Three years ago, Mike Locksley was hired to turn around New Mexico’s increasingly depressing football program. Long-time head coach Rocky Long had managed a record somewhere near .500 from 1998 to 2008, but he was fired after a four-win 2008 season despite going 9-4 the year before.
Three years later, Locksley has been one of the, if not the most, disastrous hires in the history of college football. Gerry Faust has nothing on Mike Locksley.
You would think going 2-26 in two and a half years, assaulting a member of his staff, and sexually harassing a secretary for the athletic department would be enough to get a guy fired. New Mexico also lost to FCS Sam Houston State in overtime on Saturday.
There’s also statistical evidence too: Locksley was the offensive coordinator at Illinois when the Illini made their improbable run to the Rose Bowl. Quarterback Juice Williams, receiver Arrelious Benn, and running back Rashard Mendenhall were something of a juggernaut in Locksley’s system. Locksley’s Lobos team ranks 104th in scoring offense (17.8 ppg) and 119th in scoring defense (giving up 43.3 ppg). Even more damning is their average of 112 rushing yards per game, good enough for 94th in the nation.
It turns out there’s a reason Locksley was so great at Illinois: he had talent running the offense and he didn’t get caught letting a recruit drive his car with a BAC of .16. Locksley was mercifully fired from New Mexico Sunday.
While this ends a very embarrassing chapter for the university, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the athletic director went with him, Locksley’s firing might also mean the end of schools only hiring coaches because they’re great recruiters.
The recruiting coordinator is one of the most sneaky-important positions in all of college football. That’s the coach who has the most contact with recruits and is the main salesperson to everyone the program wants to hire. But with the recent incredible run of NCAA violations in recruiting by Miami and other schools, there’s probably a reason some recruiters are better than others, and it’s not because they’re just born salesmen.
This embarrassing end to Locksley’s time at New Mexico even brings into question how, exactly, he got Arrelious Benn to move from Washington D.C. to Champaign, IL for college. Benn was, and is, by far the most notable high school athlete to recently attend Illinois. And despite Ron Zook’s freakish ability to recruit, he hasn’t managed anyone like that since. It was Locksley who got Benn to come to Illinois, and it was this recruiting score that made New Mexico think he was head coaching material.
The upshot of all this is how little attention New Mexico apparently paid to who they were actually hiring to coach football at their school. I can’t believe Locksley even managed to become a respected assistant coach because it’s not like he just started being unstable while at New Mexico. Maybe Ron Zook was secretly happy to see him go.
My prediction is you will see more and more hires come from well-known coordinators who have reputations for being great play-callers, game-planners, and motivators. Recruits will go where a coach can prepare them for the NFL or at least get them on television. Kevin Wilson at Indiana is a perfect combination of these things, but it’s tough to see whether he’ll win at Indiana. What Wilson doesn’t have is a rep for being an “ace recruiter” as his main resume builder. Makes me feel much more confident that IU won’t be on probation when Wilson resigns four years from now because we’re still not winning. Guh.
*Special thanks to whoever created that sadly accurate picture at the top