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March 21, 2013
Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
Kugler accepted the head coaching position to return to his alma mater on Dec. 10 -- nearly a month after Mike Price announced he would resign. Price was 48-61 in nine seasons in El Paso; the last seven ended with losing records.
The 46-year-old Kugler played on the offensive line at UTEP from 1984 to 1988 for Andy Reid. He returned to the school in 1993 as an assistant before moving to the NFL. The lessons he learned under some of the most respected minds in the game give him confidence about being a head coach for the first time.
"Playing under Andy, and then working for Steve Mariucci (with the Detroit Lions), Dick Jauron (when he was with the Buffalo Bills), and Mike Tomlin (of the Pittsburgh Steelers) has taught me a lot," Kugler said. "Those guys are all very good football coaches, and all of them were very good about being organized.
"That was probably one of the most important things I took from that level. You need to be very structured and spend as much time directly on things that will help the football team."
Kugler said the day-to-day, external interruptions that go with being a college head coach make organization more important.
"From what I understand, you get pulled in a lot of different ways," he said. "I need to make sure that things don't creep up on me that will take away from us improving as a football team."
Since posting back-to-back eight-win seasons in 2004 and 2005, the football program at UTEP has become stagnant. It has only one bowl appearance in the past seven years, and in each of the past three seasons win totals decreased before bottoming out with just three in 2012.
Not coincidentally, recruiting has fallen off with the lack of success on the field.
The past three classes have been the three lowest ranked for the program since the 2005 season. UTEP's 2013 recruiting class ranked No. 121 of 124.
Kugler said that getting better, smarter players is a must.
"We need to find the kids with a burning desire to play football," Kugler said. "We are looking for strong character kids who want to get degrees.
"I am used to be being around more mature men from my time in the NFL, so I will be looking to bring in guys that are ready to act like adults. I understand there is going to be a difference between a 17-year-old that is going off to college versus a 27-year-old that is married and (has) a child, but that doesn't mean we can't elevate our level of maturity here."
Showers battled Johnny Manziel for the starting job at Texas A&M last spring. He graduated in just this third year on campus and will transfer to UTEP to complete his master's degree.
He will have two years to play in El Paso and could be a foundation.
Showers said he feels like he can fit right in.
"(UTEP's) offense has a little bit of what I learned now and what we ran with Coach (Mike) Sherman with the same concepts and everything," he said. "I'm just going to get into the mix and do things that will help the team.
"I'm ready to turn the program around and help. There are a bunch of great athletes, and Coach Kugler knows how to get the job done. I'm on board to help him."
Showers passed for 359 yards and rushed for 72 in limited action at Texas A&M. He graduated from Killeen (Texas) Shoemaker but is originally from the Alpine area, which is only about three hours from UTEP.
Kugler said he has to make UTEP attractive to El Paso players.
"This city gets an unfair knock for not having players, but it does," Kugler said. "When UTEP was good in the '80s and early 2000s, it was on the backs of players from this region, and we need to get back to that.
"Whether there are four kids ready for this level in the city, or six or 10, we need to get them. Then we will go regionally. But every school in the country wants to come into Texas and we are already here."
The class of 2013 included four players from El Paso -- all rated as two-stars. Since the class of 2002 -- when Rivals.com began tracking signing classes -- the program has not signed multiple players from El Paso. It had a total of five El Paso players sign from 2002 through the class of 2012.
Kugler said tying the team to the community will help bring it back to its glory days.
"The Steelers had some of the most passionate fans in the NFL, and the team fed off of that," Kugler said. "The El Paso community needs a reason to embrace this program, and getting kids from El Paso back on the field will help with that.
"I think that if we can start doing things the right way and get in the right types of kids, we can make this program a winner."