EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – The Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl is known nationally for its hospitality, but UTEP men’s basketball head coach Joe Golding took it to the next level on Christmas Day.
It’s something out of a movie script: three Pitt players were stranded in the Dallas Love Airport on Christmas after their flight to El Paso for the Sun Bowl was cancelled late Sunday night.
Quarterback Jake Frantl, defensive end Samuel Okunlola and defensive back Hudson Primus were standing in line waiting to rent a car after deciding to drive the nine hours from Dallas to El Paso for the game, when fate stepped in.
“This couple in front of us hears we’re heading to El Paso and we started talking and it turns out he’s the head basketball coach here at UTEP,” Frantl said.
That’s right; Joe Golding, his wife Amanda and their two sons, Cason and Chase, were in a similar predicament stranded at Love Field after their flight was cancelled.
So, Golding offered the Pitt players a solution: if he could rent a car big enough for all seven people, he’d give them a ride to El Paso.
“I see these guys; they have Pitt bags on. They start talking about playing in the Sun Bowl and having to get to El Paso and there weren’t any cars left. And I was like, ‘Hey, if we can find a big enough car, I’ll take you guys home.’ And they were like, ‘Who are you?'” Golding said, laughing.
“[The rental car employees] showed up with a minivan first of all. It was too small, and we couldn’t all fit in it. Then they had like a big Ford Explorer. I said, ‘Who’s using that one?’ He said, ‘Nobody right now. But you can’t afford that one; it’s too much money.’ I said, ‘Just give it to us; we got to get home, man.'”
Golding told KTSM that Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi approved the players to ride with him and his family. He also exchanged phone numbers with the players’ parents to make sure they were ok with the ride.
“He seemed like a responsible person and trustworthy person. He didn’t have to do that for us so I’m definitely appreciative,” said Okunlola.
For people in El Paso and folks around college basketball, though, what Golding did was just par for the course for the man he’s proven to be during his coaching career.
“Out here in West Texas, that’s what we do,” Golding said. “I didn’t even think twice about it. I would hope someone would do that for Cason and Chase if they were stranded on Christmas night and needed a ride home.”
Ford Explorer secured around 10 p.m., the four Goldings and the three Panthers hopped in the car around 10 p.m., got dinner at the gas station and embarked on their nine-hour journey.
“I just want to give a shoutout to those guys. It goes back to the hospitality. It’s a great job by Joe and we appreciate it. It’s a blessing,” said Narduzzi.
Golding said the crew stopped just once during the trip – in Pecos, Texas, for coffee and energy drinks. They arrived in El Paso around 6 a.m. Monday, just in time for the three Pitt players to take a nap and get ready for their 10:30 a.m. practice.
“For someone to offer to take three guys that he’s never met before on a nine-hour trip, that’s not everyone,” said Frantl.
Golding said all three players were fantastic on the ride, but joked that he was left without a co-pilot for about five hours because they all fell asleep. Regardless, it seems that all parties involved will be fans of each other for life.”
“We enjoyed some fellowship in time and learned about each other’s families and spent some time together. It’s a Christmas I’ll never forget, I can tell you that,” Golding said.
Pitt will face No. 18 UCLA in the 89th Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl on Dec. 30 at noon.