ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Lobo football coach Mike Locksley isn’t out of the woods just yet.
It turns out the reprimand Locksley initially got for his role in a physical altercation with an assistant last week might not be enough under University of New Mexico policies.
UNM’s Human Resources Division is launching an investigation into the fight in which assistant coach J.B. Gerald filed a police report that said Locksley punched him in the mouth.
Based on that investigation, Locksley could face tougher sanctions, up to and including termination.
One university policy states that any act of violence will not be tolerated. A second states that an assault or battery on another person is grounds for suspension and even termination.
On Monday, UNM Athletics Vice President Paul Krebs announced that Locksley had been reprimanded for the altercation and that he considered the matter closed. A day later, UNM Human Resources Vice President Helen Gonzales told the Journal an investigation would be launched.
“We’re going to conduct an investigation, and that’s the process we would do for everyone,” she said. “We would conduct an investigation to help in determining appropriate action.” The university is also involving its Counseling, Assistance and Referral Services program to identify potential solutions.
Locksley will continue to coach as the investigation is conducted. The ultimate decision on his fate likely will be made by Krebs, Gonzales and UNM President David Schmidly, Gonzales said.
Schmidly said in a written statement that it’s important for the university to understand the full scope of the incident and to evaluate discipline that is appropriate. He said that while policies are applied fairly and consistently at UNM, every case is different.
“I believe Vice President for Athletics Paul Krebs is handling this situation with honor and integrity, and he has my full support,” Schmidly said.
Gonzales said she discussed the matter with Krebs on Tuesday, and she said both Krebs and the athletics department welcomed the investigation.
“I think based upon continued discussions with Helen, we thought this was the best avenue and the best direction to go,” Krebs said Tuesday evening. “We have to do what’s best for the university, what’s best for our football program, what’s best for Coach Locksley and Coach Gerald, and after further conversations and looking into the matter more, we feel this is the appropriate response.”
Gerald filed a police report after an evening staff meeting Sept. 20, accusing Locksley of punching him in the mouth and cutting his upper lip.
Locksley acknowledged the incident after the team’s practice that night but quibbled over the word “punch.”
“I venture to say it wasn’t necessarily a punch,” he said, declining to elaborate.
Though Krebs called the incident unacceptable, he said coaching is a high-stress business and that it’s not uncom mon for coaches to have heated discussions.
His announcement that Locksley had been reprimanded and that he considered the matter closed reverberated through the UNM campus Tuesday, prompting angry responses in the New Mexico Daily Lobo’s online message boards and letters to the Journal’s Sports Speak Up.
“That Locksley is getting away with this is ridiculous!” wrote one poster at UNM. “ANY other staff member (not in Athletics or the President’s Office) would have been fired for hitting another person or any of the other numerous infractions committed by Locksley.”
“Well, as a staff member at least I now know I am allowed one good sucker punch to a coworker who pisses me off and the worst that can happen is a verbal reprimand and note in my file.”
Leaders of UNM’s Faculty Senate and Staff Council also raised concerns.
“This should be treated as one would treat any other altercation on campus. …,” said Faculty Senate President Douglas Fields. “There should be no bypass of business policies and procedures just because it happens to be a football coach.”
Fields said that while he’s not necessarily advocating for Locksley to be fired, he thinks it’s important for UNM to set an example.
“Otherwise, you’re giving the message that as long as you’re stressed and underperforming, it’s OK to hit somebody,” he said.
Elisha Allen, Staff Council president, said staff members have been voicing their concerns to him about what they perceive as unequal treatment of employees.
Locksley is in his first year as UNM’s football coach and is paid about $750,000 a year, not counting potential bonuses. He has yet to post a win.
Though his contract runs through June 30, 2014, it contains a clause that would allow UNM to terminate him for “adequate cause,” which includes assault or battery on another person. If UNM did so, it would have to pay him only what he earned up to the time he were to be fired.
Gonzales said the first step in UNM’s investigation is finding out exactly what happened.
“We try to be consistent and we try to be fair and we try to do the right thing,” she said. “And so given all those three things, we try to come up with the right solution.”
Although a source said on Monday that Gerald had quit, Krebs said that was not the case.
“But we’re trying to get closure on that,” Krebs said. “We’re working with coach Gerald and hope to get closure on that very, very soon.”