Where Texas Western Led, Others Followed — Miner’s New Book Chronicles UTEP’s Historic Stake in American Culture

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By Mark S. McDonald Sr., Totally Self-Serving Miner Forever

Sixty years of living and football, plus two years of research and writing, just washed up on my doorstep today. A 5,213-pound package containing 1,500 copies of my baby. You may recognize it as my new release: Beyond The Big Shootout – 50 Years of Football’s Life Lessons, a historical account of the Arkansas – Texas game for football’s national title, and what happened afterwards. Answer: Plenty.

There was love, marriage, kids, car wrecks, cancer, busted businesses, all this amidst the Vietnam war, race riots, assassinations and the intersection of television with college sports. It’s a big, big story, told in 160,000 words, more than 100 photos, several cartoons by Bill DeOre, and captured in a large format. UTEP is part of the story, too.

Chapters on Julius Whitaker of the University of Texas and Jon Richardson of the University of Arkansas breaking the color line in 1970 would be incomplete without the back-stories of Texas Western’s earliest black athletes. Thanks to retired El Paso sportswriter Bill Knight and his institutional memory. And here’s a toast to the likes of Nolan Richardson, Charlie Brown, Fred Carr and Charlie West. You bold Miners, during the mid-1950s and early ’60s, led the way.

With support from coaches and staff at my alma mater, you nudged all-white athletic programs elsewhere toward racial integration. Good on you, fellas, and thanks, from all of us Miners forever. It could not have been easy, but it was your time and it was the right thing to do.

{McDonald is a UTEP grad and two-year letterman in football. To order his new book, visit <BeyondTheShootout.com>, or send $35 to: Dust Devil Publishing, 2206 Country Club, Midland, TX 79701. Allow three weeks for delivery.}

No Plus for the Miners — What ESPN’s New Deal with the Big 12 Does for UTEP and Conference USA

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By Mark S. McDonald Sr., undocumented college sports railbird

In case you missed it, cable sports gorilla ESPN just drove a $40 million wedge between NCAA haves and have-nots. Specifically, the network signed an agreement, beginning this year, for ESPN+ to deliver Big 12 football and basketball games on its online subscription streaming service.

This is new revenue for the Big 12, over and above its other TV contracts. Meanwhile, UTEP and Conference USA gets left holding the bag. Follow:

UTEP’s share of C-USA’s five-year deal CBS Sports currently brings in about $200,000 a year. A fraction of the Big 12 booty. North Texas Athletic Director Wren Baker last year said the league is looking for broader distribution and more cheese. Jolly good, amigo, but this latest news leak means the Big 12 lurches ahead. How?

Athletes thrive on two things — playing time and attention. The deal brings no new exposure to C-USA, only to its regional recruiting rivals.

Say, you happen to be a flagship running back from Dallas who wants to perform in front as many people as possible. Or, a power forward from Houston. All things being equal (in your young mind), you sign with a Big 12 school, not UTEP or Rice or La Tech. In basketball, the NCAA’s big cigars have already blown a cloud of smoke in our faces.

Tournament Selection Committee the past six years has relegated C-USA to one-bid status, where only the league champion makes it to the Big Dance. Even that single number is conducted off-Broadway.

Last month, C-USA champ Old Dominion was DOA, buried with a No. 14 seed. The Monarchs did what was the NCAA required of them: They lost in the first round, to Purdue. So what of UTEP?

History tells us UTEP has a winning past. I cling to that lifeline for the very oxygen I breathe. But owing to money, the Mountain Time Zone and empty seats, we know winning in El Paso is a challenge. So, we turn to UTEP’s fresh-faced leadership for optimism.

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Heather Wilson

Unlike a couple dozen idle sign-carriers with more spare time than free thoughts, I’m dialed into performance. The here and now. My spies tell me Heather Wilson is blessed with keen intellect and carries impeccable credentials. Fifty-two years ago, UTEP gave opportunity to a 6-2, 210-pound lineman who had played only one year of varsity football. I hope Wilson gets her chance, too.

Ditto for new-ish A.D. Jim Senter, plus two revenue-sport coaches going into their second seasons – football’s Dana Dimel and Rodney Terry in hoops. Time for all Miners to strap in tight.

Any UTEP climb back to national relevance will be daunting. ESPN did nothing to make it easier.

Mark McDonald is a UTEP grad and two-year starter in football. His 350-page, fully-illustrated historical narrative, entitled Beyond The Big Shootout – 50 Years of Football’s Life Lessons, covers the epic Arkansas vs. Texas football Shootout of 1969 and chaos in America. Copies available in late April 2019. For convenience of credit card, visit BeyondTheShootout.com.

Faithful UTEP Stalwart on the Mend

Miners Are Forever:Marilyn Cromeans copy

Always enjoy reading your thoughts, Mark. I had emergency back surgery on Feb. 19. Two vertebrae had twisted together and closed my spinal cord. Was in rehab for three weeks, and it will be a slow and long recovery, but I’m a little mobile with a walker. I need a good trainer! — Marilyn Cromeans, El Paso

{Editor’s Note: The writer of this notecould look far and wide and not find a better trainer than her own father. The late Ross “Mo” Moore was a nationally recognized athletic trainer who served the Miners for decades. A regular at UTEP home contests, Marilyn Cromeans is a longtime leader in the Women’s Auxillary of the University of Texas at El Paso, which generates scholarships for UTEP coeds. Marilyn, no doubt, is a Miner forever.}

Winchester Shoots His Own Ammo

lance winchesterBy Mark S. McDonald, Undocumented UTEP Magpie

In the mid-1960s, former Texas Western Coach Bum Phillips moved from the border to Port Neches-Grove High, where son Wade was a promising sophomore linebacker. There is another, little-known sidebar to the Phillips connection in UTEP football history.

The Phillips’ 1963 PN-G team met Beaumont South Park for the district title. South Park trotted out a sophomore LB of its own. If you could ID scrappy Lance Winchester, who later played next to legendary Fred Carr on UTEP’s 1967 Sun Bowl champion, move to the head of the class. {Actually, if you can do that, I worry about you.}

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Today, Lance Winchester practices litigation law in Austin, Texas.

Winchester’s off-beat intellect was beyond the grasp of UTEP coaches. When Lance would skip a mandatory study hall for more entertaining pursuits in town, he would create lame excuses in handwritten notes. The recipient, Coach Y.C. (Ready-Ready) McNeese was so moved, he would make Lance run extra Sun Bowl stadium steps. Started calling him “Shakespeare.”

Back then, the nickname puzzled Winchester’s teammates. Today, Lance — an honor grad from UTEP and the Michigan School of Law — still makes up his own dance steps while practicing litigation law in Austin.

A Light Goes Out in Texas: Ed Puishes (RIP)

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The late Ed Puishes was an outstanding receiver in his UTEP days.

We lost a good one when former wide receiver Ed Puishes died late this week in his Central Texas home after a long illness. He was 69.

A three-year letterman at UTEP and one of the conference leaders in pass receptions, Puishes (rhymes with “bushes”) still ranks No. 8 in school history for total receptions with 138. While the Miners competed in the old Western Athletic Conference vs. Arizona, Utah, BYU, Arizona State, Eddie caught 55 balls in 1969 and 57 in ’70.

Puishes came to UTEP a highly decorated but undersized high school running back from Devine Child in the Detroit suburban of Dearborn. First week in El Paso, coaches moved the 5-11, 170-pounder to WR. Our QB Bill Craigo was the most immediate beneficiary of Eddie’s sure hands and route-running ability.

To this day, teammates marvel at Eddie’s field awareness and his uncanny knack for make sharp cuts, hardly breaking stride. Puishes was a Chuck Hughes-type possession reciver who liked to watch Texas Western Hall of Famer with the NF Jets, Don Maynard, navigate rival defenses. With Eddie’s keen hand-eye coordination and agility, it is no surprise that in high school, he excelled in ice hockey and baseball.

Puishes El Paso competitive golfer at Coronad El Paso, Eddie developed into a tournament-level pickleball player
After moving to the Burnet area from El Paso, Eddie developed into a tournament-level pickleball player. Like most bass anglers, he fancied himself an all-star fisherman.

Off the record: As his roommate on team road trips, I most remember his quickness and will to win. He barely survived our freshman year when he took a daily beating from our varsity defensive backs – all bound for at least a cup of coffee in the NFL. Eddie wore a high-grade, now-illegal “clothesline” from Grady Cavness for a necktie.

Until Puishes showed up, Miners Hall never housed an athlete who could smoke unfiltered cigarettes, yet never seem to be short of breath during wind sprints. Eddie was probably the best pick-up basketball player on the football team, and certainly our unofficial off-season racquetball champ.

It will surprise no one that later, Puishes played flag football with El Paso has-beens and became a competitive golfer at Coronado Country Club. After moving to the Burnet area from El Paso, Eddie developed into a tournament-level pickleball player. Like most bass anglers, he fancied himself an all-star fisherman.

Popular with former teammates and El Pasoans, Puishes is survived by his wife Meloni, and three children.

Word of Eddie’s death was a prairie wildfire as it spread through the Orange Nation. We Miners forever miss him already. — By Mark S. McDonald, Undocumented UTEP Football Outsider

 

Flush Mode: Winter Plumbing Job Will Help Fix UTEP Football Roster. Here’s why.

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K-State transfer Alex Delton transfers out again, this time from UTEP to TCU

Signing Date for football, always circled on my calendar, is Feb. 5. For Miners fans, it could not come soon enough, as the coaching staff continues to scrub a roster that has won once in the last 24 games.

Defensive end Trace Moscorro, an undersized but competitive starter, has transferred to Sam Houston State where he will be closer to his Refugio home. Trace was a likable kid and played a lot of football for UTEP, but he is 6-1, weighs less than 270. Reserve tight end Josh Weeks pulled the ripcord, too, and there have been others who escaped my radar. But no crying towel needed here.

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Trace Moscorro heads to Sam Houston State

With move-ins, move-outs and midnight disappearances, roughly half of the two-deep chart from 2019 will have turned over. In UTEP’s case, change should be welcomed by Miners fans.

The quarterback position being what it is in modern college football, you already know a kid named Alex Delton recently transferred from Kansas State to UTEP. The same backup at K-State has left for TCU after less than three weeks at Oxford on the Interstate. Save your tears.

After being named MVP in a bowl game in 2016, Delton departed Manhattan to the sounds of a collective yawn from Wildcat Nation. UTEP staff has not knelt at the wailing wall either.

Going into spring ball, Delton was likely no higher than No. 3 on the UTEP depth chart, behind Kai Locksley and Brandon Jones, two returnees with starting experience, dubious as it may have been. UTEP, in that light, seemed at odd destination for Delton, and never quite a fit.

The Delton bail-out has deep roots in El Paso. The 2018 preseason roster listed seven QBs. Seven. The overcrowding included: Locksley, Mark Torrez, Jones, Calvin Brownholtz, Alex Fernandez and Brayden Hawkins. Holdover Ryan Metz, a four-year letterman, UTEP graduate and all-around good dude from El Paso Andres, was the lone senior. Saludos, Ryan.

Position and zip code changes may have relieved the logjam, but from what I gather, the number is still down to onlysix. One football. Six QBs. Somebody help me with the math.

Of interest is high school signee TJ Goodwin, a run-pass dual threat-type from the Houston area, rated a 3-star prospect. It says here that transfer from K-State will have trouble beating out Sean Robinson in Fort Worth.

The short-timer will not be missed by UTEP. What was his name again? — By Mark McDonald, executive editor

 

UTEP Miners in the NFL — The coaching tie that binds

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Arizona Coach Kliff Kingsbury extends his link to UTEP football

 UTEP fans hardly raised an eyebrow recently when Texas Tech boxed up Kliff Kingsbury and shipped the former Red Raider quarterback out of Lubbock. No return postage required.

So, again, we see universities have a way of eating their own young. We also see why most coaches strive to get along, at least to make nice in public handshakes at midfield. This is more than hollow P.R., it’s sound business practice.

In the matter of Kingsbury, artfully failing upwards after a 40-45 record at Tech, landed a head coaching position, not in high school or even college. Instead, he is the new boss of the NFL Arizona Cardinals.

And we Miners fans should care, why, you ask? Follow:

(*) In 2014, Kingsbury and his QB Davis Webb were responsible for one of the most painful defeats in recent UTEP memory. The Miners had an upset in their grasp – until Webb dropped a rainbow in the Miners’ end zone for the go-ahead TD, with about five minutes left. When UTEP’s own late rally fell short, Kingsbury and his relieved Red Raiders sprinted onto the field to celebrate a 30-26 dagger in my orange heart. More than 35,000 and I witnessed that one first-hand, an attendance figure we have rarely, if ever, sniffed since.

(*) More recently, Kingsbury just hired two men who figured prominently in the current state of UTEP football – Sean Kugler and Brian Natkin.

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Former UTEP Head Coach Sean Kugler

Kugler was UTEP’s head coach until midway through the 2017 season when he disappeared after losing to New Mexico State. Mike Price took over as an interim coach leaving me with multiple questions: Did Kugler – a UTEP alum and a starter on the Miners’ 1988 bowl team under Bob Stull – quit. Or did his old coach-turned-athletic director fire him? And whose coaching record gets officially tagged with the remaining losses in a 0-12 campaign?

I know what you think of Kugler and the steaming turd he left in El Paso. But by all accounts, pro coaches hold him in high regard. Kugler’s strong point is “identifying and developing offensive linemen,” writes the Arizona Republic.

The Cardinals’ beat man points out Kugler “has a history of successfully shuffling linemen to different positions when injuries strike. The Broncos lost their starting center and guards at mid-season last year, but still managed to beat the Chargers, Steelers and Bengals in consecutive weeks.”

Again, I liked Kugler. He brought UTEP a two-back, tough-guy offense with a true tight end. During his tenure, my alma mater vaulted to the top among the state’s major universities for graduating its student-athletes. He is one of us — the few, the proud, the brave. I wish he could have been more successful

Then again, I can also see that when he was recruited to West Texas from upstate New York, he brought some Yankee with him. At 52, Kugler will be more comfortable dealing with grown men than pimple-faced recruits, high school coaches and downtown fundraisers.

Natkin is equally noteworthy. Recruited out of San Antonio Churchill by Charlie Bailey, Brian developed under Gary Nord to become all first-team all-America selection.

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UTEP all-American Brian Natkin, now with the NFL Cardinals

With Rocky Perez at QB, Natkin in 2000 led the nation with 64 catches good for nearly 800 yards. The Perez-Natkin combo led the Miners to an 8-4 finish during a season in which they took the Western Athletic Conference race down to a crucial showdown at TCU. That was the day LaDainian Tomlinson hung more than 300 yards rushing on the UTEP defense and, during a 47-14 loss, introduced me to the “jump-cut.”

From an end zone seat at Amon Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, I watched “L.T.” as teammates call him, dart into a hole, then hop six feet sideways to avoid a tackler – while somehow maintaining forward momentum. Worked out okay for him in the NFL, too.

Natkin had his time on Sundays, too, playing three season for the NFL Titans. Since, he has built a 13-year coaching career that includes six seasons at UTEP, variously serving as O-line coach and coordinator of special teams and recruiting.

When Kugler left UTEP, Natkin stayed through the ’17 debacle as offensive coordinator, though Stull looked past him to choose Mike Price to finish out the season as a stop-gap measure. Then, get this: Brian, now 40, ended up at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas where he worked with the O-line. Not for long.

Natkin goes into the 2019 NFL season as Kugler’s assistant in the O-line. So clearly, Natkin did what few UTEP fans were able to do – he maintained contact with the former Miners head coach.

Wise move, Brian, wise move. Coaching is a jungle out there. — By Mark S. McDonald, Undocumented College Football Railbird

 

 

Looking for Love – UTEP’s 2019 Football Sked

UTEP football schedule 2019

If UTEP football schedules had you wincing and peering between your fingers, take heart. The 2019 slate just released late last week is the most equitable, even-handed slate in years.

The schedule features six home games, six road trips, with no meat grinder at Oklahoma for a quick payday. Look within the line items and you will find the following:

(*) No road trips on consecutive weeks. Given the sprawling geography of Conference USA in three time zones, this should be a relief for the players, coaches and us railbirds. Score: One + for UTEP.

(*) Of most importance, perhaps, is two open dates – Sept. 14 and four weeks later on Oct. 12. Nothing wears down a team, especially one in the rebuilding phase, more than eight or nine games in a row. This should give Dawn Hearn’s training staff something of a break. Maybe it will hold down on the budget for aspirin and wrapping tape.

From Oct. 19 through Nov. 16, the Miners play five straight weeks. This should be doable, notably for a team looking to put an emphatic stamp on the ’19 campaign.

The team closes out with a 40-mile roadie to Las Cruces to play the N.M. Aggies, then a home game vs. Rice on what will be senior day. With emotional families in the stands, outbound players such as Kai Locksley, Derron Gatewood and other Miners will want to max out with a positive curtain call. Score: Double ++ for UTEP.

(*)With or without a healthy Alan Bowman at QB, Texas Tech will likely be better in the fundamentals of blocking and tackling now that Kliff Kingsbury was fired and somehow landed the NFL Cardinals’ head job. Matt Wells is the new man in charge in Lubbock. You may recall 2014 when UTEP lost the New Mexico Bowl, 21-6, to a well-drilled Utah State team coached by the same Matt Wells. Score: 1 slight minus for UTEP.

Before you start heaping praise on first-year Athletic Director Jim Senter for his skillful scheduling, you might save those bouquets for other things he and his staff are doing well. Instead, look back and say thanks for departed A.D. Bob Stull and his capable lieutenant Chris Park, now at Washington State.

Save for the details within C-USA, these schedules are built years in advance. — By Mark S. McDonald, executive editor

Sports fan? History buff? Here’s a delicious double dip

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Beyond The Big Shootout – 50 Years of Football’s Life Lessons by Mark S. McDonald, with illustrations by Bill DeOre, will be available by mid-April, 2019.

More than 100 photos and color illustrations, in a classy 320-page hardcover “coffee table” presentation. Great gift idea as college football enters its 150th season.

Order now, and you receive a copy, signed by the author and artist. {Psssst … The author is a UTEP grad and two-year football letterman.}

Mark S. McDonald author of Beyond The Big Shootout
Mark S. McDonald is author of Beyond The Big Shootout – 50 Years of Football’s Life Lessons.

For the convenience of credit card purchase, visit BeyondTheShootout.com. Or, send $29 (plus $6 shipping and sales tax) = $35 total to:

Dust Devil Books

2206 Country Club Drive

Midland, TX  79701

 

(Allow 21 business days for delivery.)

What Has Become of Sean Kugler?

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Head Coach Sean Kugler of the UTEP Miners watches the replay on the scoreboard against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The Razorbacks defeated the Miners 48-13. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos, after their first back-to-back losing seasons in nearly 50 years, recently canned Head Coach Vance Joseph. While most assistant coaches in college and the NFL have their tin cans tied to the H.C., the Denver Postreports the Broncos are expected to retain most of Joseph’s staff. This would include a fellow named Sean Kugler.

Kugler, you recall, is a UTEP grad, and was a fine player in the late-1980s on some of the best Miners’ teams in recent memory. Under Kugler, academics among football players and community outreach soared, but after a losing season in 2016, he vanished after losing to New Mexico State.

Was the blustery coach fired? Or did he pull the ripcord, and bail on his own?

Anyone who knows is not talking. This much we know: There were problems at home, not just on the gridiron. Without delving into the personal shadows, Kugler disappeared. Even some of his friends lost track of him, until published reports that Kugler had been hired in Denver.

Worse, Kugler left town a bitter man, blaming former staffers and fans for what he considered a lack of loyalty. No high road for Sean, only burning bridges that make it difficult, if not impossible, to return. So strange … bizarre, really. And so sad.

Sean had his freckles. His language, even in public, could melt asphalt, and he never seemed comfortable with the media. He was something of a ghost with Texas high school coaches, and he was stubborn to a fault in his low regard for kickers. For all that, Kugler was one of us, a Miner.

If you know your editor here, you know loyalty, especially among friends and teammates, ranks high in personal and professional priorities. I admired the guy for what he was trying to do.

As it happened, UTEP had to act, pronto. Rather than elevate the offensive or defensive coordinator, departed A.D. Bob Stull brought retired Mike Price out of his hideout in Idaho to finish the ‘17 campaign. Kugler’s jarring departure and thin roster led to an 0-12 record, and the hiring of Dana Dimel.

Bereft of team speed, and bitten by the injury bug, UTEP finished 1-11. The Miners will be better in 2019, but this healing process will take time.

Taste the persimmon of irony? After sticking it to UTEP, many say, the same guy may stick in Denver. Something happened with Sean Kugler, not just the football coach but to the man. It left a scar. A scar on UTEP football, a scar on people close to him.

Seldom have I held such high hopes for a guy, and wound up so disappointed. He and I were never close, but I was always a Sean Kugler guy. Something derailed his train, and left him an angry man.

Hope Sean finds peace.  —By Mark S. McDonald, Executive Editor