Nearly four years have passed since the off-field incident that cost Mike Price his job as Alabama's head coach. Price had been with the Crimson Tide for just six months when Sports Illustrated reported that he made a scene at a Pensacola, Fla., gentlemen's club and later had sex with a stripper in his hotel room.
Alabama rescinded Price's contract – which he had never signed – and Price was out of a job. After sitting out the 2003 season, Price resurfaced in 2004 as the head coach at Texas-El Paso.
"I feel reborn," Price said at the time.
The Miners probably feel the same way. UTEP went 8-4 in Price's first two seasons after winning just six games combined in the three years prior to his arrival. Youth and inexperience have caused Price's 2007 squad to struggle to a 4-6 record with two games to play. Still, in an interview this week with Yahoo! Sports, Price couldn't have sounded more excited about his future.
Both on the field and off.
Jason King: With so many close losses, what's this season been like for you and your team?
Mike Price: It's been very unusual. I think we've lost five games by less than a touchdown, including four games on either the last play or overtime. It's just been a freaky season. Every single game, we've had a chance to win. It's been exciting for the fans but, for a coach, it's a pull-your-hair-out kind of a deal.
King: Why can't you get over the hump in some of those close games?
Price: We've got the youngest team in Conference USA. We have a freshman quarterback (Trevor Vittatoe). Usually, it's the experienced players that are making plays in the fourth quarter and not the other way around.
King: Is this just a one-year lull, or are you confident you can bounce back soon?
Price: We'll have a lot of good players returning in 2008, so we have a good future ahead of us. We'll have 18 guys returning who have started at least one game on defense and we'll have 13 guys back who have started at least one game on offense. That's 31 guys – plus we'll return our punter, kicker and holder. Of course, we start the 2008 season against Texas, so we better have some good guys.
King: Unfortunately you are losing your running back, Marcus Thomas. He's gained 1,093 yards in just nine games. How good is he?
Price: He's one of the best in the conference. He's a big, strong kid. He's 6-1ish and 215 pounds. He was a Parade All-American out of high school – the first Parade All-American I've ever signed. He signed with Arizona but he didn't have his SAT scores. He sat out a year and Arizona made a coaching change and didn't follow up with him, so we just kind of stole him.
King: When you took over at UTEP the Miners had won just two games in each of the previous three seasons. What was the biggest thing you had to change?
Price: Attitude. The self-image of the players. The image of the team. The image of the university football-wise. Everyone thought we were losers.
King: Your stadium, the Sun Bowl, looks like a fun place to watch a game.
Price: Oh, it's a great place to play. The fans really get into it. The weather is always good. We play most of our games at night so it's always exciting. It's a very loud stadium because, as you probably know, the Sun Bowl is carved right out of a mountain.
King: You grew up in the Pacific Northwest and coached at Washington State from 1989-2002. Has El Paso been a difficult adjustment for you and your family?
Price: No. We absolutely love it here. It's obviously living in the Southwest and the high desert country. But gee whiz, what is it, November 13? Today was the first day I had to put a light jacket on when I came to work in the morning. Now it's mid-afternoon and it's 80 degrees. The weather is just awesome.
King: What do you like to do there?
Price: You can golf year-round here. Fishing and hunting isn't a big thing locally, but you can drive into New Mexico two hours away from here and go snow-skiing in the resorts.
King: You probably never were exposed to good Mexican food in the Pacific Northwest. Have you developed a liking for it since moving to Texas?
Price: I put on 30 pounds during my first two years here. I eventually lost it and never found it. But during my first two years here I literally put on 30 pounds. I ate Mexican food every day. It's the best Mexican food in the world.
King: Is your wife, Joyce, enjoying it there, too?
Price: Oh yeah, plus I've got my two sons (Aaron and Eric) coaching with me and my daughter and her husband are down here. We have all the grandkids here, too. So it's certainly a lot of fun.
King: I understand that you met your wife in kindergarten. Is that true?
Price: Yep, and I kissed her in the second grade. We dated through junior high school and high school. We got married when we were 19. We've been married 40 years.
King: As happy as you are at UTEP, do you have any desire to get back into a BCS Conference?
Price: Not really. That's not going to happen so I haven't really thought about it. I looked at the Arizona State job a year ago, but that's about it. I'm not real interested. I'm really happy where we're at right now.
King: Speaking of Arizona State, your old high school teammate, Dennis Erickson, is doing pretty well there. Do you speak with him often?
Price: Yeah, he's doing great. I haven't talked to him much this year, but we normally talk quite a bit. I'm following them really closely. We're only five hours away from each other by car.
King: Word has it that he took your job as starting quarterback when you were a high school senior and he was a junior. You don't hold a grudge because of that, do you?
Price: Absolutely not. We kid around about it all the time, but there isn't a nicer person than Dennis Erickson as far as I'm concerned. When we started coaching against each other, it wasn't as much fun as we thought it would be. It wasn't fun beating one another if one of us was having a rough year. Luckily we've stayed close. We both have summer homes in Idaho. We'll see each other for the rest of our lives.
King: Looking back on your situation at Alabama, has that changed you and made you look at things any differently?
Price: I think it has, but then again I think everyone is continually changing. I think it made me realize how lucky I am to have what I have: a great family and great friends. People were so nice to me through that whole time. It was amazing how many people stood by me and supported me.
King: Any regrets? Do you look back and wish you could've coached at Alabama?
Price: I don't have any regrets about not being there. It's a great job and a great football state with real nice people. I do regret what happened, but other than that I don't look back.
King: You eventually reached a settlement on the $20 million libel and defamation lawsuit you filed against the magazine that first wrote about your incident in Florida. When that happened, did you feel vindicated?
Price: Legally, I feel good about how everything was settled. But other than that …
King: How much longer do you want to keep coaching?
Price: I don't know. I had a stent put in my heart this summer. I had blockage of an artery in my heart. It was 95 percent blocked. I had done a bunch of tests and it never showed up. Then one day I had heartburn real bad. I'd spent a week in Mexico partying and eating Mexican food. I figured anyone would get heartburn from doing that. But I went in and the cardiologist said, 'You're not leaving the hospital, buddy.'
King: So you had the surgery right then and there?
Price: Yep, and now I'm completely revitalized. I lost a lot of weight and started exercising every day and eating right. I've got more energy than I've ever had. It's like someone turned on a valve of energy inside my heart. I was feeling kind of old. I was taking naps all the time. But now I feel like a totally different person.