The Conference USA football world descended on Boca Raton for a day of coaches speak, and media rounds for C-USA's 2015 Football Media Day.
Sean Kugler made his rounds earlier this morning, here is what he had to say during his media availabilites.
Talk about last season, first winning season since 2005 and looking for first back-to-back winning seasons for UTEP since the 2004-2005 seasons. Was last year a special year for you?
"It was special in the sense that the kids bought in; they went at it full force for us. They started to believe in themselves and by the end of the year they were playing as a team. So it was like watching a group grow up in front of your eyes."
What really stood out was after the LA Tech game, which UTEP got beat pretty badly; you changed the way you would practice. You went ones versus ones and changed a lot of the philosophy and that seamed to be the turning point of the season.
"Really at that point instead of pulling back, we kind of amped it up and did a lot of one-on-one competition. We wanted to enhance the competition in practice to bring more energy and we really felt for a stretch during the season it paid off."
The formula for winning for UTEP this past season when you really break down the numbers is number one, you play good defense, you stay away from turnovers and you limit the penalties. It's a pretty simple formula.
"It's something we emphasize everyday. We consistently emphasize penalties in practice and how that can hurt you before a snap even starts. Defensively, we emphasize getting the ball back to the offense. And then offensively, we really harp on maintaining ball control and keeping the ball in our hands and not turning it over."
Go back to the 2013 season when you told all of us we're going through a youth movement and we're going to take these players and have them grow in the UTEP program.
"We laid the foundation in 2013. It was a painful year from an offseason standpoint and an in-season standpoint. But we knew we were going to lay the foundation; wins and losses were not the priority that year. It was getting everything set for what we wanted to do from a work ethic standpoint. Now these players understand what we're expecting from them and they're doing a great job."
Do you think the team is taking on your personality a little bit?
"I think teams take on what you emphasize to them. And what we emphasize is a physical style of play and being disciplined. If that reflects on me, fine."
On recruiting offensive and defensive lineman and being a physical football team.
"When we first took over we had nine scholarship offensive linemen and 16 scholarship receivers. We knew that was going to change quickly. That's going to be the emphasis on this program; we're going to recruit offensive and defensive linemen. I think we're getting to the point where we're at a two-deep on both sides of the ball and we're starting to get to the point where we're close to a three-deep on both sides. That's where we need to be with our style of football."
Update on quarterbacks - four on roster, while two are really involved in the QB battle.
"At the end of spring, Mack Leftwich and Garrett Simpson were kind of neck-and-neck to the point where I couldn't name a starter. They're going into camp pretty much under the same premise. Ryan Metz will also get reps. I'm confident in all three that we can win games with them. They all have unique abilities and are all different. Somebody's going to have to step forward during camp."
Talk about the receivers.
"We're very young at receiver. But again, I think collectively as a group it's our most talented group since we've been here. There's going to be some heated competition during camp. They made some plays during the spring and they're going to need to make plays. The passing game needs to improve to compliment our running game. It's an area of improvement that I think is going to happen drastically this year is at the receiver group."
On Autrey Golden moving from the running back position to the wide receiver position.
"Autrey is going to be full time at wide receiver. I think he's going to be outstanding there; he's got playmaking abilities and he's got speed. Autrey gives us that speed factor on the edge that we haven't had."
On Aaron Jones.
"He is very physical. He's built is body up since we signed him. I think he weighed 165 pounds when we signed him; he's now over 200 pounds now. He doesn't run like a 200-pound back. He runs like a 220-pound back. He's got an outstanding stiff-arm balance and doesn't die easily - he doesn't go down easy and doesn't go down at the end of runs. He gets extra yards and has earned the respect of his coaches and teammates."
On Aaron Jones catching 30 passes in 2014.
"We move Aaron around and he can handle all of that. He's a very smart young man and we look for him to continue to make plays."
Talk about the defense after losing three productive starters from last year.
"I feel real good about our (defensive) line and our depth there at that position, particularly at the end position. I think we're going to have great competition inside at the tackle position. I think we're bigger than we've been inside; we're in the 280-290 (pound) range. The linebackers we have great depth and experience with Alvin Jones, Jimmy Musgrave and Trey Brown. Those guys have all started and had great success for us. I also think we have good depth in the secondary. That's another area we've heavily concentrated on because we run a nickel 4-2-5 (defense). So there's going to be quality competition at the corner spot and I feel real good about our safeties and their physicality."
When you breakdown the turnovers, you only forced 12 in 2013 and last year you were ranked third in C-USA in turnovers forced. That's been a point of emphasis and it's paid off.
"I really felt from the quarter point of last year, particularly after the LA Tech game, our defense flew around. They were disruptive, they made plays behind the line of scrimmage, they forced turnovers and the offense fed off of it. That's really when our team started becoming a team. I think coach (Scott) Stoker and his staff do an outstanding job. They're in the third year of that system and instead of teaching fundamentals - step one tackling - they're out there running schemes and making adjustments. They're very comfortable in the scheme and I think they're only going to improve."
Any game on the schedule that is a trap game, sneak up game or overlook?
"No not in our conference, everybody is competitive and everybody is searching for the same goal. We don't overlook any team and we're hoping some teams overlook us."
What does Conference USA want to prove to the rest of the country?
"I think this conference wants to prove that they can play with anyone in the country. The track record over the past couple years has shown that we compete well versus nonconference teams."
What do the out-of-conference games against power five schools mean to the conference?
"I think it's great for recognition, but for also building your program. You want to play against the best and what that does is prepare you for your conference games."
What's unique about this (UTEP) team that's different from other teams in the past?
"I think it's a very close-knit group. These kids do a really great job of playing for each other and they've really become a family."
Any specific team you're looking forward to playing?
"I'm looking forward to playing all of them. Especially in our division, we're trying to develop rivalries within our own state with teams like UTSA, North Texas and Rice. But again, there's not one opponent we look at more than another."
What do you think of the new playoff system?
"I think it was exciting last year. I know that it generated a lot of income for college football. But the chance to crown a true champion, I think that's the way it should be."
Special thanks to UTEP Athletics for the transcripts.