Why didn’t Sean Kugler work at UTEP?
Cyrus Smith: Many will look at Sean Kugler consistently finishing near the bottom of C-USA on National Signing Day as to why he failed but I don’t think that’s the main reason why. There’s talent on this roster and throughout the Kugler era UTEP found more than a few diamonds in the rough on the recruiting trail such as Aaron Jones and Will Hernandez.
The main reason he didn’t work out was his offensive philosophy. He remained committed to a style of play that wasn’t viable for recruiting Texas athletes. Hiring Brent Pease as offensive coordinator to remedy the issue was sketchy given that Pease hadn’t been a part of a good offense since 2010. Kugler’s inability to hire a good offensive coordinator and remaining committed to an old-school style of football is what ultimately did him in.
Jared Kalmus: I could go on for hours. In my opinion Kugler didn’t want to be a college football head coach. He wanted to be the head man in charge of his alma mater’s program, yes, but he never showed much interest in entertaining teenage recruits, rubbing elbows with boosters, or adapting his personal philosophy of football to fit the modern age of the game. Kugler’s reign at UTEP was marred by stubbornness, a lack of creativity, and an outright drought of fun.
Tanner Spearman: I honestly just don’t know if he was that good of a coach. Aaron Jones left a year early for the NFL draft, which makes sense if you are a highly touted prospect from a winning program. He was neither. That tells me he just didn’t feel like UTEP could help him develop and increase his stock any more. Now he’s doing well in the NFL and turning heads. Kugler just couldn’t put the pieces together, and that’s why he failed.
Adam Woodyard: UTEP is a hard place to win. Heck, even Mike Price couldn’t sustain winning seasons in El Paso. Not many coaches have, and selling recruits on the remote end of the state is a tough sell. In spite of this, Kugler did have a few diamonds in the rough, as Cyrus points out above. But as every other school in C-USA West has thrown money and resources to improve their athletics, and football teams in particular, UTEP hired a reasonably priced coach and gave him way too long of a leash. This is a little on the AD, too, let’s be honest, but when you’re in the job for 20 years you’re more or less bulletproof. Kugler was not, although 4.5 seasons with his record seemed excessive.
Should the success of other Texas G5 schools factor into UTEP’s next hire?
Cyrus: Absolutely. This might be a hot take, but I think UTEP has the potential to compete for conference championships in C-USA on a regular basis just like UTSA and North Texas have. I think UTEP has the potential to have El Paso rally behind them just like what we’ve seen from Houston. Those programs are better jobs, no doubt, but UTEP’s can hold their own.
Jared: Yep. UTSA, Texas State, and UNT aren’t going anywhere. They have more access to Texas recruits and in many ways all programs have more to offer recruits. Long gone are the days where UTEP could take a flight out to Dallas or Houston in January and patch up their recruiting class by plucking out kids that were passed over by the power brokers in the state. UTEP needs to pick a coach that knows how to recruit nationally; Texas ties are practically useless at UTEP when your campus is 10 hours away from the major recruiting hotbeds in the state.
Tanner: You should always go out and get the best hire you can regardless of how your competitors are doing. If anything, it should put more urgency in the need to find a solid guy. Still, perhaps they take a bigger chance than they otherwise would have based on the need to compete instead of taking the “safe” hire.
Adam: This all depends on the philosophy of the department, doesn’t it? Do they want to save money, give kids a good education, and maybe occasionally get lucky in the athletic department? Or do they want to put the investment into the program that is required to become the breakout successes of a WKU or UTSA?
UTEP hasn’t really expressed any urgency in this — for proof, notice they didn’t fire Kugler at the end of Year Four — and if they want to succeed, they should absolutely try and keep up with the rest of the conference, because they were already behind when Kugler was hired and things have gotten worse.
What should be the biggest strong point for UTEP’s next head coach?
Cyrus: The next guy needs to be a great recruiter. Connections to California and Texas would be ideal. Given UTEP’s remote location in Texas, they are too far from the premier athletes in Texas to out-recruit the other Texas G5 schools. But given that they are closer to California, UTEP could get their fair share of California athletes to offset that loss.
Jared: I can’t imagine any coach at UTEP ever stockpiling enough talent to be able to line up his 22 guys and simply out-athlete their opponents. UTEP needs to find a coach that excels in the X’s and O’s (think Seth Littrell at UNT) to give the Miners every advantage they can find on the field. I’d advocate looking at option and air raid coaches. Take a glance at what Bob Davie has pulled off in Albuquerque while running a creative and modern iteration of the triple option without top-tier talent. That has to be enticing for the UTEP administration.
Tanner: At the end of the day, he needs to have the coaching IQ to outcoach his opposition. Recruiting to El Paso can be tough, but hiring great recruiters doesn’t always pan out (ignore UTSA for a second). So if you can’t get the best talent, get the guy who can win with Wal-Mart cashiers and ping pong players.
Adam: I’d say recruiting, but that’s not the same as wins, and that’s what this program needs now. Really you just need to hire the most talented guy and make sure your AD knows what that looks like. They have an enormous local advantage with NMSU going independent next year, and a resurgent C-USA West at the same time. They need to use this capital now and hire a great coach with a proven FBS track record, even if he’s just at the assistant level.
Retread or assistant? Who do you think UTEP should target as their next head coach?
Cyrus: On Twitter someone suggested UTEP should adopt the triple option and though that could work out, I just don’t think that’s really necessary for the UTEP football program to find success. Plus I don’t see the city of El Paso showing up to watch option football, winning product or not.
The most recent success UTEP has had was when they hired Mike Price, a coach who had prior head coaching experience so I’m going that route. I think UTEP should make a run at Sonny Dykes. Dykes has the reputation to recruit Texas, has experience recruiting California due to his time at Cal, and has a dynamic offense to get locals invested in the program again. It would be a home run hire. While his time in Berkeley never panned out, his time at Louisiana Tech was a major success. If the money isn’t there for Dykes, they should make a run at Ruffin McNeill or Mike Stoops.
Jared: Ideally UTEP should go grab one of the hot offensive coordinators out there — Sterlin Gilbert, Joe Craddock, Brian Johnson, etc. I don’t think UTEP has the cache to pull a coordinator from a Power Five school at this point but a recruiting hotshot position coach at a P5 school could be in play. I think UTEP will ultimately end up hiring a coach that’s pretty far off of most people’s radar. A current head coach at the FCS level could be a wise choice if it’s someone that’s shown an ability to trot out an exciting offense and recruit to a remote location.
If I had to pick one name I would go with Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper. He’s been around the triple option for most of his life and has proven to have his Navy teams prepared to play even after increasing their competition level in the AAC. Additionally, Jasper could be a big hit within El Paso’s huge armed forced community after spending 18 years at the Naval Academy. Unfortunately Jasper’s son is in poor health which may deter Jasper from pursuing any available head coaching opportunities in order to spend more time with his son.
Tanner: I don’t have a particular name in mind, but I saw someone suggest they take a shot on the triple option. That honestly doesn’t sound like a terrible idea. Chalk it up to taking a risk over the safe hire like I said before. El Paso is fairly remote, which can be a challenge in recruiting. The triple option is often seen as the great equalizer, and based on the success UTSA and North Texas are having, that might not be a bad strategy to move back into relevancy in Conference USA. To accomplish that, look into the offensive coordinators from triple option programs like Navy, Air Force, New Mexico, etc.
Adam: Other C-USA West schools are seeing a surge due to smartly-hired assistants, and it would seem that this is all UTEP can afford right now. They’re either too fiscally conservative or just not interested in making big-name hires like FAU’s Lane Kiffin or FIU’s Butch Davis, but if someone opens up and they don’t have a stink attached to them, go for it. Otherwise, there are some top assistants out there you can interview right now, before Rice is doing the same thing.