During his tenure as head coach at the University of New Mexico, Mike Locksley’s Lobos were the lowest-scoring team in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision.
But that was a different time, and Locksley now finds himself in a very different place — and in a far, far better situation.
Bottom line: Folks at Alabama, if they even know Locksley’s history at UNM, have no reason to care.
Friday, ESPN reported that Locksley will be named offensive coordinator at the University of Alabama. The university has made no announcement, but other media outlets that cover the Crimson Tide have written that they expect Locksley to get the job.
The prospect of Locksley directing the defending national champions’ offense next fall is being greeted in most corners of Tide-dom with enthusiastic approval.
“This will be a popular move inside the Alabama building,” wrote Matt Zenitz of AL.com. “Players expressed support for Locksley on social media when the job first came open and posted messages indicating they’d be very happy with the move …”
Locksley has been at Alabama for two years. Coach Nick Saban hired him in 2016 as an offensive analyst, then promoted him to co-offensive coordinator with Brian Daboll, who recently left to take a job with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
Zenitz’s colleague, Rainer Sabin, wrote that Locksley has demonstrated his readiness to fly solo. Sabin cited Locksley’s work at Alabama the past season — in particular with freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the breakout star of the Tide’s 26-23 comeback victory over Georgia in the national title game.
Sabin also noted Locksley’s experience as an offensive coordinator at Illinois and Maryland, sandwiched around his tenure (2009-11) at New Mexico.
Of Locksley’s time at UNM, Sabin viewed his experience as a head coach as a plus.
Lobo fans might not see it that way, given that UNM’s record under Locksley was 2-26. Interim head coach George Barlow was 1-7 during the completion of the 2011 season.
To be fair and accurate, Locksley did not serve as his own offensive coordinator at UNM. Darrell Dickey had the job in 2009-10, David Reaves in 2011. And during those three seasons, because of NCAA sanctions levied on the UNM program before Locksley’s arrival, he was able to award only 61 scholarships while other schools were awarding 75.
Nonetheless, the offense essentially was Locksley’s, and the numbers did not lie. The Lobos averaged just 14.7 points per game during those three years.
An off-the-cuff remark Locksley made during his December 2008 introductory news conference — “We may have to add another digit to the scoreboard” — became a joke that wouldn’t die.
But, my, how Locksley’s fortunes have changed.
After his dismissal at UNM, Locksley was hired as the offensive coordinator at Maryland. He had moderate to good success there.
After Terrapins coach Randy Edsall was fired halfway through the 2015 season, Locksley was named interim head coach. He went 1-5 the rest of the way.
New Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin chose not to retain Locksley on staff, which, perhaps, turned out to be the best thing that ever happened him. Alabama coach Nick Saban brought him on as an offensive analyst (whatever that is), probably more for his Maryland-Virginia-Washington D.C. recruiting connections than for his football knowledge.
That does not mean, though, that he’s bereft of such knowledge or that he’s not up to his new job.
Alabama — well, duh — is not New Mexico.
Locksley was hired to replace Rocky Long at UNM on the heels of a successful tenure as offensive coordinator at Illinois. The Illini ranked second in the Big Ten in total offense in 2008 and ranked fifth nationally in rushing in 2007.
Considering the talent gap that existed between Illinois and the Big Ten’s elite, those numbers were impressive.
Where talent gaps are concerned, though, nothing prepared Locksley for what he faced at New Mexico.
In 2010, approximately halfway through Locksley’s tenure at UNM, longtime college and NFL assistant coach Chuck Clausen — a former Lobo — told the Journal he believed Locksley’s mistake at New Mexico was believing he could score points with a college-football-as-usual offensive scheme.
“It’s a match-up offense,” said Clausen, a former Ohio State, Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons and San Diego Chargers assistant who died in 2015. “… He’s running an offense where the team with the best players should win.”
Clearly, Locksley didn’t have the best players at UNM. His successor, Bob Davie, saw the problem immediately. He installed a triple-option attack that to some degree compensated for a talent gap and made the Lobos competitive on offense almost from the get-go.
Clausen wasn’t saying there was anything wrong with Locksley’s offensive scheme at UNM. He simply didn’t have the talent at his disposal to make it work here.
But at Alabama? Locksley will have all the talent he needs to run whatever Saban wants him to run.