The locker room is a sacred thing. It sounds cliche because cliches are true and a locker room is a sacred thing. Go back and watch last season's "All or Nothing" on Amazon Prime. The Los Angeles Rams believed they were a Super Bowl team; they bought in. The locker room built that belief, or delusion. When they'd tanked and became what everyone thought they were, a below average NFL team, and fired their coach, the Rams were as surprised as anyone. To do the things that football teams do, to go out every week and put themselves on the line, the locker room is a lynchpin.
The UTEP Miners are enduring a disastrous 2017 season. UTEP's 0-5 start wasn't the plan. They sacrificed and fought through winter training, spring ball, summer conditioning, and fall camp. They didn't hide from anyone; they went to Norman to win. I've seen every snap this season, and the Miners play hard. The didn't expect to be 0-5, they expected to compete for a conference title, go to bowl game. They believed it even if you didn't.
In the midst of their disastrous season, they've seen four players injured and lost for the season in one evening. They lost an offensive coordinator, a starting quarterback, twice, along the way. Still, the locker room is sacred. They read the headlines that say they're the worst team in the America, but they lined up at West Point and gave Army all they could. They flew back home, sore, tired, and watched the film, went to treatment, tried to catch up on school and found out the coach who gave them a shot was no longer their coach. And the locker room is now all they've got.
Then came news Monday that Bob Stull hadn't yet decided who would take the reigns in the interim, while they're left in limbo. But Stull assured the press of this much before the media found out who the interim coach was, he would inform the players. He didn't. A few hours later UTEP football tweeted out that Mike Price, a man who hasn't coached since 2012, was the interim head coach, bypassing others on the staff including coaches like Tom Mason who held an interim job before. The title said "Homecoming." Perhaps for Price, but not for the 2017 Miners. The locker room isn't sacred anymore at UTEP.
It's a disservice to those young men, but also to Mike Price. In a best-case scenario, Price might lead this team to a couple of wins, far from salvaging a season. Five weeks in, Price can't drastically alter the scheme, or redeploy personnel. Worst case, he loses the locker room. In that worst-case scenario, it doesn't just pour gas on UTEP's 2017 fire; it also sets back the next coach. That guy's job doesn't need to be any tougher.
On social media Monday night, UTEP athletes expressed a rarity in college athletics, openly questioning the direction of their program. It's a pack mentality because they know the danger of introducing an outsider, particularly with the season half over. They also know now that the current administration cares very little for the bonds that they've built over the past months and years. In a matter of hours, outsiders have undermined the locker room.
There's something bigger at work here, if this drastic move was greenlit by the current athletic administration or higher, then what confidence could anyone have in their ability to perform a diligent search for Bob Stull's replacement? In spite of what you might read, that's the most important hire in UTEP's immediate future. The new Athletic Director will set a tone. If UTEP promotes from within and any of those candidates played a part in the way the past twelve hours were handled, UTEP fans should have serious reservations about the future. The Miner athletic department looks primed for a thorough house cleaning and fresh ideas. Understanding a locker room might be a good place to start.