The Mike Price era was reborn Wednesday morning, as the new interim head coach conducted his first practice.
Price took over Monday after former UTEP football coach Sean Kugler announced his resignation at the start of this week. He had a meeting with the team Tuesday afternoon and went to work at practice early Wednesday morning.
Price is 177-183 all-time as a head coach and came back to the gridiron after being the UTEP head coach from 2004-12.
Instead of taking a hands-on approach, as he said he wouldn’t do, Price roamed both sides of the ball during practice and took notes while the teams prepared for Western Kentucky Saturday.
“Here’s the situation, we have really good guys who try hard and work hard. The problem is the product isn’t good,” Price said. “Don’t know why that is. If I find out, we can win some games. It’ll take me some time. Hopefully find the key and open it up.”
As the practice unfolded, Price did little to mix up the pot and didn’t want to interject what the players and coaches were used to.
“Not really a lot different,” he said. “Every practice is the same. They always can be better. They still have intensity—that’s good.”
He had been in El Paso for less than 24 hours and sympathizes with the players who are still shaken up by Kugler’s departure.
“I think some wounds run deep,” he said. “But time heals all wounds. It’s been good morale.”
From meeting new players to rekindling with old players he recruited, Price feels back at home.
“Fun to meet the new guys and to hear their stories,” he said. “I know some of their grandpas.”
Linebacker Alvin Jones commended the fact that the staff changes didn’t affect practice.
“We did the same thing as always,” he said. “We have to stick together and play for each other.”
Offensive lineman Derek Elmendorff agrees with Jones about the practice going smoothly and was content with the news of Price being named interim head coach. Price actually recruited Elmendorff when he was a senior at El Paso Franklin.
“It’s always good having a UTEP guy,” Elmendorff said. “It was a good feeling. We obviously miss Kugs, but we’re in a good situation.”
Now, the team’s focus is Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers are well rested, coming off a significant bye week for their program. Although they’re 2-2, (0-1 C-USA), Western Kentucky has put up impressive numbers against some quality opponents thus far.
After beating Ball State 33-21, the Hilltoppers fell short in a close battle to Louisiana Tech, 23-22. Then they beat out the likes of Eastern Kentucky 31-17, and fell to Illinois 21-7 on Sept. 16.
What makes this team so elite is their exceptional play from quarterback Mike White, who has the ability to make big plays through the air. He’s put up 1,047 passing yards thus far with two touchdowns, ranking third in C-USA for total passing yards and yards per game (261.8).
His two main targets include Nacarius Fant and Lucky Jackson. While Fant leads the team with 21 total receptions, Jackson tops the team in receiving yards, totaling 253 so far.
“They like to pass,” Jones said. “We have to stop them and generate some more pass rush.”
This will be the first time Western Kentucky comes into the Sun Bowl as the Miners will host them for the 86th Homecoming Game on Saturday, Oct. 7.
The Miners are 38-46-1 all-time in homecoming games and desperate for their first win of the season.
Despite the mishaps and tough start, Price encourages fan support to help the team out.
“One thing that will really help us is a bunch of people in the stadium,” he said.
Kickoff between the two is slated for 6 p.m.
Brought to you by: