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.}

Vandy Still a Dandy — Hall of Fame UTEP Coach in Full Stride

By Mark S. McDonald, undocumented UTEP railbird

Wayne Vandenburg was on fire the other night, poking at a plate of enchiladas at a Permian Basin café, serving up 55 years of UTEP athletics for dessert.

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“Vandies Dandies” were an enormous draw to home meets in the late 1960s.

Vandy came to Texas Western from the University of New Mexico to coach the track/field and cross-country teams. He was 24. From 1968-72, with the young firebrand leading the way, the Miners were spooky-good:

  • One national team title, a runner-up and numerous finishes among the top seven;
  •  57 NCAA all-Americans;
  •  2 world-record holders and an Olympic champ.

Now 77, going on 38, Vandy had started this busy day at his home near Dallas. Making his way west on the interstate, he stopped for meetings in Weatherford, Abilene and Odessa. Next morning, he was headed for Monahans, then driving back to Dallas. Between incoming phone calls from friends and his real estate investment business office in Chicago, the Miners Hall of Fame coach conducted a memory-walk … back to one of those UTEP/Southern Cal/Oregon triangular meets … world-class athletes in competition … the roar of the Kidd Field crowd bouncing off the mountains and rumbling against your chest.

Wayne is one of those rare guys who can go full blast into any project, at any time, and never once question his own choices. Most guys like that are insufferable. A two-legged jackass. Case in point: Baseball manager Billy Martin. And that new senator from New York appears to have the same toxic blend of arrogance and ignorance. Not Wayne Vandenburg.

Full of energy and optimism — to go with contacts far and wide — I always thought Wayne would have been the ideal athletics director, at a time when UTEP was growing. Who better to capitalize on the 1966 national basketball title and the ’67 bowl victory over an SEC team? Instead, fate went against my wishes, and against Wayne Vandenburg.

Wayne Vandenburg
UTEP Hall of Fame track coach Wayne Vandenburg — forever an optimist and a Miner forever — is always looking up.

Vandy in 1970 embraced the very UTEP black athletes he released. Several Miners planned to boycott, in support of protests against racial discrimination nationwide. Vandy sympathized with the message but not the means, and fired them all. Bam. There went UTEP’s chance for another track/field championship.

But a few years ago, the tracksters of yesteryear gathered for a reunion, former athletes coming back to El Paso from hither and yon. Hugs and laughter all around, with nary a word of angst to be heard.

In a two-way show of loyalty so rare today, Miners with retreating hairlines and advancing waistlines still love Wayne Vandenburg. Can you blame them? What’s not to love?

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 aftermath of the epic Arkansas vs. Texas football Shootout of 1969. Cost is $29.95 + shipping. For convenience of credit card, visit BeyondTheShootout.com.}  

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.

Fred Schwake: A Semi-Hidden Jewel

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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.

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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.)

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

 

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

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