Virus Checkup: Did UTEP Lose or Gain Ground During the Lockdown?

By Mark S. McDonald, undefeated, undaunted, undocumented

June 1. Mark it down as the day UTEP Head Football Coach Dana Dimel wants his players to return from exile. To prevent spreading of the China Virus, University leaders shooed all students from the far West Texas campus. Now, Dimel wants them back.

UTEP’s veteran Head Football Coach Dana Dimel during the annual signing day event.

For week after week, any staffer caught using UTEP facilities to coach his players did so at the risk of getting fired. So, while Miners scattered to their home towns, coaches hoped each one would (a.) stay off the police blotter but (b.) stay on the weights. Players were left to find their own places to work out. Pass the irony, please.

In this era of strength and conditioning coaches, year-round training and strict nutrition, athletes across the nation, not just UTEP, have been reduced to their own devices. The Miners were tasked with finding a local gym or YMCA to lift weights, and places to run. Catch as catch can, just as we did back in the 1970s and before. What next, boot out the ghosts and reopen the dorm rooms at Miners Hall?

The off-season has always been a period when some athletes got bigger and stronger, while others spent their summers on bikini patrol at the local swimming pool. No team and no individual player stays the same. This will never be more true than this summer, owing to the virus scare. Which teams have used this strange time most wisely?

Prediction: Dallas Cowboys’ new coach Mike McCarthy says when training camp opens, he will use his “awareness and experience” to connect with his new team. Same could be said for Dimel and his staff. In its third year now at UTEP, Dimel has answered the season-opening bell more than 30 times. It will be September before we start learning whether the Miners gained ground on Conference USA, or slipped farther off the pace … but before the lockdown, the Miners conducted a handful of spring training workouts; some teams never reached the practice field. I see UTEP coaches are just as well positioned as most. Better than some.

Pandemic factor: A slight edge to UTEP.

Gone Too Soon

In this space, we honor Miners forever who have touched our lives and left a lasting influence.

Surviving teammates salute Johnny Furman’s leadership

John Furman (1940-2020)

El Paso Austin High, Texas Western 1959-62

In mid-May, Johnny Furman — one of the most impactful and popular quarterbacks in school history — succumbed to a heart attack in his Missouri City home near Houston. He was weeks away from his 80th birthday, on May 30.

Tall as many basketball forwards and as burly as some linemen of his era, the 6-4, 205-pound Furman came out of El Paso’s Austin High to play at Texas Western College for the late Coach Ben Collins. Since her husband’s death, widow Necah (pronounced NEE-sah) has received what she described as “beautiful letters about their times with Johnny.”

Some mournful teammates remember Furman’s powerful left passing arm, others his athleticism when weaving amongst smaller defensive backs. All remember Furman’s leadership qualities.

“Great leader,” says Dr. Del Williams, an Odessa product who shared the role of team tri-captains with Furman and John Paul Young of Abilene.

“With Johnny doing the throwing and me the catching, we would stay an extra 30 minutes after practice, working on our passing game. Most of our guys were from small towns in Texas and New Mexico, so we had a tight group.”

Miner forever Charlie Warren of Birmingham, Ala., wrote, “He was my hero, on and off the field.”   By 1962, the Miners were playing for a new coach Bum Phillips, one of the most colorful figures ever to spit tobacco juice on any football sideline. Bum was certainly one of the most memorable to stay with his family – including a young Wade Phillips – in the TWC jock dorm. Today, Miners Hall somehow still stands as a monument to sturdy architecture enduring decades of testosterone.

Original caption: Paul Brown, Cleveland’s pro coach with players. (Copyright Bettmann/Corbis / AP Images)

Noted Cleveland coach Paul Brown

When Furman left TWC (“Teeny Wienie,” as students called it), served in the U.S. Army then went on to a long and fruitful career in hospital administration. Not before Johnny played pro ball for one of the NFL’s legendary coaches – Cleveland’s Paul Brown.

However, playing with a certain running back, sparked more of Johnny’s tales. The former pro teammate? Jim Brown, regarded among the top five ball-carriers in football history.

With an explosive size-speed package wrapped in a fierce will and competitive drive, Jim Brown is also said to be the best lacrosse player who ever played the game. Furman was drafted by Cleveland, traded to the Vikings, then back to the Browns. Asked to describe this strange two-season hitch in the pros, Furman had a quick reply:

Jim Brown, a major force in NFL history, had a tip for a young QB from Texas Western College

“I was best known for handing off to Jim Brown — always a good play-call,” Furman said. In an telephone interview last spring, Johnny told MAF that Jim Brown could be, how you say, direct.

First play in his first pro exhibition game, Furman took the snap from center, wheeled to hand off to Jim Brown up the middle. Too late. The all-time great had already blown past, leaving a sheepish QB to eat the ball, without salt.

“Rookie,” Jim Brown growled on his way back to the huddle, “if you want to play in this man’s league, you gotta mo-o-ove!”   

Next issue: A tribute to the late Fred Wendt, a stud running back at Texas Western, just after World War II.

“Poor Devil” in a Whole New World

{Editor’s note: The following depicts the 1950s at Texas Western, as seen through the eyes of a small-town kid who was too small to play college football. He just didn’t realize it.}

By Aaron Cranford, TWC football 1956-60

This is the true story of a high school football hero — as best I can recall after all these years and so many concussions. It stared in August 1956 when my mother took me out to TWC, and dropped me out in from of Miners Hall, the athletics dorm.

Aaron “Poor Devil” Cranford is now a big fan of Glen Rose (Texas) High

I did not know one person there until I found out that Neely Holt, who had been a teammate of mine in 9th grade at McCamey, before he moved. We were roommates for the first year before he transferred to another school. I do not remember the day he left because I was knocked out in practice. They tell me that I was really out of it. I kept asking about Holt was and they told he had gone home.

I did not believe them because I would open the drawers and see his clothes were still there. I was really looking in my drawers. I do not remember how I got to the hospital, but when I woke up, a nurse was draining my bladder. I have ever had anything hurt like that did when he yanked it out of me, but I got to miss the rest of two-a-days.

The other person I knew the first year was Ken Hatcher from Wink, Texas, hometown of famous singer Roy Orbison. There were 20 of us high school “heroes” in the Class of 1956 freshman class: Jake Webb, from Phillips; Drew Sterling, Amarillo; Bennie Lybrand, Lamesa; Truman Hobbs and Tommy Enlow, Olney; Nealy Holt, Haskell; Jimmy Johnson, Colorado City; Bobby Hargraves, Sweetwater; Steve and Stan Presley, Hearn; Willie Vasquez, El Paso; John Peters, Ysleta; Coy Hudson, Pecos. Also, two guys from New York, Maylo De Santes and Nick Tate.

We might have been high-school heroes, but we found out real quick that we were just a bunch of scrubs. There were several on the team who had been in the service and just loved to show us who the real heroes were.

First day of practice, we had to weigh in. I tipped the scales at 170 pounds — the lightest player on the team. Coach Dale Waters looked at me and told me I was not big enough to play tackle, so he moved me to guard. I was so glad he did because, back then, we all played both offense and defense. That meant that I would play linebacker on defense.

One day Coach Mike Brumbelow nicknamed me “Poor Devil” which became my name for the rest of my playing days. “Look at that poor devil,” Coach said. “He does not know when to quit.”

When someone introduced me to the girls, they would step back. At the time, I looked like an ape, because my jaw was so long. Later in life, I had three-fourths of an inch removed so that my teeth could come together.

During the games, the crowd would start a chant “We want Poor Devil.” I would shoot them the finger, and they would go wild.

{To be continued}

Our Readers Always Write

Thanks again for your wonderful journalistic contributions. Great articles. I loved the one about Gabby (former lineman-turned-author Philip Gabbard). I would love to offer up some kind of support for his book, with an event in the D/FW area. — Victor Arias, Jr., Irving

{Aha! Miners reaching out to help Miners. This is precisely how this newsletter should function — McD.}

________________________________________

I didn’t know Ed Hochuli went to UTEP. — Mark Poss, Pittsburgh

{Eddie is quite the character, but only if you ever get him out of the double coating of insulation that comes with (a.) being a lawyer; (b.) being an NFL referee under intense scrutiny. To me, Eddie is more than that. He was a good player in his day, and remains a valued teammate always. —McD}

__________________________________________

I don’t understand this transfer business. How can they transfer and play that same year? Last year that (Kaden) Archie kid came here from TCU, played after a semester, and is now going somewhere else. We’re definitely doing the UTEP Shuffle with our basketball players.

They are going to tear down the Ross Moore building to build a parking garage. We’re sad about it.

They’re changing the parking lots for football. My family will no longer be able to cook for the student trainers in Seco’s nook. We’re done this for close to 40 years through 2 generations. Times — they are a changing.

Loved your story about Ed (Hochuli, former UTEP linebacker who refereed two NFL Super Bowls). What a guy. — Marilyn Cromeans, El Paso

{Writer is a lifelong Miners fan who thinks UTEP’s change to a pasty orange looks wimpy. She is the daughter of the late Ross Moore, innovative athletic trainer who mentored dozens of former students to key training-room roles in college and pro sports. Kaden Archie transferred from TCU, stayed at UTEP from January 2019 through April, before leaving again, this time for Georgia Southern. —McD}

__________________________________________

Fabulous. Extremely well done. — Wayne Vandenburg, Dallas

{In the 1960s and early 70s, the writer coached “Vandies Dandies” to numerous national track and field titles. To the delight of large, pumped-up crowds at Kidd Field, the Miners competed favorably with the Oregons, Southern Californias of the track and field world. —McD}

Coping with the China Virus Scare

  • Former Texas Western player and coach John Paul Young, who went on to a long career coaching in the NFL, says he had to stop wearing a protective mask when he goes out in public. “Last time I walked into a store wearing a mask,” Young says, “somebody called the sheriff.”
  • “Finally, I turned off the news for good. Then I turned to fly-fishing shows. I dream about where I will wet my next line … and just maybe the pace of life is relative to the roads we choose to drive …” — by David L. Cook, author of ”Seven Days in Utopia.” The film adaptation of the book starred Robert Duval and Lucas Black, the same actor who portrayed UTEP’s all-time winningest basketball coach Don Haskins, in “Glory Road.”

In Good Taste:

A Bold Brew from Central Texas

In this new section, we throw open the gates to your taste buds. Be watchful for menu items, eateries and brewpubs of keen interest to UTEP fans. Share your field reports at mark@DustDevilPublishing.com Political incorrectness is not banned, it is graded. – The Editor

Try this, Miners: Coffee Porter, a robust dark beer

Why: Brewed with Katz coffee, this amber nectar is so good, it will pose a wicked morning question — do I drink coffee with my breakfast, or drink this beer?

Goes great with a taquito or omelet for brunch. Prime starter kit for a live music concert, spirited game of horseshoes or a UTEP Miners home game.

Maker: Real Ale Brewing Co., Blanco Co., west of Austin. Visit RealAleBrewing.com.

Leading edge: The owner credits the local Blanco River as “some of the best brewing water for the styles of beer we make,” making the community of Blanco an “ideal location for the brewery.”

Sobering fact: Available in Texas only. This brew might be a little stout for half-steppers.


Next issue: Colleges across the nation are cutting costs. No news there. Now, however, the middle finger of blame is aimed at reduced revenues traced to a virus. Will UTEP programs dig up enough gold to escape the knife?

The editor is a UTEP grad and two-year football letterman. The University and the athletic department are quick to remind readers they are not responsible for the contents of this publication. If you like what you see, spread the word. Send email addresses to: mark@DustDevilPublishing.com. To unsubscribe, click here and return to your mundane, pedestrian life. Somehow, we shall muddle on without you.

DustDevilPublishing.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s