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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, October 11, 2001

Miners matter to Nord

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

The back door was ajar, ready for Gary Nord to make his escape.

UTEP head football coach Gary Nord hopes to turn his season around with a win this weekend at Aloha Stadium.
Nord was an attractive prospect after leading the Texas-El Paso football team to the 2000 Humanitarian Bowl in his first season as the Miners' head coach. It was the Miners' first winning season since 1988, and fourth since Neil Armstrong's moon walk in 1969.

But Nord, who had coached at four schools in five years, decided to stop running.

"Heck, to be honest with you, I felt guilty because I kept uprooting my kids from their friends and their schools," said Nord, who has three children. "We got here to El Paso and we really like it, and my family is very happy and I'm happy. I love living here. I don't want to just be chasing rainbows around."

In the spring, Nord signed a contract extension that will tie him to UTEP through 2007.

"That's fine with me," he said. "The security is great. The quality of life is excellent. I'm very content right now."

Still, this has not been an easy season for the Miners, who arrive in Honolulu today for Saturday's Western Athletic Conference game against Hawai'i at Aloha Stadium.

The Miners are 2-3, with all of their losses suffered on the road.

They still are haunted by the NCAA violations they committed in the early 1990s. Under terms of the sanctions, the Miners were limited to offering 12 scholarships in 1996 and 12 in 1997, down from 25 annually. As a result, the Miners have six seniors on their roster, including two fifth-year players. They had 12 fifth-year starters last year.

"We don't have many seniors or juniors right now," Nord said. "We have some talented kids, but they're a little inexperienced and immature."

Senior quarterback Wesley Phillips, who succeeded Rocky Perez, has struggled, collaborating with heralded wideout Lee Mays on one scoring pass this year. The defense, which has one senior starter, has struggled to adapt to the new flex defense.

"Whenever you change a scheme, it takes a little while to adjust," Nord said. "Our kids are getting better and better at it. In the long run, it will be good for us. In the short term, it's taking a toll on us."

Nord has resisted the urge for a quick fix. Of the 25 players signed last year, 23 redshirted. This year, 22 are redshirting. There are 21 El Paso residents on the roster, up from 10 in 1999.

"The best way to get a community involved is to recruit local kids," Nord said.

The school administration is taking care of the rest. The $22 million athletic complex should be completed by early next year. A new artificial turf, JumboTron and two scoreboards have been installed at the Sun Bowl. The school also built six new dormitories.

"The university has made a commitment to the football program," Nord said. "We have to do the rest."