Price is right for football's resurrection in El Paso

Published: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 9:32 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 9:32 a.m.

Mike Price, who saw the head coaching job at the University of Alabama slip from his grasp three years ago, doesn't have much to say about Nick Saban landing the job Wednesday.

“(He's) being paid real well,” Price says of Saban's estimated $32 million contract. “Plus, he probably won't have to pay for anything once he gets there. I didn't buy too many meals when I was there.”

But Price, now coach at the University of Texas at El Paso, didn't have free meals in Tuscaloosa for too long. In the wake of a Sports Illustrated story that alleged Price was seen drunk at a strip club in Pensacola and had sex with an exotic dancer, Price was fired before he had a chance to coach his first game at Alabama. Price, 60, has denied the most severe allegations but admitted to being drunk that night.

Outside his stadium office here Thursday, I asked price if Alabama's firing Mike Shula — who inherited probation restrictions and a program in need of rebuilding — suggests an ugly side of Alabama football.

Price, who had been loquacious on every other topic in our brief interview, begins to quickly tap his feet and signals for the first time that this subject is a nonstarter.

“I don't think it's my position to comment on anything much more about Alabama as far as Coach Shula is concerned,” he says. “I don't like to see anybody get fired.”

Since Price's own firing at Alabama, he has had inspiring seasons at UTEP. In his first season, Price led the Miners to an 8-4 season and a berth in the Houston Bowl. He followed that with another 8-4 season, and a 5-7 season in 2006.

Price has also had courtroom victories while confronting what he calls “the chapter in my life that I don't like to comment too much about.” He sued Sports Illustrated for libel over the story that proved his undoing at UA and was given an undisclosed settlement. But even this subject, which suggests to some that the wildest stories about Price were untrue, proves too taboo:

JS: Do you feel validated by your suit against SI?

MP: Yes.

JS: But do you feel like you'll be haunted by this stuff forever?

MP: Yes.

JS: So what do you do with that?

MP: I don't know. You asked me. You're the one asking the questions (laughing).

Price then flashes an irresistible smile that has made him a news media favorite and probably would have made him a Crimson Tide favorite, too. A native of Washington, Price still possesses what might be described as Southern charm, which is often laced with off-color humor.

Price's time at UTEP has proven a true rebirth. He took a program in shambles, having won only two games in each of its previous two seasons, and is turning it around. The move was the right one, he says now.

“There was a drought in the desert,” Price says of UTEP before he arrived. “But I think it was just the right timing. The right timing for me, the right timing for the school. . . This is a good football town.”

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