In the world of College Athletics, one of the continuously increasing trends has been the large number of athletes who leave their initial schools and transfer to different schools.
According to ESPN's Mark Adams there has been over 700 transfers this year for Men's Division 1 Basketball alone.
A Miami Herald article this week stated that 40% of College Basketball players will transfer and it says that 37.2% of the general students who started in 2008 will transfer at least once.
This issue effected our own UTEP Basketball Program recently, when roughly 1/3 of the players who were eligible to return next season announced for various reasons that they would be leaving the Sun City.
So with this culture of transferring becoming the new "norm" of college athletics, it got me wondering how Coach Sean Kugler and his UTEP Football Program are faring in comparison to the national trend.
The answer is they are faring extremely well, very, very well.
Kugler has signed four recruiting classes while at UTEP. Since his fourth and most recent signing class was signed just a few months ago and the players have not graduated from high school yet, I will only focus on Kugler's first three recruiting classes.
First, here are the percentages showing how many players from each Kugler signing class are either still playing for UTEP, or successfully completed their career's and have already graduated from UTEP.
|2013||72% (13 out of 18)|
|2014||74% (17 out of 23)|
|2015||81% (18 out of 22)|
So the UTEP Football Program is doing significantly better than the National Averages.
For many, many years, both El Paso and particularly UTEP Football have been looked at as a hard place to recruit too. El Paso is usually far from home for most recruits and unlike our basketball program, our football program has never had the deep winning tradition which could be sold to kids and inspired them to become a part of.
Sure our football players are just like any other college kids, certainly they get home sick, I'm sure they miss their families and their girlfriends back home.
Some leave, yet most stay. In fact, not only do most stay, but most are scheduled to stay here at least 5 years due to the important Sean Kugler development aspect of redshirting and grayshirting.
So how is Kugler's Program bucking the national trends? Why are the majority of his kids staying, when almost half of everybody else seems to be leaving?
I have thought about this and here are a few possible answers:
1.) When Recruiting, Kugler focuses on character: From day one, Kugler has stated that he will only recruit kids with good character. Sure, every Coach probably says this and some may actually do this, but with Kugler, this is truly a core belief for him. During Kugler's first year at UTEP, he stated that he will review a Recruit's transcripts and also require a letter confirming a recruits character from either a school Counselor or Administrator before he will even consider offering a scholarship.
2.) Kugler Recruits Students, not just Athletes: It is impossible to keep kids in your program if they don't qualify and make it to campus first. During his first three recruiting classes, only two recruits have failed to qualify. In the decades before Kugler came to UTEP, there were some years when we would be lucky to get 75% of our signees initially eligible, now almost every single player that Kugler signs is getting eligible and making it to campus. Then once on campus, Kugler's players are doing better in the classroom than at any other point in UTEP Football History. This is evidenced by the UTEP Football running average APR Score increasing every year that Kugler has been here. This was highlighted even further last year, when the UTEP Football Team achieved it's first ever perfect APR score, which meant that every single player in the Football Program was on track to graduate. Kugler's strict academic regime he employs, and the consequences of under-performing in the classroom has helped kids not only stay eligible to play on Saturday's, but guys are getting degrees which will benefit them and their future, forever.
3.) Kugler is building his roster with a Core Group of El Pasoans: Kugler promised to recruit "El Paso kids first" and he has kept that promise. To date, Kugler has signed 18 El Paso kids and every single local High School player that Kugler has signed is still in the program. Additionally, every El Paso area High School player signed during Kugler's first three Recruiting Classes has either Redshirted or Gray Shirted, which means that every single El Paso area High School player has made at least a 5 year commitment to this program. Obviously, El Paso kids are probably not getting home sick, as home is never far away when times get hard. Additionally, the El Paso kids likely have a deeper motivation to stay the course and see things through, as they have the added pride of playing for their home town team and in-front of their friends and families every Saturday. So this core group of El Pasoans gives the program a solid and stable group to build upon. It is entirely possible, that having so many established El Pasoans on the roster helps to build a positive culture within the Football Program, a culture that helps to transition the new out-of-town players by giving them so many friends who are familiar with the area and the local people here. El Paso has a lot of nice places and unique experiences which make it a great place to live, but like most towns, not all of these can be seen from I-10. Certainly there has to be a solid benefit to having so many local players who are able to help the out-of-town players adjust and introduce them to the different areas that make El Paso feel like home. El Paso kids have not been recruited in these types of large numbers in a long time, if ever. They are being given chances now in large numbers where they weren't before, and at the end of the day, each of these kids had the pride to make the decision that they wanted to stay home and play for UTEP. It is entirely possible that having such a large group of El Pasoans brings a positive vibe and stability inside of the Program, where-as without them, we would be placing a bunch of out-of town home sick players to fend for themselves. This change was brought by Kugler and it might be creating an internal culture of positivity and calmness, which is reducing the amount of transfers.
4.) Kugler has been in his players shoes: In the 1980's, a teenage Sean Kugler left his home in New York, he moved to El Paso and played four years for UTEP. Kugler is likely the only coach in UTEP history who knows exactly what his Freshman Players are experiencing, because been exactly where they are. He experienced first-hand whatever level of culture shock and change his players are experiencing as first year players at UTEP. Based off of his first-hand experiences, surely he knows the best type of structure and culture that can be implemented here to help his players adjust.