2022 G5 Preview: Is UTEP's Foundation Sustainable?
The Miners broke through in 2021, jumping out to a 6-1 start and qualifying for their first bowl game since 2014. Can they keep it up?
This is part of the C-USA Preview, the second conference in the Outside Zone’s Group of Five season preview package. Check out the preview landing page for all previous stories. All previews and the entire Outside Zone archive are available for only $5 a month or $50 a year.
UTEP hired Dana Dimel for two reasons. Well, three, if you want to count the fact that he was available and willing as one (not a given for this job), but two primary reasons beyond that. Both are tied directly to his experiences at Kansas State, where he worked for years under head coach Bill Snyder, who all but set the model for what UTEP wants to build under Dimel’s guidance.
First, UTEP wanted a coach with experience in and comfort around the JUCO recruiting circles. Kansas State built its program in those areas under Snyder’s guidance, and there are very few coaches who spent more time under Snyder than Dimel.
Since his arrival ahead of the 2018 season, Dimel has checked that box. In four full recruiting classes (2019-22), UTEP has landed 46 high school prospects, 32 JUCO players and eight transfers. Save for a very small number of holdovers, that’s now essentially the entire roster entering 2022. This is a program that has had immense issues in recruiting the high school ranks throughout its history – at least partially because of negative recruiting against its location.
Any coach here is going to need to be familiar with the JUCO ranks because the roster needs to get filled out somehow, and there are more JUCO programs in the Arizona/Kansas/Oklahoma/Texas region than anywhere else in America. This isn’t as much a stylistic choice (very few schools are willingly making that kind of choice in recruiting) as it is one of survival.
The second reason has those same Snyder roots, and connects directly to the recruiting limitations – any coach here has to be able to adapt. This is not the program for a scheme wunderkind or a committed ideologue.
The only way to win here – at all – is to adjust all systems around the talent available on the roster in any given season. The JUCO recruiting route does not offer the time with players or the ability to be picky with play styles that high school recruiting does. UTEP knows it has two or three seasons with just about half of its roster at any given time, and that a lot of those players will have already found something of a play style.
There’s not enough time to completely retrain many of them, and frankly, it just isn’t worth doing for a guy that isn’t going to be around for all that long. When you recruit like this, you’re trading flexibility and development for immediate talent infusions. And with a roster built around that, a coach needs to figure out how to maximize that talent infusion every year, around a different batch of players with different skill sets.
That’s Snyder to a T, and the theory behind hiring Dimel was that he had picked it up enough from his old boss to apply it in El Paso. I wrote about this in last year’s UTEP preview, and it bears mentioning again specifically because of what happened in 2021. Here’s what I said then: