Kugler recaptures NFL success, self-reflects on tenure at UTEP


EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Things might not have worked out for Sean Kugler as the head coach of his alma mater, but his coaching career has been reinvigorated in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals.

Following the conclusion of the 2020 season, Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury promoted Kugler to run game coordinator. He was brought on the staff in 2019 as the team’s offensive line coach and will still hold that title moving forward.

Kugler played his college football at UTEP from 1984-1988. He returned as the team’s head coach in 2013 and took the Miners to a bowl game in 2014, which is the last time UTEP was bowl eligible. After starting the 2017 season 0-5, Kugler resigned his post as head coach and would later be replaced by Dana Dimel who has held the position ever since.

In five seasons with the Miners, Kugler went 18-36 (11-22). While UTEP was never able to recapture their bowl magic after his second season leading the program, several former players who played under Kugler have gone on to enjoy successful NFL careers.

Aaron Jones has ran wild with the Green Bay Packers since joining the league in 2017 and could wind up being one of the highest paid running backs in the league next season. Roy Robertson-Harris is also set to hit the free agent market after four productive years with the Chicago Bears. Will Hernandez was a second round pick by the New York Giants in 2018, Nik Needham has gone from an undrafted free agent to the Miami Dolphins’ starting nickelback, and Eric Tomlinson played this past season with the Baltimore Ravens.

“They all had outstanding work ethics. They worked hard and they were all great kids. They were, ‘yes sir, no sir’ kids — all very respectful. They all did well in the classroom and they epitomized everything we were trying to get done there at UTEP,” said Kugler. “I’m proud of all of them. They’re all doing extremely well and they’re all going to have long careers because of the one thing they all had: work ethics. All of those guys had an outstanding work ethic.”

Kugler knows football and a good run game when he sees one and has admired from afar what Jones has been able to accomplish in Green Bay.

“He [Jones] runs hard, he runs angry — he runs like a guy who does have a chip on his shoulder,” said Kugler. “He {Jones] ran that way at UTEP. That’s why he’s such a special back. People think because he’s only 210 lbs. that he’s not a physical back. I think he’s one of the most physical backs in the league. His contact balance, his stiff-arm, his ability to avoid contact, and run through contact — it’s as good an any back in the league and when you meet Aaron Jones, he’s such a humble kid, but you put football pads on him and he’s as fierce of a competitor that I’ve ever been around.”

While most UTEP fans will look at Kugler’s tenure with the Miners through a bottom line lens — wins and losses — it is hard to ignore the impact he has had on his former players’ journeys to the next level. With the Cardinals putting their running game entirely in Kugler’s hands in 2021, it certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility we could see a former player or two of his at UTEP reunited with their old head coach in Arizona.

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