Mike Price will stand Saturday as head coach on a sideline opposite Oklahoma for only the second time.
Since the first, a 20-point thrashing in the 2003 Rose Bowl, the 66-year-old struggled through a difficult — and self-inflicted — voyage to and from the abyss that led him to the west Texas town of El Paso, where he enters his ninth season as UTEP's football coach.
In many ways, Oklahoma's Rose Bowl win against Washington State nine seasons ago and Saturday's 2012 season opener at UTEP represent bookends in Price's nearly 10-year journey to this point.
He said in a telephone interview he feels like it's been “full circle,” for many people during that interval, speaking of Mike Stoops' return to OU and, much more significantly, the personal serenity and peace he's found at UTEP.
“It's been a Godsend, really, for me to have gotten this job nine years ago,” Price said. “I never would've thought in a million years I'd be out here calling this my home, but El Paso is my home now. I love this place, and it couldn't have been better.”
A couple weeks before meeting the Sooners in the 2003 Rose Bowl, Price announced that his 14th year at Washington State would be his last; he accepted Alabama's head coaching position and vowed to become the storied program's second-best coach ever, after only Bear Bryant.
He still wanted to lead the Cougars for that last game, saying that's what players wanted.
“I called every offensive play for 14 years at that school, and in the biggest game of the year for these kids, I'm gonna leave them? With two weeks notice?” said Price, who was the National Coach of the Year in 1997.
“I was getting so much heat from everybody; it was all media-driven, alumni-driven and administrative.”
Despite the outcome, he doesn't regret sticking around for the Rose Bowl.
But the infamous, humiliating weekend trip he took four months later? Price said he doesn't go a day without regretting it.
“Never,” he quickly responded when asked if he'd moved on. “I think about it all the time.
Price went through spring practices with Alabama, but he was fired after details emerged from a trip he took to Pensacola, Fla., for a celebrity golf pro-am. Details of Price's embarrassing night have long been disputed, but he's never denied spending time at a strip club, or that a woman who wasn't his wife, but was in his room, charged about $1,000 of food and drink to his hotel bill.
Alabama terminated Price's seven-year, $10 million contract before he coached a single game.
Sports Illustrated published a sensational story, citing several anonymous sources that alleged tawdry, embarrassing behavior by Price that night; the magazine's list of charges included infidelity, which the coach has strongly denied. He sued the magazine, and the two sides eventually agreed to a financial settlement.