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

Horizontal with book

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

LAWPTSTUYVSQQFF-1.20120907123740

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.

HEATHER_WILSON_MG
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.

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.}

winchester
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.

Fred Schwake: A Semi-Hidden Jewel

13d9f6ba-3524-4fc3-84d5-71673f4065e5-0318WartimePaperbacks4
A trainer at Texas Western the year the Miners won the national basketball championship, Fred Schwake now runs an antique shop in the West Texas town of Ballinger.

By Mark S. McDonald, Certified UTEP Miners Railbird

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” so the saying goes. You couldn’t tell it by Fred Schwake. He doesn’t seem to know the difference. Nor does he much care.

The former UTEP athletic trainer runs One of a Kind Unique Antiques in Ballinger, where his shop between Abilene and San Angelo trades in everything from jewels to junk. Schwake learned at the knee of legendary Miners trainer Ross Moore, then went on to serve as trainer for the Atlanta Falcons and later the San Francisco 49ers. Since leaving the NFL, his goal has been simple: Buy low, sell slightly higher, amuse his friends. He specializes in aging signs, but cannot vouch for their accuracy. Even one his own signs could be called into question.

“The Best Kept Secret in Texas,” declares one prominent sign facing one of the few main streets in Ballinger (pop. 3,767 in 2010 census). This is a gross exaggeration, of course, especially since the Abilene paper recently ran a major feature, with photos, on Schwake and his kitschy business.

What is indisputable, however, is Freddie Joe, as friends call him, is the only antiques dealer in Runnels County to be in the National Basketball Hall of Fame. Schwake taped the ankles of Jim Barnes, Bobby Joe Hill and Nevil Shed for Coach Don Haskins when the legendary Miners of the 1965-66 season won the NCAA University Division Basketball Tournament by defeating the Kentucky Wildcats, 72-65. As March Madness begins this week, the Miners remain the only team in Texas to have won the NCAA national D-1 title.

 

Fred Schwake
A loyal UTEP Miner, Schwake shows off his license plate to salute his friends and classmates on the 1966 championship basketball team.

Tough But True — Don Haskins Treated All His Players the Same — Like Crap

By Rex Miller, Texas Western & UTEP Historian

My associations with Hall of Fame basketball coach Don Haskins consisted mostly of watching his practice sessions. At Memorial Gym on campus where the Miners practiced, I once sat with (Western Athletic Conference basketball official) Moose Stubing.

th
Hall of Famer Don Haskins, meaner than an ex-wife, a Miner forever.

“There’s Stubing up there,” Haskins rumbled, pointing to the stands at the time-honored campus facility. “He’s the only one I know who combs his hair with a towel.”

Just then The Bear unleashed a tirade, yelling at his players that they were so messed up the looked like a “Chinese fire drill.”

(Editor’s note: It should be noted here that the better the player, the more likely to draw the wrath of Don Haskins. Those close to the program knew that only Haskins’ bark was larger than his bite. Not even the likes of Tim Hardaway and Nate “Tiny” Archibald, two UTEP legends on the way to NFL stardom, were immune. While privately hugging his players in love, The Bear would castigate them all as “playing like a sack of cats.”

The contributing writer is true orange, loyal to the University and to many friends in West Texas. Watch this space for Rex Miller’s original illustrations, found nowhere else by “Miners Are Forever.” Next: An insider’s view of UTEP legend James Forbes, who played on the U.S. Olympic basketball team and still coaches kids in El Paso today.

And while I have your attention, be sure and check out our brand-new Facebook page here.)

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

Talent Search — UTEP Staff Seeks Big-Play Recruits

If UTEP coaches could sprinkle poofy dust over the current roster, they would instantly add two ingredients, both related – explosive, big-play pass rushers, and difference-maker ball-carriers and receivers who can change a game with one long gain.

In recruiting, the staff will be looking for these rare animals. They will have company, as every other football talent sharks swim in the very same shallow talent pool.

In the early going, senior wide-out Warren Redix,, a senior from El Paso Montwood, appears to have taken the lead with leaping catches that sparked workouts. Running backs Quardraiz Wadley, a junior from Kennedale, and sophomore Josh Fields

Josh Fields Americas High
Local talent Josh Fields from Americas High looks to blossom in 2018 and beyond

from El Paso Americas, showed glimmers of D-1 talent last season, when they were healthy.

As for a pass rusher, coaches don’t say much but look to the horizon, as if seeking a long, tall, fast, strong defender to cross the Franklin Mountains and make his new home at UTEP.

NCAA regs prohibit coaches from commenting on specific athletes until the early signing day in December. Staffers whisper that the recruiting class of 2019 could have more of what Dr. Dana Dimel orders.

The class is likely to feature eight offensive linemen, which the Miners will need to restock the shelves as seniors play out their eligibility. UTEP sources say they have solid commitments from five blockers who were sought by schools in the so-called Power 5 conferences. It would be safe to assume some of those prospects had been pursued by Kansas State, the most recent coaching stops for Dimel and others on the new UTEP staff.

Indeed, it raises eyebrows when recruiting coordinator Matt Rahl says the Miners have almost filled their quota for class of 2019 high school kids.

“We wouldn’t say no to a great player,” Rahl said, “but we will be looking mostly at JuCo kids to fill a couple spots. Then we are beginning to look at 2020, right now.” — By Mark S. McDonald, executive editor

Campfire Tales — New Colors (and Language) in Minerland

 

With a new head football coach Dana Dimel (L) and a new athletic director Jim Senter, UTEP fans can expect some changes. Start with the shade of orange for the helmets and game uniforms.

 

Shiny mine shaft nuggets from Camp Ruidoso:

* The 2018 are discouraged from fighting on the practice field. UTEP coaches want their charges to be competitive, but not combative, especially if a dust-up takes up practice time. “That’s not disciplined football,” Coach Dana Dimel hollered. Then, for emphasis, he said it a second time, with a little cherry on top.

“That’s undisciplined bull crap.” Players exchanged surprised glances after that one. Dimel takes a more measured approach when addressing his troops.

“If you use that (salty) language with your players, I don’t think you can get the best out of them.”

His predecessor Sean Kugler used language that would make a sailor blush. Fighting was more tolerated in the Kugler era, so long as players took each other on man-to-man, with no cheap shots.

* The Miners will wear different helmet adornments the first 2-3 games, then let the players choose the one they like best. Early returns indicate the players lean toward the oversized Miners pick.

* In recent years deception by the Miners offense was considered a sign of weakness. In keeping with this lunch-bucket approach, UTEP predictably relied on a power running game that was not powerful and rarely carried a kicker on scholarship. Despite the fact there are only a limited number of positions who can score points, Kugler left most of the kicking to walk-ons. Worked out just grand when the kicking game was vital to the Miners 2016 victory at UTSA. Other games, not so much.

New to the program this season, transfer kicker Mitchell Crawford from Queensland, Australia packs thunder in his instep. Crawford, who has two years eligibility left, reportedly led his Aussie football league in scoring. In Aussie rules, mate, they often kick the ball on the run, with either foot.

* What is not new is the dreaded rap music blaring during all practice sessions. A popular feature during college workouts nationwide, actually, it’s not music. it’s a bloody assault on the ears. — By Mark S. McDonald, executive editor