By Greg Archuleta
Journal Staff Writer
University of New Mexico officials hope a 10-day, unpaid suspension of coach Mike Locksley will quiet critics and allow the embattled football program to move past what athletics director Paul Krebs called a “black eye” for the university.
“You never want to go through this kind of situation,” Krebs said at a news conference Tuesday to announce the suspension. “Certainly, there is short-term damage to the reputation of the football program and the university,” he acknowledged.
Krebs on Tuesday dramatically altered his earlier decision to only reprimand the first-year coach for Locksley’s involvement in a physical altercation with assistant coach J.B. Gerald on Sept. 20.
Instead, Krebs suspended him for 10 days, effective immediately. The suspension will not allow Locklsey to take part in any team activities until Oct. 25. That means he will miss UNM’s homecoming game against UNLV on Oct. 24. Krebs said Locksley will lose in the neighborhood of $29,000 for the time missed.
Assistant head coach George Barlow will become interim head coach in the Lobos’ preparations for that game. UNM, which is off to its worst start in 22 years with an 0-6 record, does not have a game scheduled this weekend.
UNM President David Schmidly said later he supported Krebs’ decision.
“I believe it is now time to move forward for the sake of the football program and especially for the players who have continued to work hard during this difficult time,” he said.
Flanked by Locksley, Krebs told reporters “I would hope there’s a lot of good will going on. … How we represent the university and community at large — while this is a black eye, there are some incredibly wonderful things going on within our university and our student-athletes and our coaches.”
But he warned that another similar incident involving Locksley will lead to his immediate termination.
Following an athletic department’s investigation, Krebs originally verbally reprimanded Locksley, 39, for his involvement in the altercation with the intent of issuing a written reprimand. Krebs called a news conference on Sept. 28 after a police report that Gerald, 27, filed with the Albuquerque Police Department became public and announced the reprimand at that time.
But after questions arose about whether UNM procedure had been followed, he acquiesced to an inquiry by the Human Resources Department.
At Tuesday’s news conference, he said the results of the HR investigation did not differ much from the athletic department’s decision.
“It did find that coach Locksley put his hands on another staff member. There were no witnesses that verified coach Gerald’s allegations that coach Locksley threw a punch,” he said. “Let me be very clear about that.”
When asked why he had changed Locksley’s punishment when the HR report had not shed new light on the incident, Krebs said, “It was made clear to me we were not following university policy. While the findings are the same, we needed to be held accountable and are held accountable to university standards. I believe based on what I know, this is strong deterrent. It is consistent with university punishment and university guidelines in this kind of situation.”
Krebs denied that public sentiment or any thoughts that he was too lenient on Locksley helped in altering his discipline. He said termination was never considered as a form of punishment, but added if Locksley is ever involved in another physical altercation with an assistant coach, he will be fired.
Krebs has ordered Locksley to attend a class on conflict resolution within the next three months and said he will ask UNM’s assistant coaches to attend as well. The AD added he has strongly recommended that Locksley serve community service for the charity of his choice as well.
Locksley reiterated his gratefulness for a second chance.
“I accept the punishment that the university and Paul and the administration has rendered on me with no bitterness,” Locksley said. “I accept the punishment as just for my role in the incident. I have to say that the athletic department and university have been very fair to me with this incident. I appreciate the opportunity to correct the mistakes that I’ve made as head coach and leader of the football program.”
Locksley again denied throwing a punch at Gerald, who said in the police report that the head coach split his lip.
Schmidly declined a request for a Journal interview on the Locksley matter, opting instead to issue a written statement.
“Coach Locksley has apologized for his actions and has accepted the discipline imposed,” Schmidly said in the e-mail. “I have confidence in the process, which is fair and consistent, and the manner in which it was handled by the vice president for athletics.”
Most posters to online message boards on the Journal, Daily Lobo and Albuquerque’s three major television news Web sites criticized the suspension for being too lenient.
“He should have been fired on the spot,” wrote a Journal Online reader identified as Pat.
But many interviewed on UNM campus viewed the punishment as appropriate.
“It sends the message that such behavior will not be tolerated no matter the position or stature a person may hold,” said Lázaro Cárdenas, an undergraduate student government senator who had been pushing a resolution calling on UNM to suspend Locksley.
“I don’t know what the circumstances of the situation are, but without any of that information it seems like a significant sanction,” said Faculty Senate President Doug Fields.
“I think it goes without saying that coach Locksley is well aware of the gravity of the situation, and I’m sure this has been communicated to the student athletes and others on campus,” said Regent President Raymond Sanchez.
“The handling of the situation by Paul Krebs, as I understand it, is consistent with the university policy, and the sanctions are pretty much in line with other similar incidents on campus as I understand it,” Sanchez added. “Hopefully this will put an end to the controversy.”
Meanwhile, assistant coach Gerald remains on paid administrative leave, but he has turned in his keys and cell phone.
Locksley’s suspension comes one day after UNM released a statement saying that former football administrative assistant Sylvia Lopez had withdrawn her complaint of age discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation against Locksley because the parties came to a resolution.
Both incidents have put the UNM football program in the national news cycle.
Journal staff writer Martín Salazar contributed to this report.
By Greg Archuleta