We'll likely never know just how it was determined that Mike Price, after six losing seasons in a row, will be returning to coach his ninth year of football at UTEP. Probably because UTEP couldn't buy out the last year of his contract. And, also, everybody, including boosters and the school administration, likes Mike Price.
It's OK he's coming back; it looks like next season's Miner outfit might well be fairly decent after getting poleaxed at Ole Miss and at Wisconsin in September games. But that's going to hurt. It means you have to win seven of your other 10 games to have a regular-season winning record.
Many carping Miner fans are correct. There should be no excuses for six straight losing seasons. I'm adding a caveat: Except at UTEP. Price and more than one set of assistants/recruiteres didn't do a "winning" job getting winners here. No coach or staff in the past 50 have. But the era of 1- or 2-win seasons is long gone. Now we're getting 5- and 6-win seasons, although not going to the games much anymore (maybe 20,000 a game in the 50,000-seat Sun Bowl Stadium). No ticket money, no money to pay off one coach and hire another in the same year.
But there are fewer "ifs" heading into 2012 than is the norm around here. And, like it or not, the strong question remains: Who can UTEP get to come to El Paso for what Price is getting as base pay (somewhere close to $300,000). His big money was based on incentives he usually didn't reach. I don't think he made a lot of money off the $10 for every season ticket sold over 10,000. We know he didn't get a bonus for winning the conference title. UTEP has never won a conference title in football - ever.
For next year I'm liking soph-to-be running back Nathan Jeffrey a lot. Playing behind three seniors (I can't understand why), Jeffrey averaged 6.4 yards a carry, although getting the ball an average of just over two times a game. If the biggest name schools in the country can let freshmen carry the ball on first string, I don't underestand why UTEP doesn't follow suit. Running backs don't have to be seasoned vets. They just have to not like getting tackled, and be able to do something about that.
The two top receivers are back, Mike Edwards (50 catches) and Jordan Leslie (30).
Perhaps the linchpin to offensive success in 2012 is the "if." Is senior-to-be quarterback Nick Lamaison for real? He was injured in the second game and was never really strong after that, although he completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for an average of 190.9 yards a game. Twelve TD passes, but 10 interceptions. His pedigree says he'll be the real Nick Lamaison next year.
Defense? It's almost never good. UTEP hasn't tackled in years.
Yes, if this was a school where a lot of suits gave big money to the program, Price would be outta here - probably two years ago. There are no chest-pounding boosters in Utepia. And the few who merit the tag "booster" generally like Mike Price.
It is not going to hurt UTEP's football program to have Mike Price back for 2012.