New coach, new quarterback spark changes after stretch of stability at UTEP
UTEP has a new coach, a new quarterback and a conference that might as well be new.
All this after the most stability the program had seen in more than 70 years ended with Mike Price's retirement after last season.
Former UTEP player and assistant coach Sean Kugler replaced Price, who stepped aside after losing records in the last seven of his nine seasons. The only longer tenure for a UTEP coach was Mack Saxon's 13-season run that ended in 1941.
Kugler's El Paso ties are important as he tries to get the Miners back where Price had them eight years ago — the talk of the town after consecutive 8-4 seasons with the first back-to-back bowl trips in 40 years.
But it's probably more important that Kugler persuaded former Texas A&M quarterback Jameill Showers to pick UTEP when he decided to transfer after losing the offseason battle for the starting job to Johnny Manziel in 2012. Four months later, Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.
Showers gets a chance to be in charge of an offense after playing sparingly as the backup to Ryan Tannehill in 2011 and Manziel last year. Showers tells the El Paso Times he is looking forward to UTEP's non-conference visit to College Station on Nov. 2. "There will be a lot of friendly trash talk. It will be weird, but it will be fun," said Showers, who has two years of eligibility and is getting to play immediately because he graduated from Texas A&M.
Showers should have some help on offense because the Miners are returning their most productive running back and receiver from last year. Nathan Jeffery had 897 yards, including 177 against Oklahoma, and seven touchdowns. Jordan Leslie led UTEP in catches (51), receiving yards (973) and yards per catch (19.1). Both are juniors. Freshman tailback Aaron Jones, who went to high school in El Paso, also drew some attention during a 12-day preseason camp.
One thing hasn't changed for the Miners — their conference. But Conference USA itself is undergoing a dramatic makeover with six new schools, four that have already left and three more that are leaving after this season.
The Miners lost two Texas foes with Houston and SMU joining Memphis and UCF in the new American Athletic Conference, a move that was originally to the Big East before the basketball-only schools broke away and took that name with them. But two new Texas teams are joining C-USA's West Division in North Texas and UTSA. Louisiana Tech is another newcomer in the West. In all, there are six new teams to replace the four departing teams. Three more schools — defending C-USA champion and preseason favorite Tulsa along with Tulane and East Carolina — are leaving next year, to be replaced by Old Dominion and Western Kentucky. Charlotte, a charter C-USA member in 1995, is returning in 2015.