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.}

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.

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

alex delton
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

 

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?

UTEP v Arkansas
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

UTEP at a Crossroads: It’s All on the Line

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UTEP’s sports future hinges on one key player. Who will it be?

 

Tubby Smith has made the rounds in the upper reaches of men’s college basketball – Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Texas Tech and Memphis. With all those stamps on his coaching passport, he is now the coach at High Point University, a small private, liberal arts outpost in North Carolina. He has a message for UTEP fans: 

“Coaches win games,” Smith says, “administrations win championships.”

If anyone should know, it is Orlando Henry “Tubby” Smith.

Tubby Smith
Tubby Smith

If anyone should be paying attention to the retirement of UTEP President Diana Natalicio, it is Miners fans. It’s the most important recruit UTEP athletics might ever sign.

Diana Natalicio
Diana Natalicio

Here’s why:

Coach Dana Dimel has recently finished his first painful season in football. Ditto for women’s basketball coach Kevin Baker. Men’s basketball coach Rodney Terry is less than a year on the job. 

Dana Dimel, football
Dana Dimel
Rodney Terry
Rodney Terry

That trio takes marching orders from Athletic Director Jim Senter. He’s new, too. In the trickle-down, Senter has a boss, too — Natalicio’s replacement. 

The future of UTEP big three sports … indeed, all sports, is directly linked to the next University president, and how much importance he or she places on intercollegiate athletics. With continued (or expanded) support, especially in fund-raising, I believe UTEP sports will not only survive, but prosper. 

Without the new president’s blessing, tangible and visible, the Miners could wither, in all three sports. So, who will shake the money tree and lead UTEP sports in 2019 and beyond? 

We here at Miners Are Forever can only tell you we have our ears to the ground, our snout to the wind. If you know, feel free to share with us in the comments section below.

Ironic, isn’t it? The most vital player in all of UTEP athletics is about to take his/her place in the lineup – but will never suit up for the Miners. —By Mark S. McDonald, Executive Editor