Price hopes to rebuild reputation after dismissal
EL PASO, Texas -- Mike Price has been waiting seven months to try to rebuild his coaching career. Texas-El Paso is happy to give him a chance.
The Miners hired Price on Sunday despite a reputation tarnished by a night of partying at a strip club months after being hired at Alabama. The longtime Washington State coach never coached a game for the Crimson Tide and has been trying to clear his image ever since.
"I feel reborn," Price said. "When something you love has been taken away it really hurts. It hurt me so much that now I know that coaching was my true calling."
Price, who maintains that the events that led to his departure were reported inaccurately, vows to be on his best behavior.
"A lot has happened to me since last April," Price said. "I will continue to try to clear my name, but I can assure that such a mistake will never again happen to Mike Price."
UTEP athletic director Bob Stull cited a relationship with Price that dates more than 20 years as part of his reason for giving him this opportunity. His coaching credentials made him a strong candidate to lead a team that's long been an also-ran in the Western Athletic Conference. The Miners have gone 14-34 the last four seasons under Gary Nord, who was fired Dec. 1.
Price turned Washington State into a Pac-10 title contender in his 14 seasons in Pullman, going 83-77 and leading the Cougars to five bowl games. Among his proteges were quarterbacks Drew Bledsoe and Ryan Leaf.
"We know Mike Price is a man who has been humbled by a highly public mistake," school president Diana Natalicio said. "He paid dearly for that grievous error in judgment, and all of us believe he has earned the opportunity to restart his career."
The hiring is similar to what Texas Tech did three years ago when it gave the volatile Bob Knight a chance to rebuild his career and its struggling men's basketball program.
George O'Leary was hired Dec. 8 to coach Central Florida, giving him another chance in college football two years after Notre Dame forced him to resign because he lied on his resume.
"I've always viewed him as not only a tremendous coach, but a great person and an outstanding representative of college football," Stull said of Price. "He has done a remarkable job of turning around programs and building nationally-ranked teams."
Price, a surprise choice to replace Dennis Franchione at Alabama after the 2002 season, got in trouble in April when he went to a topless bar after attending a golf tournament in Florida. Alabama president Robert Witt fired Price after he admitted drinking heavily and visiting the strip club.
Price sued the school for $20 million over his firing, but a judge threw out the lawsuit, noting that the fact Price never signed his seven-year, $10 million contract prevented him from claiming he was defrauded.
Price said Sunday he'd yet to sign his deal with UTEP, saying it wouldn't be finalized for several weeks.
The coach also filed a $20 million lawsuit against Time Inc., charging that he was libeled and slandered by a story in Sports Illustrated (owned by Time) detailing his actions the night he visited the strip club.
Price, who also coached Weber State for eight seasons, has a career record of 129-121.
Nord, a former Western Athletic Coach of the year, led the Miners to a share of the WAC title and the Humanitarian Bowl in 2000. It was the Miners' first league trophy in 44 years and the team's first bowl appearance since 1988, when Stull was coach.
But the Miners won only two games the next three seasons. Stull said the fact the Miners had beaten only three Division I-A teams during that span showed the program was not headed in the right direction.
Price, who was interested in the Arizona job but found that the school wasn't interested in him, said his UTEP teams would "concentrate on defense first, then special teams and then the offense."
He also praised the school's facilities, saying they would be a big help in recruiting.
"My father always told me if you go someplace where you're wanted and needed, you'll always have a better chance of success," he said.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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