Sept. 1, 2004 wire reports

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Mike Price is trying to keep a low-profile in his return to college football.

Price lost a $10 million job with Alabama last year for a night of partying at a strip club. He returns to coaching on a much smaller stage Thursday night, leading Texas-El Paso against Arizona State.

The Miners got more publicity by hiring Price than they earned by winning the Western Athletic Conference championship in 2000 -- one of only 12 times in the last 33 seasons that UTEP has managed to win more than twice.

In keeping with his rebuilding job, Price has stayed under the radar -- even skipping the usual visiting coach's conference call Arizona State has for the media on Mondays.

But his reputation for coaching sound teams precedes him.

"Mike Price came from winning 10 games in his last two or three years coaching Washington State," said Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter, who has his own job-security issues despite the reassurance of athletic director Gene Smith that he'll start the 2005 season as coach.

Koetter, trying to improve on last year's 5-7 record, knows he has a tricky home opener because of the Price Effect on UTEP.

"I think it is going to be different for him with updated personnel," Koetter said.

Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Dave Campo, who spent two years as Price's assistant head coach at Weber State, was sure his former boss would turn the Miners around.

"The reason he got the Alabama job in the first place was that he took very difficult schools and made them established," Campo said. "He's an outstanding recruiter. People get a comfort level around him, so there's no question he's going to have an impact there.

"And I think his second strength is that he's very well-liked by his players. He has a way of putting games into perspective, a way of getting people to play for him because of his style."

The last time the teams met, in 1995, Arizona State won 45-20, the Sun Devils' seventh straight over the Miners and 24th win in the last 25 meetings.

The 2000 season marked UTEP's only bowl appearance in the last 15, the high-water mark of coach Gary Nord's career. But Nord was fired on Dec. 1 after going 2-9, 2-10 and 2-11 the next three seasons.

That opened the door for Price, who is 129-121 after eight years at Weber State and 14 at Washington State. He turned out five first-round NFL draft picks and won a national coach of the year award, yet even with that resume, Price remained persona non grata after being let go by Alabama.

Nebraska never considered him for its vacancy, and Arizona toyed with the idea only long enough for university president Peter Likins to say, "No way."

Price got in trouble in Pensacola, Fla., where he went in April 2003 to play in a pro-am golf tournament.

He admitted drinking too much, visiting a strip joint and waking up in a hotel room with a woman. The incident occurred before Price signed his seven-year contract with the Crimson Tide, so his highly publicized firing was actually the cancellation of an offer.

Nevertheless, it had made him a pariah.

It also made him more determined to return to coaching and to getting his new job right. While looking for the right situation, Price lost weight, underwent hip-replacement and corrective eye surgery and wrote out a detailed program-rebuilding plan.

His preparations caught the eye of UTEP athletic director Bob Stull, and Price was glad to accept the $225,000-a-year position after visiting the campus, which features the picturesque Sun Bowl stadium and new training facilities.

Jordan Palmer, the younger brother of 2002 Heisman winner Carson Palmer, is Price's first candidate to follow quarterbacks such as Drew Bledsoe and Ryan Leaf, who Price developed at Washington State.

Palmer started six games last year as a freshman, passing for 1,168 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns. He also threw 13 interceptions, a number he'll need to cut down.

The Associated Press News Service

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