Before the season began, UTEP coach Mike Price was thought to be one of the coaches at the top of the "going to get fired list". Now the Miners are 5-1, and any such suggestions by geniuses such as myself have been put on the shelf.
He talked with me this morning about his program, recruiting in Fort Worth, El Paso, and overcoming his situation after he left Alabama.
Mac Engel: You have had a great start to a season that, to be candid, I thought you were going to be fired at the start of.
Mike Price: What a way to start an interview. I heard the same thing about you - that you were going to get fired.
ME: You’re sources are probably right. I don’t know how I still have a job in this business. Seriously, your team has done really well - are your surprised by your level of success thus far?
MP: I think our schedule has helped us, obviously the teams we played at the beginning of the season weren’t as good as they were in the past.
ME: That’s incredibly honest.
MP: Well, the year before we opened in Buffalo and we picked the wrong time to play them. We picked the wrong time to play Kansas. We picked the wrong time to play Texas. This year, the schedule gave us a break. I wouldn’t have been able to say that at the beginning of the year, but looking back a lot of those teams haven’t won. Now I can say we’re under the radar and we’re not even supposed to win our game this week against UAB, if you believe the oddsmakers.
We’re the Rodney Dangerfield so far - not getting any respect.
ME: Your had two major injuries in RB Donald Buckram, who is back, and DB Braxton Amy, who is out for the season; what has been the key to having success without those key players?
MP: Our backups are doing an awesome job. (QB) Trevor Vittatoe is playing great and that really helps. (WR) Kris Adams is playing great. Both of those guys had off years last year and now they’re playing like pros. They’re men.
ME: El Paso is a ways from Fort Worth yet two of your best offensive players, Vittatoe and Adams, are from this area; how did you build a recruiting line between the two regions?
MP: We got lucky. We recruit in the area, and obviously TCU would be hard to beat on anybody in that area. Trevor (left) hardly ever threw the ball in high school at Euless Trinity. We were lucky he turned out to be the player he is. Kris played both ways at Everman so no one really knew. Both have really matured into men.
ME: What do you make of this conference now?
MP: SMU is the team to beat. Central Florida looks good. I really don’t know - this is an unusual league. I wouldn’t want to be a secondary or defensive coach in this league.
ME: You have coached in two unique places in Pullman, Washington and El Paso. Is the Washington State job as difficult as the records would indicate?
MP: I don’t know if it’s going get easier with Colorado and Utah coming to the Pac 10. I think the Washington State job is more difficult because of the weather and the recruiting season. It’s hard to get players in because of the airplane situation and bad weather.
ME: Are there any similarities to the two?
MP: Pullman is a much smaller town than El Paso. Here you are within a two hour flight of Phoenix, Dallas, Los Angeles, Houston and San Antonio. We can drive as quickly to San Diego from here as he can to Houston.
We’re like Kuwait - no one wants us. Arizona doesn’t want us. California doesn’t want us. Texas doesn’t want us. It’s not until you come here for a game and you see the people are so great. You do realize this isn’t Kuwait but it’s an oasis. It’s just a great place.
ME: Given the volatile situation going over the border from El Paso in Juarez, Mexico do you have to talk to your team about the dangers of going over?
MP: We used to five or six years ago; we’d tell them don’t go over there and get into trouble. Now, no one goes there. All the clubs are closed. I don’t have to tell them. Are you kidding me? There is a curfew on the border for kids under age. You have to have a passport. I don’t have to talk about it now.
(In 2003, Sports Illustrated ran an infamous story about Price and his alleged activities one evening while he was the head coach at Alabama. Two plus years later, Price settled a large defamation lawsuit with Time Inc. over the story.)
ME: I had heard that the head coach at Alabama does not have a lot of privacy; was that a more difficult part of the job than you originally expected?
MP: No, I didn’t have a lot of privacy. When I was there, I was very active with the alumni and going out every night to speak with a different alumni group. They would fly you back so you were always home. That was much harder than I thought. I think when Nick Saban got the job he said, here’s the deal, I’m going out 12 times a year. That’s probably the way to do it.
ME: You went through a very public and I would guess very difficult departure from the University of Alabama; now that there is a great amount of time from those events, how did you get through that?
MP: It was a tough time in my marriage and in my life. I think it was my family that got me through it. My boys came down here and coached with me and didn’t go any place else when they had offers to go. My daughter and her husband came down; he took a vice principals job here. We were all together here. I think this community is a community that gives people second chances.
ME: Anything from those experiences that you pass along to your teams through the years?
MP: It’s not about what happens in your life but how you react to it. That’s life. There are life experiences and it’s not fair. But I think you rely on your family, and your close family and your friends. I found out that I had a lot of friends out there; a lot of people that believed me and stepped up and said that. That was really rewarding, in a weird way.
- Mac Engel
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