Posts Tagged ‘UTEP Miners’

Why UTEP Not a Consistent Winner In Football

Ray Sanchez© 10.16.16

I sort of feel sorry for UTEP athletic director Bob Stull. Just about every coaching selection he’s made for football or basketball since he took his present job in 1998 has been hailed as brilliant.
Charlie Bailey was the football coach when Stull took over. Stull’s first hire in football was Gary Nord, who was an instant success. In 2000, he won eight games, tied for the Western Athletic Conference championship, took the team to a bowl game and was hailed throughout the city.
Nord followed his first-year success with three straight two-win seasons.

ENTER MIKE PRICE. He, too, was an instant hit and hiring him was considered a great feather in UTEP’s hat. After all, he had been a national College Coach of the Year at Washington State and had been hired by Alabama. In his first two years, he won eight games each season and was the toast of the town.
He followed that up with six straight losing seasons.

THEN CAME Sean Kugler in 2013 with a resume that would make any college athletic director’s mouth water. Not only had he been a star player with the Miners but he had wide experience in the National Football League. He had been an assistant coach with the Detroit Lions, the Buffalo Bills and even the Pittsburgh Steelers. A sure-to-be winner with the Miners, right? Wrong.
He had a 7-6 season in 2014 but losing seasons in 2013 and 2015 and is off to a 1-4 start this year.

NO, IT’S NOT the fault of football coaches Stull has hired that has made the Miners losers on the gridiron. It’s the situation UTEP finds itself in and that is, isolation.
We are so far removed from major cities, major markets and major news centers that few of the better athletes want to come here. Which means that our football teams are going against bigger, stronger and faster players in game after game.
Oh, we’ve had some good players, like running back Aaron Jones this year, but not enough of them. And we’ve had some good teams, but not enough to sustain a winning program.

THE SOLUTION? Some say we should have stayed at our same level of competition and never left the Western Athletic Conference.
But I can’t blame Stull for wanting to improve the school’s status and competition and moving the Miners into Conference USA. It means more and better exposure for our players and our teams – and more money for UTEP.

THE OTHER major sport at UTEP, basketball, has been competitive but that’s a different story. It takes much fewer players to fill a team and means more good players are available.
And Stull has had much success in finding good coaches for that sport, too. That they haven’t stuck around long is not his fault. He’s lost most of them to those bigger and better paying schools.
Stull’s first hire in basketball was Jason Rabedeaux. Then came Billy Gillespie, Doc Sadler and Tony Barbee. The latter three produced outstanding teams and each took the Miners to the NCAA Tournament.
And finally, there’s the present coach, Tim Floyd. You couldn’t have asked for a better resume. He had been late UTEP coach Don Haskins’ assistant and had even coached the Chicago Bulls, for goodness sake.
He hasn’t made it to the NCAA Tournament yet but has produced winning teams.

ALL IN ALL, Bob Stull has been quite an asset to the University of Texas at El Paso. Before he took over as athletic director he coached the football team to its winningest football season ever, 10-3. And as athletic director he has not only hired highly qualified football and basketball coaches but has hired some good coaches for all the other sports.
In addition to all that, he’s greatly improved the athletic facilities to heights not even imagined before.
I highly admire the man.


UTEP Basketball Has the Talent to Make Playoffs

By Ray Sanchez 11.08.15

UTEP officially opens its 2015-16 basketball season next Saturday at Loyola ray's crystal ballUniversity in New Orleans, so it was time last week to take my obnoxious crystal ball out of its drawer and ask how the Miners will fare this season.

It’s not a pleasant task because it always brags when it’s right and makes excuses when it’s wrong, but everywhere I go people keep asking for its predictions.

So I gingerly opened the drawer and, as usual, was met with sarcasm. “Where in the #$%$#! world have you been?” it snarled. “Don’t you know the basketball season is almost upon us? What a slacker.”

I retorted, “Slacker? Man, you know how many sports I have to keep up with and write about? But never mind that, just give me your thoughts on the Miners this basketball season.”

Then I added, “Please.”

THE ORB snickered but straightened up, cleared its throat in its customary obnoxious way and replied, “Well, since you said please.

“The Miners seem to have plenty of firepower this season. Did you see the Orange vs. White scrimmage? Man, four players scored more than 20 points. Center Hooper Vint, 6 feet 11, looked much improved. And then there’s 7 feet 1 Matt Willms. Wow, if a team has a great big man under the bucket and guards breaking through defenses to feed him the ball, that’s a big, big advantage. May I point out Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul Jabbar?

“The Miners seem to have other good scorers, too, like newcomer Lee Moore and returnee Omega Harris. And then there’s Dominic Artis, a transfer from University of Oregon. From what I hear, he’s been the most impressive of all in practice.


“AS FOR OUTSIDE shooters, can you believe freshman Trey Touchet hit 28 out of 30 to win a three point shootout in scrimmage?

“And as far as guard play, even coach Tim Floyd is impressed. He said he liked the guard play, especially of Artis and Moore. And there’s another good guard that will be joining the action. That’s Josh McSwiggan, who’s out with a knee injury.”

I shook my head in wonder. “Gee,” I said, “you’re really optimistic.”

The crystal ball just smiled.


BUT WAIT,” I said, “don’t forget that other teams in Conference USA will have outstanding players, too. You’re just focusing on the Miners.”

It answered, “True. And anything can happen, like dissension or eligibility problems or injuries or who knows what but the Miners have coach Floyd. He’s been in the big time. And he’s never sounded so optimistic. I think he’ll have a big season and has a good chance of making the NCAA playoffs.”

I must admit I was impressed. I picked up the crystal ball and, for a change, put it back in its drawer gently.


TRIVIA QUESTION:  What are the first and second names of the three DiMaggio brothers? Answer at end of column.


BOUQUETS to UTEP for scheduling a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1966 NCAA men’s basketball championship. It’ll be celebrated at the men’s basketball game against Western Kentucky on Feb. 6 and will be nationally televised on FOX Sports 1 with a tip-off time of 3 p.m.

As UTEP sports information director Jeff Darby points out, “The significance of Western Kentucky as the opponent for the anniversary game is great, as the Hilltoppers also participated in the 1966 NCAA Tournament and started two African American players, including Clem Haskins, who was selected third in the 1967 NBA Draft.  Clem Haskins and Dwight Smith became the first African-American players to join the WKU basketball program in the fall of 1963, putting the school at the forefront of integrating college basketball in the South.”

More Details coming.


ANSWER to trivia question. Joseph Paul, Dominic Paul and Vincent Paul.

Remembering the 1966 Miners on Facebook

by Ray Sanchez 07.05.15

There’s an exciting new network on Facebook. And when I say exciting, I mean exciting.

It’s called “Texas Western (UTEP) Road to Glory” where anyone can go and re-live and comment on the Miners who changed basketball with a victory over University of Kentucky in 1966.

To say the network is a big hit would be an understatement. Scores of fans who lived through that wonderful year have already commented and even posted photos of the Miners. In fact, one person, Ellington Ellis, even put up a video of the championship game.

Following are some of the comments from present and former El Pasoans I found especially interesting:


Raúl Enrique Burciaga, now living in Albuquerque I saw every home game that season thanks to my sister Margarita and her husband, who had season tickets. Plus, I watched every game that was televised and heard the games broadcast by radio only. I was 10 years old but I remember the entire season so vividly. I had a basketball signed by several of the players just a few days before they went to the Final Four. Later my niece, who was assistant location manager for “Glory Road”, was able to get the rest of the players’ signatures including Coach (Don) Haskins and most of the actors who portrayed the players. I will forever be a Miner Basketball fan.


Brian PhillipsSome of y’all know this, but when I was attending UTEP I worked for AM 690 KHEY (before the format flip) and I was asked to cover the press conference where Haskins formally announced his retirement. Back then, I knew of the TWC team but nothing more than that. Well, fast forward nearly 20 years later, I cannot be more proud to call myself a UTEP Miner and to have walked the same halls as those amazing guys. Once a Miner, Always a Miner!


Eddie Mullens — If The Shadow (Nevil Shed) had been as large then as today, he would have been dangerous … I still get a chuckle each time I think about how excited, clapping his hands, running in front of the TWC bench when he had a great play but running down the opposite sideline with his head down when he didn’t do well.


Ellington Ellis – I love this man (Shed)!  Full of humility and love … No wonder God chose him for this game.


Richard Glancey — I’ve always said, “when he (Shed) came to TWC, he was so skinny he could hide behind a telephone pole.” Retired, he did a tremendous job at UTSA. I used to see him at UTSA basketball games.


Charles Hill — Shed could hide behind a telephone pole and according to Haskins, he couldn’t guard a telephone pole.


Margarita Kanavy of El Paso posted a photo (shown here) from the movie Glory Road which showed haskinspumpingasHaskins pumping gas, which led Charles Hill to comment that “Coach said he would have said more lines if he knew what they were paying for his one line.”


AND SO IT GOES on Facebook. What fun.


TRIVIA QUESTION: In 1963, The Dodgers swept the Yankees using only four pitchers.  Can you name them? Answer at end.


SPEAKING OF Charles Hill, he’s turned into quite an asset to sports in El Paso. He’s a statistician at UTEP football and basketball games, serves on the board of directors of the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame and the UTEP Athletic Hall of Fame and has written a book on sports.

He says he got the idea of a book after he read my latest book, “The Good, the Bad and the Funny of El Paso Sports History.”

My book included high school champions from El Paso only in the major sports so he decided to research state high school champions from El Paso in all sports. You can see the book now on For more information contact Hill at 590-4024 or email him at


ANSWER to trivia question: Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres and Ron Perranoski.


22 Wins Not Enough For Miners’ Fans?

By Ray Sanchez 03.29.15

One would think that 22 wins and a second place in Conference USA would be considered a good timflorydbasketball season.

Not in El Paso. For a lot of UTEP fans, anything short of a NCAA bid is considered a failure. You should hear the complaints about the players this year. They had no heart, they gave up, they’re terrible shooters, one player complained too much and on and on.

Coach Tim Floyd had plenty of detractors, too. His handling of the players, his strategy, even his demeanor were questioned.

This is not meant as an argument with fans. Heck, I love hearing from them – both the good and the bad. It shows they care.

But, boy, are we spoiled.


IN DEFENSE of the players, I go back to when I was covering the Dallas Cowboys. Tom Landry was the coach then. I loved the man. He was the same when he won as when he lost.

After a key game, I asked him why the Cowboys were beaten. Without changing expression, he simply said, “The other team was better.”

That’s what happened with the Miners in basketball this season. They lost a few games to lesser teams but that happens. However, at the end the only team that finished ahead of the Miners in conference, Louisiana Tech, was simply better.


AS FOR COACH Floyd, I’ll let Charles Hill, a statistician at UTEP games and a member of the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame board of directors, do the talking. I quote, in part:

“Quit blaming coach Floyd and the other coaches for the disappointing season … Coach Floyd doesn’t need anyone to defend him … He is one of the best coaches in NCAA basketball and certainly one of the best defensive minds in the game.

“Who do you suggest that UTEP should hire? Please don’t say Nolan Richardson. He is 70 years old. James Forbes might be a popular candidate but he is in his 60s and has never had to recruit players. Stop and think about what you are saying. The Miners will be just fine under the leadership of Coach Floyd and his staff.”


TRIVIA QUESTION: Who was the first high school runner to break the 4-minute mile? Answer at end.


WHAT A THRILL watching greatness. Firing Line was a marvel of effortless speed as he left six good horses 14 1/4 lengths behind in the $800,000 Sunland Derby last Sunday. “Breathtaking,” one spectator remarked. We now have someone to root for in the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday of May. The Sunland victory made Firing Line, ridden by Gary Stevens and trained by Simon Callaghan, eligible.

There were other outstanding races on the card. The favorite in the Sunland Oaks, Callback, trained by Bob Baffert, was disqualified and placed fourth. “Bridge jumpers” (people who like to bet heavily on favorites — one Sunland patron bet $2000 to win on Callback), were devastated but Baffert still came up with an entry for the Kentucky Oaks. His other entry, Maybellene, finished second and was moved up to first.



ALL IN ALL, it was quite a weekend at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino. Thousands of spectators overflowed the stands and the parking lot was so packed people had to park on side streets.

Another big winner was United Blood Services. The exotic Sunland Park Gala that’s held the night before the Sunland Derby benefits that organization, and is that heart-warming or what?. United Blood Services has saved countless lives through the years.

One particular example presented last Saturday included a young girl who was born premature and weighed only a little over two pounds at birth. Thanks to United Blood Services she survived and there she was on the Sunland Gala stage last Saturday – pretty as a picture, fully grown and celebrating her 16th birthday.

It brought a tear of joy to more than one attendee.


ANSWER to trivia question: Jim Ryun.

College Football This Year A Feast Of Goodies

By Ray Sanchez 11.23.14

Has 2014 been a great college football season or what? It’s been a delicious smorgasbord of close games, upsets and improbable utep logocomebacks. Former major powerhouses like Alabama, Texas, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Florida State have had to share the spotlight with lesser lights like TCU, Mississippi State, Baylor and even Arizona State

Florida State has remained undefeated but it’s been frightened so often it’s a miracle its fans haven’t suffered heart attacks.

All season any number of teams could claim they’re No. 1. All of which will make for one of the most exciting finishes to the season ever.


AND THEN there are the UTEP Miners. Many people, including me, scoffed when my crystal ball predicted they would win six games this year, but there they are today with six wins and bowl eligible.

That makes the 2014 season even more thrilling. Now, people are asking which bowl will pick the Miners. The best bet is the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque. That would be neat what with a nifty payoff of $456,250 and close enough for El Pasoans to drive to.

But wait a minute. If the Miners can win their final two regular season games against Rice and Middle Tennessee they could go to an even bigger, richer bowl.

Either way, things are rosy.


TRIVIA QUESTION: Which professional team was the first to put emblems on the helmets? Answer at end of column.


SPEAKING OF trivia questions, ours have become quite popular among some readers. A pretty young lady came up to me the other day and said she looks forward to the trivia question in my column every week. However, she confessed that she cheats. “I look at the answer at the end of the column right away after I read the question,” she said with a big smile, “I can’t wait.”


PICKING AN all-star team in any sport is a tricky thing. There’s no way you can please everyone. I know. I’ve been picking such teams for more than 50 years.

So it was no surprise to me that there were a few complaints that some players were left off UTEP’s Centennial All-Star teams. The most complaints I heard in football concerned Harvey “Pug” Gabrel, who would have set a national single game rushing record in 1949 but for a great act of sportsmanship. When coach Jack Curtice offered to give him the ball often in the second half against New Mexico State so he could set the record he turned it down, saying he didn’t want to pile up the score on the hapless Aggies. It cost him the title.


BUT OVERALL, the folks that picked the Centennial all-stars, and they did it without the help of the media, did a fine job. The all-stars were embraced and highly applauded when they were introduced at last week’s football and basketball games.

Personally, the selection that warmed my heart most was that of Ernest Keily. He was the pulling guard on the Miners’ great teams of the late 1940s. He’s the one who cleared the way for Fred Wendt’s national rushing title in 1948 and would have paved the way for Gabrel the next year. Pulling guards so seldom get attention. What’s more, Keily and I were schoolmates at El Paso High School in the early 1940s.


THE RESPONSE to the offer by Mesa Publishing to hand deliver my latest book, “The Good, the Bad and the Funny of El Paso Sports History,” to anyone within the El Paso city limits was surprisingly good. Most of those who ordered by calling me at 915-584-0626 or emailing me at got autographed books within 24 hours. The offer still stands, Mesa Publishing says.


ANSWER to trivia question: The Los Angeles Rams in 1948.


This Has Been A Great Season For Football Fans

by Ray Sanchez 01.12.14

El Paso’s two favorite teams, the UTEP Miners and the Dallas Cowboys, didn’t fare well, but overall this is one of the most enjoyable football seasons I’ve ever experienced. So many great games, so many improbable upsets, so many incredible finishes.

And what a spectacular finish to the college season last Monday. Florida State’s 34-31 victory over Auburn University in the Rose Bowl had all the elements mentioned above: A great game, what looked like an improbable upset in the making and an incredible finish. And to top it off, a winning touchdown pass in the last few seconds by no less than the Heisman Trophy winner, James Winston.

The National Football League has been as exciting as the college campaign. It, too, has had great games, improbable upsets and incredible finishes.

Can Super Bowl XLV111 on Feb. 2 in New Jersey be as exciting as the college championship game?  I wouldn’t bet against it.


TRIVIA QUESTION: What were the first names of the two Joe DiMaggio brothers who also played Major League baseball? Answer at end.


KICKING UTEP basketball players McKenzie Moore, Jalen Ragland and Justin Crosgile not just off the team but all the way out of school for allegedly betting on sports seems a bit harsh. But what else could UTEP officials do? Little bad habits can turn into big bad habits.

The three players are just kids, and we all have done foolish things when young. I feel some sympathy for them and wish them better luck in the future.


CLIFF LAMBERT has many things to be proud of in horse racing. He rode Galobar  to victory in the very first All-American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs Racetrack in 1959. He won riding titles at Los Alamitos and Bay Meadows in California. After retiring from riding he turned to training, and became an immediate success. As a matter of fact, he was the first trainer of Bold Ego and helped develop the local thoroughbred  into a Triple Crown contender that finished second in the Preakness.

And now, at the age of 77,  he has something else to be proud of: He has been inducted into the Ruidoso Downs Racing Hall of Fame.


HIS INDUCTION was announced on Dec. 24, which turned out to be a nice Christmas gift. One could say it caps an outstanding career in the horse racing business. Or rather, one could say that if Cliff Lambert were ready to retire. But not so. He is still training and turning out winners in New Mexico, including, of course, Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino.

His son, Casey, has been following in his father’s  footsteps as a jockey and, at the age of 49, Casey might be thinking of following in his father’s footsteps as a trainer, too. Casey suffered a serious injury in October and has been on the sidelines since then. He had been winning races at an outstanding percentage.


JOE RUIZ, a fellow golfer, came up and shook my hand. He seemed excited. “I found a great deal for golf,” he said. “Painted Dunes Golf Course is offering all the golf you can play any time including weekends for $1500 a year. That even includes a golf cart.”

“You’re kidding,” I said.

“No, no, it’s true,” he replied.

I thought I’d better check it out and called the Painted Dunes clubhouse. Sure enough, it’s true. But you’d better hurry if you’re interested. I was told the offer will only hold until the first 40 people sign up.


ANSWER to trivia question: Dom and Vince.

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