UTEP head football coach Gary Nord said Wednesday his ability to retain assistant coaches continues to be "a very vulnerable situation" because of low salaries.
Nord, who has lost five assistant coaches to higher paying positions the past two years, got back to full staff Wednesday by promoting his graduate assistant and hiring a former player to replace him. Last season only two of Nord's 10 assistants made more than $46,000, giving UTEP coaches the lowest average among the Western Athletic Conference.
Two and a half year graduate assistant Dave Serna, a native El Pasoan who lettered at UTEP in 1996-97 after walking on out of Hanks High, was named the school's new running back's coach Wednesday. The 26 year-old replaces Marty Lowe, who left the Miners after less than a year to accept the head coaching job at Georgia of the Arena Football League. Lowe said before departing earlier this month that he more than doubled his $40,000 a year salary.
"Nobody has left for less than a 40 percent raise," said Nord, attempting to rebound from last year's 2-9 campaign. "It's very difficult to pass it up. Nobody on our staff is up for any other jobs at this point. I sure plan on this being it, but last year we were all the way into two-a-days (before the staff was finalized). So you never know."
Replacing Serna as graduate assistant is popular ex-quarterback Rocky Perez (1997-00), who led the Miners to the 2000 Humanitarian Bowl in his All-WAC first-team senior season. Nord also said assistant head coach Bob Wagner will assume Lowe's recruiting coordinator duties.
"(Serna) passed up a lot of opportunities to stay with the program," Nord said. "There's a lot to be said about hard work and loyalty. I'll take that over experience, any time. And (Perez) worked out last year as our student assistant. Now we'll have him back and he's familiar with system, very bright and knowledgeable."
Perez, 24, holds the school record for touchdown passes in a season (26) and is ranked third on UTEP's all-time passing charts in completions (400), attempts (716), yardage (5,108), completion percentage (.559), touchdowns (33) and total offense (5,394 yards). He said from his native San Antonio Wednesday he would like to eventually be a high school or collegiate head coach.
"This is a good step for me," said Perez, who received his bachelor's degree last December. "I'm headed in right the right direction."
Serna, who received his bachelor's degree in 1999 after suffering a career ending knee injury, recently applied for the head coaching jobs at Montwood and Del Valle High before being offered the Socorro High offensive line spot. He turned it down, however, to remain a Miner.
"I love UTEP and I've always followed the Miners, so it's been kind of a dream of mine to coach here since I was a little kid," Serna said. "To be a college coach at a Division 1 school in your hometown, that's a perfect situation."
In other UTEP football news, Nord said the team grade point average rose from 2.41 to 2.58 during the spring semester. He added that 62 players will spend most of the summer in El Paso, attending summer classes and preparing for the 2002 season.
"We had about that many who stayed two years ago," Nord said. "Last year, that number was way down."
NEW UTEP COACHES
Who: Dave Serna, running backs coach; Rocky Perez, graduate assistant.
Playing careers: Serna (1994-97) walked on at UTEP as an offensive lineman out of Hanks High, lettering in his final two seasons; Perez (1997-00), out of San Antonio Holmes, led the Miners to a bowl game his senior year and remains ranked near the top of the school's passing charts in several categories.
Coaching experience: Serna spent the past four years as a student/graduate assistant at UTEP; Perez was the Miners' student assistant last season.
Also: Head coach Gary Nord said assistant head coach Bob Wagner will assume former recruiting coordinator Marty Lowe's duties.
No vacancy: UTEP, which has lost five assistants the past two seasons, currently has no spots available on its football staff.