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Monday Lunch With Kugler

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Not much to review from last week's lost to Rice

“If I listed all the positives that came out of this game, it would be a very short press conference. It was a very disappointing game."

"We always talk to the players and coaches about not letting a mistake bleed into another mistake, or a game bleed into another game. That was a very poor first half that we put together and one that was insurmountable that we couldn’t overcome in the second half. We didn’t accomplish goals on either side of the ball. I thought really Rice did a great job at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball; defeated us in those areas."

"And again, insurmountable lead at halftime that we couldn’t overcome. There were some good individual efforts from particular players that I’ll note. I thought Aaron Jones had an outstanding game; didn’t get going in the run game that we anticipated but his effort was there. He also had some outstanding catches and in particular a long touchdown from Ryan Metz. Alvin Jones had 16 tackles, tackle for loss and a sack. He was competing from the beginning to the end and I wouldn’t expect less from either one of those guys."

"I thought Kalon Beverly did a nice job on special teams; scooping up two blocked kicks, taking one back [for a touchdown] and almost taking the first one back. But again, you saw an example of a team that let a game bleed into another game; started off poorly and by the time they responded, it was too late. As a head coach I’m disappointed, but I’m not going to dwell on the negatives right now; I’m going to dwell on what we have coming up this week."

Moving on to North Texas….

“We have a North Texas team coming in that done a good job this year and sitting at 5-6. They’re playing for bowl eligibly slot in Conference USA. And it’s our Senior Day and I’m hoping that our seniors really rally around each other, play for each other one last time and keep that team from celebrating on our field.

“Talking about North Texas, as I’ve mentioned, they’ve had some good victories this year. In particular, last week, they beat Southern Miss to go 5-6. They’ve had some tough losses to SMU, UTSA, LA Tech and WKU. Where they’ve really improved from last year is defensively They’ve switched to more of an out scheme. They’re really flying around on defense. They’re leading Conference USA in interceptions. Their secondary is playing extremely well. I wouldn’t expect less, Troy Reffett coaches their secondary. W have a lot of history with him. He played and coached here at UTEP. But their safety no. 23 [Kishawn McClain], he’s got three interceptions. Their corner, no. 2, as nine pass breakups and their other corner has four interceptions. So they’re getting the ball at a frequent rate on defense and it’s really helped them, and they’re plus-one in turnovers."

“Their linebackers, in particular no. 17 [Cortney Finney] and no. 18 [Joshua Wheeler], are flying all over the field; fast and athletic and probably the most productive defensive lineman is no. 7 [Jareid Combs]. They’ve been getting sacks; 25 sacks on the year, which is fifth in Conference USA. But the thing that stands out is 14 interceptions.

“Offensively, they’ve played two quarterbacks. The freshman quarterback, No. 6 [Mason Fine], he won the job coming out of camp and played in every game, but got injured against WKU. I really don’t know the availability of him, he had a shoulder injury. But they play with Alec Morris [no. 5] who’s a transfer grad-student from Alabama and beat Southern Miss last week. We’ll see one of the two and we’ll prepare for both."

"Running back, their leading rusher was also injured against WKU and he was close to 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns. His availability for this game is also in question. But the guy who replaced him last week, Willy Ivery, has also had a solid season and had 111 yards against Southern Miss; they’re very capable at the running back spot."

"Another tall and athletic group of receivers; no. 3 Terian Goree] is 6-foot-3, no. 11 Thaddeous Thompson] is 6-foot-2, and no. 1 [Turner Smiley], who’s also their punt returner. They’re a very tall and very fast group and they’re doing nice job for them. The things that probably standout for them offensively, they’ve done decent job in red zone, but they’ve been sacked 41 times, which again, they do put the ball it the air quite a bit; time of possession has not been in their favor. So those are things we need to try to take advantage of to win this game.

Kugler reaffirms he is committed to being at UTEP and improving things and is looking ahead to 2017

"It will be a challenge for our team. But again, we’re going to focus this week on the seniors. I really want to these guys go out UTEP with two things – number one is getting their degree, the most important thing and number two, walking out of here with a good taste in their mouth knowing that they finished the season the right way. I understand it’s been a difficult season for all the Miner fans, the players, the coaches, but just know this, we’re going to go and attack this off-season and try to rectify everything. But that doesn’t start till next week. We have one more game and we’re going to focus all our energy into this game.”

Kugler then talks about the 20 seniors playing their last game in the Sun Bowl on Saturday

“Number one, they’re great kids. As I mentioned, every single one of those kids is on point to get their degree. They took the academic side of being in college very seriously. They’re very hard workers. I really can say this, even during a difficult season, there hasn’t been a day when I didn’t enjoy getting up, going to work and coaching these kids. They worked hard everyday and did everything that you asked. You had wished you could’ve done more for them; you wished they had more success. They got to experience a bowl game, they got to experience a winning season, but again, I regret they didn’t get to experience more. It’s no reflection on them as a group, they’re great kids and will be successful in life. I have a lot of respect for all of them.”

He would also be in full support of Aaron Jones testing his NFL Draft stock this offseason

“I’ll say this, kids do have the ability now to look for a draft grade without expiring their eligibility. And really, I would probably encourage Aaron to do that, to see where he stands. I think you have to know where you stand. I’ll say this, if Aaron had a first round draft grade, I would be the first one to tell him to come out; because it’s an opportunity that you really can’t pass up. If it comes back that he’s not going to be that, then we’ll sit down and have a discussion and talk about his future. I would love Aaron Jones to stay here. Not only is he a great player, he’s a leader, he’s one fo the hardest workers that I’ve been around. The reason he’s had the success that he does, is because of his work ethic. That’s a discussion I’ll have with him and his family. I’m the biggest Aaron Jones fan in the world and I want him to be successful. I’m not the one who’s going to be selfish and stand in his way.”

“Players will get a lot of information back form the NFL. When they get a grade back form the NFL, it’s pretty accurate. I feel sorry for some of these kids that come out early with bad information and some of them don’t even get drafted, or they’re drafted late and it kind of defeats the purpose. Usually the NFL gives you good information. I’m sure he’ll look into that and I’ll encourage him to look into that. I want him to see that for himself and see where he’s at.”

Kugler feels confident he can still turn things around at UTEP

“Number one, I’m not going to sit here and make excuses for this year. We didn’t get the job done. Even myself, I probably hoped changing systems would’ve happened a bit sooner, grasping both of those type things."

"Do I feel we have the right coaches in place to get that done? Absolutely. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Do I feel we have the right players? Absolutely."

"It didn’t click for us this year, but I’m ending the year because we have one more game. But I’m not giving up on it; I’m not giving up on myself, I’m not giving up on the goals we have for this program. I think the foundation had been more than set for this program."

"We don’t have discipline problems. We’ve taken the worst academic situation that you could possibly see and turn it into the best in the conference. So the foundation is set and what we need to do is, we need to get some playmakers at certain positions; that comes with recruiting."

"We really, and I’ve talked about this defensively before, but we switched from 4-2-5 to a 3-4. And we were limited as far as linebackers we had. But we can go out and recruit linebackers and some of the kids that we are developing now are some of the younger guys. Guys like [Chris] Barnwell and [Dylan] Parsee. Those guys are going to be outstanding 3-4 linebackers, they’re just young. It’s going to come with hard work in recruiting."

"But the kid’s mentality has never waivered, but these kids work hard. I know they’re disappointed, and more importantly as a head coach, I’m disappointed for the players. It’s not about me, it’s about the players and seeing their faces being discouraged and those type things, I take that to heart. I’m going to do everything I can to fix it and I know the coaches are to. I think we have the right system, we got the right kids, we got the right formula in place, and we just have to do a better job. And we have to work harder at it and that starts with self-evaluation right after the season. And it starts with me and I’m going to evaluate what I can do better to help this program win.”

Despite a rough season, Kugler was asked if he still has the fire to turn things around here at UTEP

“Number one, I’ve been coaching for 29 years. I’ve been through some winning teams, I’ve coached Fiesta Bowls, I’ve coached in Super Bowls and I’ve also been on teams that are 2-10, and I’ve been on teams like that at UTEP."

"I understand how to win here at UTEP. Really in the last 50 years there’s been six winning teams and I’ve been part of four of them – two as a player, one as an assistant and one as head coach. So I know what it takes to win here and I’ve also been through what it takes to build to do that."

"And I understand you take steps forward and you take steps back, I’ve been a part of that. When I was an assistant coach here in the 90’s, we literally went in one game increments until we won a conference championship. Do you know how painful that is to go eight straight years – two wins, three wins, four wins, five wins – it’s a painful process."

"And I think that gets lost in today’s world because everybody wants instant results. I knew this job wasn’t going to be that, I know it wasn’t going to be instant results. I knew it wasn’t going to be, hey, we’re going to be 10-2 the day I get there and it’s going to stay that way. And I’m taking on that responsibility with that job. I’m not going to stop until it’s done and I really feel we’ll get it done and I’m confident in that. So I’m not going anywhere; until they kick me out, I’m going to keep fighting until we make this work.”

Is that the message to the fans, patience?

“My message to the fans is I really enjoy our fans. We have a group of fans who come out there and support us every game no matter what. Kind of like with our players, I feel like we disappointed them. I wish we did more for them. But I want them to know that we aren’t going to stop fighting and we’re going to fix this thing and make it right. I’m hoping for a day it’s a packed Sun Bowl and the fans are proud of UTPE and those type things with the product on and off the field. But I understand it’s a process and understand sometimes you have to take steps back. Unfortunately for the fans and us, we took steps back but it doesn’t mean we’re not going to step forward next.”

Spoiling North Texas' bowl bid is a major motivation factor

“You never want to see a team celebrate on your field. They have an opportunity to go to a bowl and go 6-6 – which would be a great accomplishment for them. They’ve done a great job this year, coach [Seth] Littrell has done a great job with that program. But it is our Senior Day and it is our home turf and it is the Sun Bowl. Our kids have a chance to defend it one last time. And certainly we don’t want to see [them celebrating] at the end of the game. Yeah it is a motivation factor. And another motivating factor is bouncing back from the game we just played. The competiveness comes out in you and you want to wipe that stench out.”