EL PASO, Texas – Washington State head coach Mike Leach and Miami interim head coach Larry Scott have both coached in El Paso before, and both are excited to return to the Sun City to lead their respective squads during the 82nd Annual Hyundai Sun Bowl on Dec. 26.
Leach and Scott were in town on Monday for the annual coaches’ press conference, which kicks off the Sun Bowl festivities leading up to next week’s game. Both spoke of the joy of being a part of the Sun Bowl tradition, the second-oldest bowl game in the nation.
“The kids understand what it (the Sun Bowl) is, they understand the tradition of it and how long it has existed and that they’re some of the best in the business at putting on bowls,” Scott said. “People of this city rally around the bowl and that’s a big piece to it and a critical piece to it being successful.”
“When you have an opportunity to play in one of the oldest bowl games, it is tradition meeting tradition. We at the University of Miami have a long-standing tradition of producing really good football players and an awesome football program. So it’s an opportunity for our tradition-rich program to come play in a tradition-rich bowl. And to young people, when you take the time to explain to them what that truly means, it takes on a different meaning.”
Leach also understands the tradition of the game and recalls watching the Sun Bowl since he was a young child.
“I can’t say enough about the opportunity to be here and to be a part of one of the oldest bowls in the country, our entire team is excited and our entire program is excited,” Leach said. “As a kid you’d watch the Sun Bowl. Every coach that I looked up to, all these guys that inspired me to get into coaching, as a kid you’d sit and watch TV and they all coached in the Sun Bowl.”
Both teams will be making their second appearance in a Sun Bowl. The Cougars defeated Purdue 33-27 during the 2001 Sun Bowl, a Washington State team coached by Mike Price, who later became the head coach at UTEP (2004-12) and still resides in El Paso. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, lost to Notre Dame 33-17 in 2010 in front of a sellout Sun Bowl crowd.
Although Scott was not part of the Miami coaching staff in 2010, he has coached in the Sun Bowl before. He was an assistant coach on the South Florida team that lost to Oregon 56-21 during the 2007 Sun Bowl.
“It’s great to be here and come back to El Paso and bring the 2015 Miami Hurricanes football team back,” Scott said. “I had an awesome opportunity to be here a few years ago when I came with the University of South Florida. We’re looking for a different result from when we came that time, but what an awesome experience it was.
“There are certain things when you go to bowls that just stick out and that you remember, especially as a young coach. The hospitality and the service and what you got from the people here, the staff and all the volunteers, made it such a great experience for our coaches, our families and most importantly our players. To have that experience and be able to share that with this year’s team is awesome.”
This will be the first Sun Bowl for Leach, but the Washington State head man is no stranger to West Texas and El Paso. Leach coached for 10 seasons at Texas Tech in Lubbock, a stint that included a couple of games versus UTEP.
The first of those two games came in 2006 inside Sun Bowl Stadium when a then 24th-ranked Red Raiders team defeated the Miners, led by Coach Price, in an overtime shootout, 38-35. Leach has fond memories of El Paso and of coaching versus one of his mentors.
“I continue in my pursuit of following Coach Price around,” Leach said. “I got reeled into Washington State University where Coach Price was a part of such a great tradition there. I’ve known Coach Price for a long time. He’s the type of guy that would talk to the GA’s, hang out with the GA’s and was just kind of always a warm example. He’s just been a great coach, a great example and a great guy to have as a friend and mentor.
“Anyway, it wouldn’t be El Paso without him as far as I’m concerned. I have great memories of El Paso and the other thing is I enjoy the history and it’s got such a unique landscape. It had such a unique setting for the stadium, atop of that box canyon, which was really unique and incidentally really loud.”
Both coaches went through some trials and tribulations en route to El Paso. Leach and the Cougars started the season 2-2, including a season-opening loss to FCS member Portland State. Washington State then won six-of-seven games including wins at Oregon and versus a ranked UCLA team.
“Early in the year there were some teams that were just literally better than us at that point in the year because we had so many freshman,” Leach said. “We’re a team predominately of freshmen and sophomores and we had a lot of guys that had never played a college football game. I think focus and hard work, as we are a team that really does have a good work ethic, got us through that patch as we kind of developed and got synchronized as a team.”
Scott, meanwhile, started the season as Miami’s tight ends coach but was pegged to take over the head coaching reigns, after Al Golden was fired midway through the season following the program’s worst loss in its history, a 58-0 loss to Clemson, that dropped the ‘Canes to 4-3. Scott led the Hurricanes to a 4-1 record down the stretch.
“The kids really did a good job of rallying around our staff,” Scott said. “I can’t thank our staff enough, our coordinators, our position coaches, all of our GA’s, quality control people, volunteers, our administration and all other people that played a pivotal part in us being able to really take on the adversity that we faced in the middle of the season and really hone in on what we needed to do to make the young men realize that there was still an opportunity to turn the corner.”
With the early adversity behind them, Leach and Scott will now focus on preparing for one another and participating in one of the oldest traditions in college football, the Sun Bowl.
“It’s great to be here, any bowl in the state of Texas is always going to have a lot of enthusiasm because there is such great football tradition in Texas,” Leach said “The University of Miami is going to have a lot of respect just based on their tradition. They’re a great football team. As soon as you say the word Miami it gets people’s attention. We just want to worry about playing the best game that we can play and we’re excited at the chance.”
“We know we have one more (game) left, so we’re super excited about having the opportunity to come out here and put our product and who we are out on the field and a chance to compete against a very good Washington State team,” Scott added. “You turn on the film and there’s no doubt, you know why they are here as well and why they have the success they had as well. They play hard, they play with passion, and they play with a lot of energy. It’s going to be a very good game, it’s going to be a challenge for our guys and I think we’ll be up for the challenge and we’re really looking forward to it.”
The 82nd Annual Hyundai Sun Bowl is set for kickoff on Saturday, Dec. 26 at noon. Tickets are now available by calling (915)-533-4416 or on the web on www.sunbowl.org. Follow the Hyundai Sun Bowl in its social media platforms: Facebook (Hyundai Sun Bowl), Twitter (HyundaiSunBowl), Instagram (Hyundaisunbowl) and Snapchat (sunbowl2015).
Story by Eddie Soriano for the Sun Bowl Association