Thursday, November 26, 2009
UNM Tried To Curb Fallout
By Martin Salazar
Journal Staff Writer
As University of New Mexico Athletics Vice President Paul Krebs was preparing to face the media for a second time about punishment for his embattled football coach, he was also fretting about his own future.
"(Any) last minute advice?" Krebs asked in an Oct. 13 e-mail to a North Carolina media consultant helping him manage the crisis. "(I) feel like he may take me down with him."
Krebs' concerns were captured in e-mails released to the Journal on Wednesday in response to a request under the state's Inspection of Public Records Act.
The e-mails paint a picture of an athletics department scrambling to contain a public relations nightmare that began Sept. 20 when head football coach Mike Locksley accosted then-assistant coach J.B. Gerald during a coaches' meeting.
Krebs initially announced that he was reprimanding Locksley over the incident. But after a public outcry, Krebs decided to suspend Locksley without pay for 10 days.
It's unclear how much Sports Media Challenge, the national media relations firm, has been paid to help Krebs navigate the crisis. Athletics spokesman Greg Remington said it could be next week before the university could respond to questions about the cost and employment terms.
The university has been inundated with requests to produce documents related to the Locksley situation. On Monday, UNM President David Schmidly reportedly warned the university's senior administrators about leaving paper trails, reminding members of his executive cabinet that e-mails, text messages and cell phone records are all subject to disclosure under the Inspection of Public Records Act, and he suggested they use landlines to make sensitive calls.
The university would neither confirm nor deny Schmidly made the remarks, issuing instead a statement from departing university attorney Patrick Apodaca.
"We do not comment on rumors," Apodaca said. "Also, executive cabinet meetings are not public. The need to maintain discussions at these meetings confidential is based on a sound principle that applies to public institutions like UNM: Senior advisers must be free to express their candid and frank opinions, recommendations and advice throughout the public institution's decision-making process."
The 47 pages of e-mails released Wednesday were generated between Sept. 28 and Oct. 19. They illustrate the gravity of the situation, particularly as it relates to prospective recruits and donors.
One longtime Lobo fan, who lettered in football at UNM and who is now a football coach at a suburban Chicago high school, sent an e-mail to Krebs on Oct. 2, four days after the incident became public.
"In my heart, I can no longer support Mike Locksley as the Lobo Head Coach," he wrote. "It would be difficult to advise a prospective football player to become a Lobo under Mike's tenure. The record (0-4) or the other allegation by secretary can be forgiven. Not this!"
Krebs responded saying, "If I thought a punch had been thrown or if there was evidence that a punch was thrown the situation would have been handled much differently. At this point in time there is no evidence that a punch was thrown. I have a difficult time ruining a man's career without evidence."
At the time Krebs sent that e-mail, one of his employees had already compiled witness statements supporting Gerald's claim that Locksley had choked and punched him. UNM's official human resources investigation, however, could not confirm the allegations.
The Friday after Krebs announced Locksley was being suspended, he received an e-mail from a donor and decadeslong season ticket holder. The booster told Krebs he worried he was witnessing the "total collapse of support for the football program."
"I am sad for you because your tenure here has been astoundingly successful and now is threatened by such a huge gamble on what appears to be a man-child of a person ...," he wrote. "If you are not staring into the abyss you should be and it should scare the living daylights out of you."
It's no secret that Krebs' initial decision to merely reprimand Locksley raised eyebrows around the state. At least one of Krebs' top assistants was raising questions behind closed doors.
After Krebs announced the punishment at a news conference, he received an e-mail from Senior Associate Athletics Director Tim Cass.
"I left with a couple of thoughts that could resurface or might be focus of media," Cass wrote. "1. Does punishment fit the crime so to speak. 2. Is their (sic) a pattern of behavior developing here."
Also, in the initial days of the media frenzy when the story first broke, Remington told Krebs that Gerald coming forward and saying something positive would soothe the situation.
"(I) suggest you try to reach out to him," Krebs responded.
In another e-mail exchange between Remington and Krebs, Remington states that an AOL Fanhouse reporter is flying in from Houston to speak with Krebs and "coach" because his bosses are "thinking there is a bigger story here."
"What do you think he means by bigger issue?" Krebs responded.
In the days leading up to the second press conference the one held on Oct. 13 where Krebs announced Locksley's suspension Krebs was eager to speak with Kathleen Hessert, the Sports Media Challenge consultant aiding him in the Locksley matter.
"Need her thoughts on who tells team, what do I say re why I changed my position. What should (Human Resources) say when they run there for a quote," Krebs said in an e-mail to Kurt Esser, an associate director of UNM Athletics.
In another e-mail, Krebs asked Human Resources Vice President Helen Gonzales how much of what she found through her investigation would be public information.
"I think very little of it is public information, however, I'd like to have a discussion today with legal and you about it so we're all on the same page," Gonzales responded.
E-mails between Krebs and Hessert dated the day of the Oct. 13 news conference indicate Hessert talked to Locksley before the news conference.
"In your opinion, is he ready for the press conference?" Krebs asked.
Hessert said Locksley seemed to be ready but expressed concern about a leak to ESPN about the suspension and the attribution of the information to a source close to the coach. She also raised concerns about Locksley's response to being asked to perform community service during his suspension.
"Mike said 'if' regarding community service which surprised me and said work at the Boys/Girls club a couple of days. I think it needs to be more structured than that," she said.
Krebs responded, "I have strongly encouraged the community service part but can't force the issue by (university) guidelines."