The Top Offseason Storylines to Monitor for UTEP Football
Now that the dust has settled from the 31-24 loss to Fresno State in the PUBG Mobile New Mexico Bowl, the offseason is here for UTEP football.
When is the last time UTEP fans had winning expectations going into the offseason?
The 2022 year will bring higher expectations for the Miners, who finished with a winning record (7-6) for the first time in seven years. Now, head coach Dana Dimel will regroup with his coaching staff and roster for next year.
Here are some of the top offseason storylines we will monitor until the Miners kick off their 2022 season at Oklahoma on Sept. 2.
Dana Dimel's looming contract extension
Immediately following the game, CBS 4 Anchor Lou Romano reported that UTEP Director of Athletics Jim Senter said he's working on a contract extension for Dimel, who is now heading into the final year of the five-year original deal he signed back in 2017.
"Jim and I have a great relationship, and we are just trying to figure out the best things to do for the program," Dimel said after the New Mexico Bowl game. "I've had recruits come to me and say, 'coach, other programs are saying that you aren't going to stay at UTEP.' I think an extension is going to help fortify that and what my intentions are."
The Miners started the year 6-1 but lost five of their last six games to close the 2021 season. They drastically improved from Dimel's first two seasons (2-22 overall) and they were much better than the 3-5 finish in 2020.
Dimel's base salary is $748,966, which makes him the lowest-paid coach in Conference USA. The report also shows that Dimel also took a $41,533 contract reduction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. His buyout is $830,666 with UTEP.
Best case scenario, UTEP looks at a one-year extension for Dimel through the 2023 season, including a raise in base salary, and if the program shows promise in 2022, extend him for another three years. I still wouldn't be surprised if they extend him for two to three years after this season. If the athletic department doesn't come to an agreement with Dimel, they could run the risk of their coach flirting with other job openings after the 2022 season. When it's all said and done, I think both parties agree on a fair extension this offseason that ties Dimel to UTEP for the near future.
Mid-year transfer watch
The Miners signed eight JUCO players last week, seven of which they announced last week and one more that hasn't been official as of yet. Among the mid-year transfers, the Miners capitalized on a lot of defensive recruits.
As we have seen through the Dimel era, UTEP relies on the JUCO mid-year transfers to play immediately. With players like safety Dy'vonne Inyang, cornerbacks Josh Caldwell and Walter Neil Jr. and linebacker Breon Hayward graduating from the program, the squad will need to fill their roles this offseason. It's possible that Dimel dips into the mid-year transfer pool for an immediate starter.
I look at sophomore safety Kobe Hylton from Louisiana as someone that can see the field quickly for the Miners. Same with linebacker Daryl Minor (Tyler JC) and defensive linemen Maurice Westmoreland (Kilgore College) and Bryton Thompson (Blinn College).
Spring ball will tell us more about these incoming JUCO transfers and what they can bring to the team.
UTEP transfer portal activity
As of Monday, there are only three players that have entered the transfer portal in wide receiver/defensive back Miles Banks, linebacker Connor Helsius and quarterback Jakolby Longino. All three of them didn't play much in 2021 for the Miners and could be seeking more playing time elsewhere.
Following their bowl game loss, Dimel mentioned that he expects everyone back next year. One has to give credit to this coaching staff for maintaining continuity for the past two seasons, but the staff must keep it up for another offseason and retain their depth.
This will be the first offseason UTEP experiences under the new one-time transfer rule that the NCAA put in place to allow athletes an opportunity to transfer once in their college career without having to sit out.
The squad is built with a lot of younger talent across their roster. This offseason proves to be pivotal in keeping the talent at UTEP in order to try and take the next step in 2022.
Coaching turnover after 2021
UTEP entered the 2021 season with a fresh look to their coaching staff from the time Dimel arrived. Dimel fired both offensive and defensive coordinators Mike Canales and Mike Cox, respectively, following the 2020 season. He replaced them with Dave Warner (OC) and Bradley Dale Peveto (DC). In addition, Dimel replaced previous special teams coordinator Joe Robinson (retired after 2020) with Aaron Price. He also named Barrick Nealy their running backs coach.
What will 2021 bring?
Maybe this offseason is a quiet one for coaching turnover after multiple changes in 2020. But what we've learned from Dimel is that he expects greatness out of his staff and he wants to get it out of every position group. Let's see what this offseason brings.
QB Gavin Hardison's continued development
The loss to Fresno State prompted some fans to question sophomore quarterback Gavin Hardison and his job security at the position for 2022.
Hardison finished the game throwing for 252 yards (12-of-27), along with a touchdown, interception, fumble and two sacks. His two costly turnovers were felt, but one could argue that Hardison was the reason for UTEP's first two scores of the game.
Don't be surprised if the Miners bring a JUCO quarterback as a mid-year transfer this offseason. But, I would be beyond surprised if the team made an open quarterback competition battle in the spring. Hardison has earned the right to take the starter reigns for the Miners. Despite an up-and-down finish to the 2021 season, Hardison is UTEP's gunslinger for the near future and deserves to go into Spring Ball as the no-doubt QB1 for this team.
Hardison can continue working on his decision-making skills and he can continue improving his reads against defenses. He can also develop more like a scrambler outside the pocket over this offseason. It's the little things Hardison needs to fine-tune in order to take that next step as a top-level college quarterback.
Photo gallery by Jorge Salgado