthusiastic coach would come in here and build a program that is among the best in the nation, but what are the chances?
Miner Rusher DFW Miner made a great comment on the last dig, I thought I'd bring it up here. I'm going to pick your argument apart a bit, don't take it personal:
"Ive never thought we needed a big name coach to come here. Give me a young hungry coach any day over our current situation. Sumlin and Fedora are proof you need young guys running the program. There are already reports sumlin might leave, but they are going to make a BCS bowl. He deserves that pay day and UH is better off for it. I dont understand how Stull can not look at our hoops team and know it’s Ok to hire a young guy. Barbee gave us one of the most talented teams in years, a conf champ and tourney birth, he earned his way to move up. I hate Miner fans thinking this is a bad thing."
This one of a few valid points that DFW Miner made in the comment, and it is a common argument/thought amongst Miner fans. But, we need to take a deeper look into what we are truly asking for and expecting.
- Neither Kevin Sumlin nor Larry Fedora inherited a program that was anywhere near the state the UTEP football program was in when Mike Price got here.
-Kevin Sumlin took over a program that was 8-5 the year before, and 10-4 with a Liberty bowl appearance two years before. Art Briles, the coach before Sumlin, left a pretty good foundation at UH, and has now done the same at Baylor.
-Southern Miss has ALWAYS had a good football program, and that has little to do with Larry Fedora. Brett Favre anyone? In fact, USM hasn't had a losing season since 1993.
- UTEP does not have the money to attract guys like Sumlin or Fedora
-Both were assistants at high major programs, likely making at least what Mike Price makes now.
-Kevin Sumlin currently has a contract that pays him $1.13 million a year
-Larry Fedora makes a base salary of $650,000, with incentives to take him to about $900k.
-Mike Price has a base salary of $250,000!
- The last point that I would like to make is that football is a completely different beast than basketball. It is arguably easier to have success in basketball than it is in football.
-The main thing here is that football truly takes a good quantity of quality players, whereas as in basketball 1 or 2 solid players make up a good nucleus to build around.
-With or without Price, we have never been able to bring in loads of talent.
-Price has probably brought in the best talent we've ever seen, sending numerous players on to the NFL
-Programs like Houston have local talent that are highly recruited and stick around to play for UH
-The El Paso area doesn't produce nearly as much D-1 talent, and even when we have it, they all want to leave to play elsewhere.
-Billy Gillispie is the only coach that really "built" anything at all since Don Haskins, and even at that UTEP has never been a terrible basketball program. The Bear built a program here, and most of our coaches since him have had something to build on. The same can't be said for football.
Here's the point of all of this. We as fans need to realize what we have as a program. UTEP football had been terrible for decades before the CMP era. Anyone remember losing to Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo...34-13?? How about getting beat by Boise St. 58-3, Hawaii 66-7, Wyoming 63-12, BYU 65-8, or even BYU's 83-7 massacre of us? How about Ladanian Tomlinson setting the NCAA rushing record against us with 406 yards in a single game?
Mike Price has brought this program up from being the laughing stock of a conference, to competing for a shot at a bowl almost every year. We're still not where we, or CMP, would like to be, but we are working to get there. There is no guarantee that Mike Price, or any other coach, could turn this program into what we want and expect it to be. But, one thing is certain. We only have such high expectations for this program because of the taste of success that Mike Price has given us.
Price's vision for UTEP was to build us up to a respectable program, and leave it in good hands once its time for him to retire. I wouldn't say that he has accomplished that goal, but I would say UTEP football, because of Price, is closer to that than ever before. On top of that, the people in control of what happens at the University of Texas at El Paso want the exact same things that we do, and they will continue to make the decisions necessary to allow us every opportunity to make it to where we want to be.
At this point though, in my opinion, it is best for the university to keep Mike Price around. Not only do we not have the resources to buy out his contract if that was necessary, but considering the good that he has done for this community and university, Mike Price has earned the right to finish out his contract. If you are going to support and be a fan of UTEP, then support and be a fan of UTEP. Realize that we all have the same common goal for our athletics programs, and that we all must do our part to help get it there.