Sunday, November 10, 2013

Wow...UTEP is god-awful. (Some ideas to address that...)

I went to see the UNT/UTEP game in Denton the other day.

I was shocked by what I saw.  Now mind you I recognized that UTEP was likely going to lose in a blowout, but really it was like UTEP "won" maybe 10 plays all night.

That team is horrible.  They have adequate size and speed, but man...I saw no heart and no enthusiasm.

UTEP was slightly below average under Mark Price last year.  They won 3 games and competed in 5 more.  But the team that rolled into Denton was just not competitive.  They totally didn't show up.

Odd moves and potential implications

I understand UTEP started a new QB in true freshman Mack Leftwich, but I have to seriously question that decision as a coaching move. UTEP had planned on redshirting the 5'10" Leftwich.  To me, that is a great idea for an undersized freshman.  The freshman QB is the son of UTEP OL coach Spencer Leftwich.

Mack Leftwich reminds me a little of Riley Dodge --- a similar small build scrambler who can make smart plays and avoid mistakes.  He also reminds me of the Riley Dodge situation in that starting him MAY have totally unnecessarily created nepotism talk on the team.

Now I have nothing to absolutely confirm that idea, but I did see a team that from the start of the game showed no hope or enthusiasm about winning that game.

Starting a new QB should have at least had your players on offense showing some enthusiasm.  I saw none of that.  I saw passed hit receivers in the hands and the receiver just slump back to huddle.  There was a ton of slumped over UTEP players on offense, defense, and special teams all night.  It was like they knew they had no shot of winning.

That to me is a huge red flag that makes me question whether the coaches have the heartbeat of the team.

Reading a bit, I understand UTEP has a 6'7" second year freshman QB they could have gone with named Garrett Simpson.  Simpson was their scout team QB last year.  He lost a QB competition this spring and apparently before this game there was a thought that he might take the starting job --- A move that if you read this article, the local reporter did not seem to favor.   (Perhaps the coaching staff was also taking some local pressure in the press?)

This is the thing though. If you have a lost year and an opportunity arises to start QBs, I think in general it makes a ton more sense to start the guy who has earned the team's respect over that last year.  Even if you don't think he's your guy, you let him play a little and you have a seasoned backup to run with AND you have a QB who has redshirted a year, allowing him to bulk up and learn the college game without taking damage.

UNT sacked Leftwich 8 times last night.  The kid looked like a freshman who was not aware of the speed of the college game and lacked the vision to see the field.

Would that have happened with the 6'7" guy back there?  I think it is doubtful.

I am not saying the result would have been different, but what you want in building a program is improvement on each play, in each game.  I didn't begin to see that last night.  That is what Simpson might have bought you without wasting a redshirt season.

It was a painful game to watch as I felt for the UTEP players.  I felt  like I was watching a team that had no confidence in what they were asked to do.

The wrong coach?

It made me wonder about UTEP's choice to replace Mark Price.  Sean Kugler was apparently a decent young NFL position coach who also happened to be a UTEP alum.  Honestly, I already hate the hire.

It sounded eerily like Idaho's hire of Tom Cable. Cable wrecked the Idaho football program. He was another tough guy OL coach who worked his way up to head coach.

(There is something to be said for hiring someone who has been a successful collegiate head coach.)

The comment he made about UNT's program further made me question this guy.

" Kugler, in fact, declared the Mean Green to be playing the best football in C-USA and said the program Dan McCarney has built since he arrived in 2011 is his model. 

"They struggled a couple of years ago, they were young, they're seniors now," Kugler said. "Hard work, recruiting, they redshirted kids, they kept the same coaching staff intact. They worked at it and did it the right way. They did it up front on the lines. They took an approach much like we're trying to take here." "

OK now. A lot of the principles on the UNT teams since McCarney arrived were recruited by Todd Dodge.  Starting QB Derek Thompson?  Dodge recruit.  RB Brandin Byrd?  Dodge recruit. Aaron Bellazin, Brandon McCoy, Richard Abbe and Zach Orr?  All Dodge recruits.  And that doesn't include all the guys who have graduated in the last two years who, for the most part, were Dodge recruits.

I love what McCarney has done in Denton, but little of the crap above is what UNT can teach UTEP's players or lay out as a guide for UTEP's boosters.

The parts to make a lesson of start with the fact that McCarney's Mean Green appear a LOT stronger than Todd Dodge's and in much better shape. They do not wear down.  They play hard on every down. The starting lineup has big guys but not a ton of fat guys.  That implies much more offseason weight room work.  They also play the game a lot smarter.  They tackle very well.  They play sound technique.  They have developed a culture of accountability and showing up on each play and in the off-season that frankly appeared a bit lacking under Dodge.

The current UNT team frankly may be significantly less talented overall than Dodge's last two teams.  They are not significantly more talented than UTEP.

UTEP was just as big and just as fast as UNT.  What I saw from UTEP was a team that didn't execute well...  A team that had players who blew individual one-on-one matchups... A team that was frequently out of position on defense and didn't tackle well... Frankly, a team that was poorly coached on all of the things that makes UNT a winner under McCarney.

I saw a team that appeared to have quit.

Look I like the idea of winning the battles on the lines as much as anyone, but a ton of the stuff he said there is nonsensical gibberish designed to support really ANYTHING he wants to do.

UNT is in year three of Dan McCarney.  One would expect that the experienced McCarney would still have most or all of his original UNT staff intact.  Nothing of relevance there.

The idea of redshirting is just bizarre.  You redshirt a kid because you feel that they lack the size or strength  or experience to compete immediately.  (Or if they need help with school work.) You are assuming that buying a year on the rear of a kid's career would pay off.  So why do you want to extoll the virtues of redshirting a player when you have deviated from your plan on redshirting Leftwich?

I am inclined to agree with Denny Green.  "Plan your work and work your plan."

And you know the ridiculous part?  Spencer Leftwich was Todd Dodge's OL coach at UNT.  If anyone should have a clear insight into UNT, it is Leftwich's boss, Sean Kugler.

A short leash should be considered

In general, I am a huge advocate of giving a coach 5 years (or even 6-7 years if they inherit APR isssues) to put their system in place and deliver a winner, but I think you have to see something that gives you hope in years 1-5.

Players should not be quitting on a coach in year 1.  Especially not the whole team.  That is a huge red flag.

I think UTEP would be smart to have a short leash on this guy.  If his team quits on him next year too, they should pull the plug early.

And I have a replacement in mind

Frankly I think replacing him at that point with the recently fired WT coach Don Carthel (a former UTEP assistant) would be a very smart move.

UTEP has hurdles

UTEP has recruiting problems.  El Paso does not generate enough recruits.  UTEP needs recruits from all over Texas to succeed.  C-USA helps a lot, but there are still problems.

El Paso is viewed as a dangerous place to live.  UTEP is not viewed as an exciting academic choice by students with offers from peer (or slightly better) athletic schools in Texas like Rice, SMU, TCU, Houston, and Tech.

Combine that with the fact that UTEP cannot generate the kind of athletic department money most other Texas universities can and you see the problem.  UTEP, like other Texas universities, cannot use state funds for athletics.

They already are in a tough spot because of Title IX, as UTEP's enrollment is heavily female --- far more than most large public universities in the state, putting legal pressure on the school to add more largely non-revenue generating female sports than other Texas universities.  The large female enrollment also kicks UTEP in gut as female students tend to be strongly against athletic spending.

UTEP tried to institute a student athletic fee in 2010.  The dedicated athletic fees is the athletic department workaround available to Texas universities.  It is "by the consent of the governed".  The state of Texas will allow students to vote to allow their university to levy an athletic fee of up to $20 per semester hour on it's student body.  Athletic fees have been implemented at similar universities like UTSA, Texas State, Lamar, and UNT.  It was voted down by the students at UTEP.

That means UTEP's athletic funding will continue to be heavily reliant on football ticket sales. UTEP football attendance fluctuates wildly depending on the quality of the team.  UTEP does not have money on hand to hire the kind of big time coaches who can win at a high rate and keep the attendance numbers high.

They are at a disadvantage and therefore have to work smarter.  Like hiring Price, hiring Carthel would be a penny-wise investment.

The case for Carthel

Carthel has the knack for finding talent on a budget, he is well known in the region which will help recruiting,  is a proven winner, has experience successfully running a college program, has a good, fan pleasing offensive system, and is likely not fielding a lot of inquiries (ie. he is cheap and would be loyal.).

The guy wins everywhere he goes and coaches an exciting brand of football.

Carthel was run out in WT because he played fast and loose with some very minor NCAA rules (not the big stuff) which appears to have soured his relationship with his boss over the years.

He lied to his AD about when 2 players actually paid Carthel back for $30 Ranger tickets.  That really broke the code between Carthel and his AD.  Lying to your boss will get you fired.  WT firing him was defensible, but one would be hard pressed to find anyone at WT who would consider Carthel a disruptive troublemaker.  He is a godly man.  He is widely regarded as a great coach who really cared about all of the students out there.

Carthel is 61.  Most coaches who chose to coach late into their lives retire around 68-70.  If you want to land him, you should really think about hiring him in the next few years.

Plus other LSC schools are likely looking at hiring Carthel.

You took Mark Price.  You could do a lot worse than Don Carthel.  Something to think about.

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