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Price hopes to rebuild reputation after dismissal

12/23/2003 - UTEP Miners

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.