Former UTEP player and assistant Sean Kugler was named the 25th head coach of the Miners on December 10, 2012.
In his third season at the helm, Kugler and his staff saw the injuries pile up. Fifteen players sustained season-ending injuries, including star running back Aaron Jones. Despite the injuries, UTEP came up one win short of being bowl eligible. The Miners, after a 0-2 start, finished the season with a 5-7 mark.
Since Kugler’s arrival as head coach, the offensive line has done a tremendous job of protecting the quarterback. In 2015 the Miners led Conference USA in sacks allowed (12) and ranked no. 6 nationally in sacks allowed per game (1.0). In Kugler’s three seasons, UTEP signal callers have been sacked 52 times in 37 games (1.4 per game). During the previous three campaigns (37 games), the Miners went down 84 times (2.3 per game).
Penalties were also minimal in 2015, as UTEP ranked no. 2 in C-USA and 10th in the nation in fewest penalties (57). The Miners’ 4.75 penalties per game ranked second in conference and 13th nationally. UTEP also ranked no. 2 in the league in penalty yards (503) and penalty yards per game (41.92). In Kugler’s three seasons (37 games) at the helm, the Miners have averaged 4.6 penalties per game and 38.5 penalty yards per contest. The three seasons prior (37 games), UTEP averaged 5.1 penalties and 44.9 penalty yards per game.
Before Jones was lost for the season, he gained 139 yards at Texas Tech, including a school-record 91-yard touchdown run. Jones suffered his injury in the first half against the Red Raiders. The tailback will have two years of eligibility after being granted a redshirt year.
UTEP chalked up its first win of 2015 at NM State, a 50-47 overtime thriller in Las Cruces, in which the Miners rallied from 14 points down. Kugler also improved to 3-0 versus the I-10 rival Aggies since being hired. The Miners grinded out a season-high 269 yards and scored three rushing touchdowns. UTEP outscored NM State 34-17 in the fourth quarter and overtime period.
The Miners forged a 3-2 home record in 2015. UTEP’s first home win came against Incarnate Word, a 27-17 victory on Sept. 26. Ryan Metz threw a pair of touchdowns. The Miners also took down Florida Atlantic 27-17 on Oct. 24, as Tyler Batson gained a career-high 143 yards on three receptions and two scores, including a career-long 76-yard touchdown catch. UTEP came up with a victory against Rice, a 24-21 final in which Jay Mattox connected on a 24-yard field goal with 48 seconds left. It was the Miners’ first win over the Owls since the 2010 season.
Three Miners were named to the 2015 C-USA All-Freshman team, while eight others received All-C-USA Honorable Mention. Newcomers Hayden Plinke and Alan Luna were two of those Miners to make the list. Plinke tallied 405 yards on 37 receptions – the most yards by a UTEP tight end since 2000. Luna finished tied for second in C-USA and 16th nationally in punting average (44.4). Luna was also on the Ray Guy watch list.
Autry Golden, who played under Kugler the past three years, was able to cap off his career as the program all-time leader in kickoff returns with 2,981 yards. Golden also tallied 119 career returns, ranking first in program history.
In his second season, Kugler engineered one of the greatest turnarounds in the country. The Miners, 2-10 in 2013, recorded a winning record overall (7-6) and in Conference USA play (5-3) for the first time since 2005. UTEP posted victories in five of its last seven regular season games to rebound from a 2-3 start. The hot finish propelled UTEP into the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, where it faced Utah State in its first postseason appearance in four years.
Using a ball control offense – the Miners were second nationally in time of possession – and a punishing ground game led by El Paso native Jones, UTEP averaged 26.6 points and 207.8 rushing yards per game. That was more than enough to complement a defense that exhibited vast improvement. The Miners allowed more than 10 fewer points and 100 fewer yards per contest than they did in 2013.
The 2014 Miners took on the persona of their coach – tough, hard-nosed, and quick to respond to adversity.
They opened the season with a 31-24 triumph at New Mexico, a game in which they built a 24-7 lead in the second quarter, spotted the Lobos 17 unanswered points, then made the plays necessary to secure the win late. Jones capitalized on a fumble by Lobo punt returner Dameon Gamblin to score the winning TD, then Adrian James picked off UNM quarterback Clayton Mitchem’s pass with a little over a minute to go.
It was the first of numerous times that UTEP displayed a fortitude and resolve that had been lacking in recent years.
On Sept. 6, the Miners nearly upset Texas Tech in the Sun Bowl. They recovered from the disappointing 30-26 loss to thump I-10 rival NM State, 42-24, a week later.
Following back-to-back blowout losses at Kansas State and Louisiana Tech, the Miners began their breathtaking mid-season march. They knocked off Old Dominion 42-35 in the Sun Bowl, then posted one of the most dominating defensive performances in school history in a 34-0 rout at UTSA. The Roadrunners were limited to just two first downs and 70 yards of offense as UTEP pitched its first conference shutout in 26 years.
The run continued with a 35-14 shellacking of Southern Miss in El Paso. The Miners nearly extended their winning streak to five games at Western Kentucky, but the Hilltoppers erased a 27-14 deficit by scoring three late touchdowns.
Undeterred, UTEP posted wins in two of its final three regular season games – first dispatching North Texas on Nov. 15 (35-17), then holding off a Middle Tennessee team that was also fighting for its bowl life in the regular season finale on Nov. 29. The defense snuffed out a potential game-winning touchdown drive by the Blue Raiders, as Jameel Erving recorded a spectacular one-handed interception just outside of the end zone and UTEP held on for a 24-21 victory.
The ground game was pulsated by Jones, who averaged 110.1 yards per contest to rate 24th nationally. Jameill Showers was solid under center, throwing for 12 touchdowns with only six interceptions.
The defense forced 21 turnovers and generated a pass rush with 26 sacks, 76 tackles for losses and 40 quarterback hurries.
Golden continued to ignite the special teams area, coming within one kickoff return for a touchdown of tying the NCAA record (he had six in his career). The Miners were also strong on kickoff coverage, rating 11th nationally by allowing 17.5 yards per return.
In his first year at the helm of the program, Kugler established expectations for his student-athletes. They would be disciplined and tough on the field, responsible and accountable off of it. Kugler's hard-nosed mentality was immediately reflected in the way the Miners played the game. They rushed for over 200 yards in six contests for the first time in 19 years. They compiled more rushing first downs (116) than passing first downs (87) for the first time in 10 years.
The Miners were competitive in the first half of the season before the injury bug claimed starting quarterback Showers and, later, freshman rushing phenom Jones. While their absence resulted in a rough closing stretch, it afforded Kugler and his staff the opportunity to give some young guys who will be counted on down the road some much-needed experience.
Defensively, UTEP was forced to install a 4-2-5 scheme in the blink of an eye after switching coordinators following spring ball. The stop troops had their ups and downs while relying heavily on unproven players. Seven of the top 10 tacklers at season's end hadn't started a game for the Miners prior to 2013.
In the end, the season was all about laying the groundwork for a new era of Miner football.
Kugler returned to the Sun City following three seasons as the offensive line coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has 11 years of NFL experience, also working with the Detroit Lions (2001-05) and the Buffalo Bills (2007-09).
Kugler was on the UTEP staff from 1993-2000, and was assistant head coach at Boise State in 2006, when the Broncos finished 13-0 and beat Oklahoma 43-42 in the Fiesta Bowl, unanimously viewed as one of the greatest postseason games in college football history.
Kugler was raised in Lockport, N.Y. His father was an assistant fire chief.
He was a four-year letterman at UTEP (1985-88), playing under head coach and current UTEP Director of Athletics Bob Stull for three seasons. In 1988, Kugler led the Miners to the only 10-win season in school history and a berth in the Independence Bowl. His position coach at UTEP was current Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.
He signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 1989. Kugler started at guard for the Sacramento Surge in the World League of American Football in 1991.
He began his coaching career at Tampa Bay Vo-Tech High School in 1990, helping the school to its most successful season with a 10-2 record. He was the offensive line and strength & conditioning coach at Gaither High School in Tampa in 1992 before making his way back to El Paso.
During eight seasons with the Miners, Kugler served in various capacities and coached four All-Western Athletic Conference offensive linemen (Carey Clayton, Alan Gray, Jeff Seeton, Anwar White). In his final season, UTEP finished 8-4, won the second conference title in school history and faced Boise State in the Crucial.com Humanitarian Bowl.
In 2001, Kugler began his long-running association with the National Football League. He spent five seasons with the Detroit Lions, working with the tight ends and the offensive line, before returning to college coaching at Boise State in 2006.
He was a part of a magical campaign with the Broncos, doubling as the team's assistant head coach and offensive line coach. The explosive Bronco offense produced 222.8 yards rushing per game to rate sixth nationally. Leading the ground game was sophomore Ian Johnson, who ranked first in the country in rushing touchdowns (25) and second in rushing yards (1,755). Kugler coached a pair of All-WAC offensive linemen at Boise State, including current Denver Broncos Pro Bowler Ryan Clady.
Kugler rejoined the NFL at Buffalo in 2007. In three seasons with the Bills, he mentored two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters. In 2007, Kugler's offensive line surrendered just 26 sacks to set a team record. The Bills also had a 1,000-yard rusher in every season with Kugler on the sideline.
The highlight of Kugler's stint with the Steelers was a trip to the 2011 Super Bowl. The 2010 season may have marked Kugler's crowning achievement as a coach, as he took a patchwork offensive line decimated by the loss of both tackles to season-ending injuries and groomed it into a championship-caliber unit. Under Kugler's tutelage rookie center Maurkice Pouncey made the first of three consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. A year later, the Steelers posted their highest yards per carry average in 10 years (4.4) and Ben Roethlisberger threw for 4,077 yards, the second-best figure in franchise history. Despite again facing multiple injuries to key O-Line personnel, the Steelers lowered their sacks allowed count from 42 in 2011 to 37 in 2012.
Kugler and his wife, Patsy, have three children - sons Robert and Patrick, and daughter Kali. Robert and Patrick played on high school teams that won back-to-back state titles in New York (2009) and Pennsylvania (2010). Robert, a Purdue grad is an offensive lineman for the Buffalo Bills. Patrick is a junior offensive lineman at Michigan. He was selected to participate in the 2013 Under Armour All-American Bowl.
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