Winning at UTEP is hard. Recruiting at UTEP might be tougher. That's the chicken and egg of the situation in El Paso. That's also the challenge that is facing Dana Dimel and his new staff, especially coming off a 0-12 season. With the dead period upon us, the Miners are one of a handful of FBS programs with zero commits for the 2019 class. While the situation isn't unusual for UTEP it's one that has to change.
Dimel is no stranger to recruiting challenges, he's lived them at Kansas State for the past eight seasons, and his first head coaching job at the tender age of 34 was at Wyoming. In both places, getting kids to campus for a visit is the critical factor. That's the case in most places, but especially in remote locations like Manhattan, Laramie, and El Paso. The advantage UTEP possesses over schools located in Kansas and Wyoming is that there are a ton of Division I athletes in Texas. Distance mitigates that advantage El Paso is from most of those athletes.
None of this is new. El Paso didn't spring up in a different time zone overnight. That's part of the equation. So like Kansas State and Wyoming, you must cast a far net to bring in talent. The Wildcats recruit areas like Texas, Georgia, and Florida hard. Wyoming looks to California and nearby Colorado.
Dimel's staff currently, at least as far as we know, have offered athletes from four states, Texas, California, Illinois, and Florida. The vast majority are kids from Texas or California. That doesn't tell the story. To illustrate the point, when Seth Littrell's staff heads out to recruit or watch games on a Friday night, they'll drive around the Metroplex or over to northeast Texas. If Major Applewhite wanted to draw a circle around the Houston campus, 100 miles, they could find enough talent there to fill several rosters. If you're UTEP OC Mike Canales, and you want to take in a recruit's game on a Friday night in season, you're on a plane 99% of the time. That strains a recruiting budget and taxes time. Recruiting is different in El Paso.
UTEP has to be smart and efficient with its efforts. They also have to spread the gospel of winning. Winning in remote locations isn't impossible. Kansas State is the poster child, but Boise, Washington State, and a slew of others prove the point. Winning is the selling point, and recruits aren't going to commit to the process until they see it working.
2018 is a critical season for Dimel. He has to show, essentially, proof of concept. That his system will work against CUSA opponents and that players can develop or evolve in it. Central to that effort is reversing the backsliding the program fell victim to the past two or three seasons. Signs point to a real change in culture this offseason and buy-in from players. Dimel, Canales, and defensive coordinators Mike Cox are experienced, successful operators. They know how to scheme and make more out of less.
The fact that Dimel attracted former Tech defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt as an analyst and former Tulsa head coach Keith Burns to coach secondary and Mike Tuiasosopo to head up the defensive tackles are enormous hires. Tuiasosopo has great ties to the west coast and Burns' experience is invaluable. They know how to find talent and coach 'em up. That second trait is the focal point for 2018 because UTEP must show progress to become a program that gets on the recruiting radar early.
The other area where Dimel's exceeded expectation is his transformation of UTEP's moribund social media efforts. If you aren't selling your program, rest assured, the other guys are selling theirs. Kids want Instagram and Twitter attention, and the new UTEP regime is making big moves across the board. Part of that emphasis probably comes from new AD Jim Senter who is a non-stop energizer bunny, banging the drum of Minter athletics. Regardless, UTEP is trying to make itself relevant on, and that's smart business.
El Paso and the UTEP campus are selling points and the parts of the equation that are typically ignored. The campus has undergone a remarkable renovation in the past decade, and the school will spruce up the Sun Bowl as well. Again, if you can get kids there, the preconceived notions and fears disappear, and you see the city for what it is, a safe, vibrant, unique, even quirky place.
Getting kids on that plane gets us back to the chicken and egg that is UTEP athletics. To get better players, you have to win. To win, you need better players.
UTEP opens the season at home against Northern Arizona.