If you want to know what it's like to bottom out as a program, don't look at UTEP, look at Kansas State from the 1940s to the 1980s, and you'll see rock bottom. The Wildcats averaged 2.4 wins per season and received one bowl invite. In that same period, UTEP averaged twice as many wins and went to eight bowl games. Kansas State's fortunes turned when Wizard Bill Snyder made his way to Kansas State in 1989. Kansas State quadrupled their average wins per season. Dana Dimel enjoyed a front-row seat to the turnaround and the maintenance.
Can Dimel take what he learned from watching Snyder and apply it to UTEP and build a similar program? Maybe, on a smaller scale.
Dimel's no Bill Snyder, no one is. No one cares that much about pats of butter. But the principles that Snyder introduced in remote Manhattan, Kansas should translate to El Paso, starting with preparation. Snyder's teams might be out talented, they might be outsized, they might be outrun, but they aren't out coached. Take a poll of Big 12 coaches, and they'll tell you they hate prepping for Kansas State because the Wildcats are always well-coached, they line up correctly, and they execute.
Kansas State teams also play with near fanatical effort, especially on the defensive side. Whether it's player evaluation or fear of Bill, the Wildcats play like their very existence depends on it. That's a cultural emphasis, and it starts with talent evaluation. Incoming players at Kansas State walk into a locker room with a sizeable chip on its shoulder. The Wildcats won't sign players that need an extra push to play with effort. They find true believers and set them loose. That mindset starts with Snyder and flows over the program like a wave.
Offensively they don't beat themselves. The Wildcats aren't full of frills on offense. They tend to finish at or near the bottom of the Big 12 in total offense, but they are efficient. From 2012 to 2017 the Wildcats finished in the top three of 3rd down conversion rate four times. In that same time they finished first or second in fewest turnovers four times. In five of those six seasons, the Wildcats finished in the top three in fewest penalties.
Finally and not exhaustively, Bill Snyder doesn't rely on recruiting stars to evaluate talent. Snyder isn't creative in his recruiting approach, more accurately he knows what he wants and what skill sets are useful to him. Kansas State won't ever attract the talent that Oklahoma or Texas can, the location is too remote and lacks a recruiting base. Since 2011, according to 24/7, Kansas State hasn't finished better than eighth in the Big 12's composite recruiting rankings. They have the fifth best winning percentage in that same time frame, are third in winning percentage among Big 12 members in that same period, ahead of recruiting heavyweight Texas and other programs that consistently "out recruit" Kansas State. The Wildcats can't afford to miss on players, so Snyder's staff use a keen eye to find players that fit the system, even if those players require a position change to do it. They also can't afford to take shortcuts. Player development is at a premium.
Is Kansas State going to compete for a national title? Probably not. That's a big ask for a program in the middle of Kansas. But they're able to make life hell on Big 12 opponents and have the odd year where they challenge for a league crown.
If in a couple of seasons, Dana Dimel can substitute UTEP for Kansas State in the preceding paragraphs he will have had a massive impact on the Miner program. He'll have a program that will make life hell on the rest of CUSA.