There have probably been worse starts to college football coaching stints than what is happening at New Mexico these days, but you would be hard-pressed to find anyone in Albuquerque who can think of one.
Not only are the Lobos 0-4 and coming off a last-minute loss to rival New Mexico State, news came out Monday that new head coach Mike Locksley had a physical altercation with one of his assistant coaches.
Allegedly, Locksley punched and bloodied the lip of receivers coach J.B. Gerald on Sept. 20, a day after the Lobos fell 37-13 at home to Air Force. Monday, the coach received a written reprimand and a letter was placed in his personnel file.
He was not suspended, meaning he will coach the lowly Lobos on Saturday when they travel to Lubbock, Texas, to take on 2-2 Texas Tech.
But that was just the second major off-field distraction Locksley has brought to the program. He was hit with a sexual harassment and age discrimination complaint by a former New Mexico football administration assistant last spring when he had been on the job for only four months. Is the program in as bad of shape as it appears?
"I wouldn't say the program is in [that] bad of shape," Locksley said during Tuesday's Mountain West Conference coaches teleconference. "I would say that if you look at our program as an insider that has a chance to look and see, when you've got 22 first-year players all over the field -- offensively, defensively, special teams -- that contributes quite a bit to not being that successful on the field."
Some folks in town are calling for UNM athletic director Paul Krebs -- who hired Locksley -- to invoke the morals clause of his contract and fire the first-year coach. So far, though, Krebs has steadfastly supported the former Illinois offensive coordinator.
As far as the new distraction is concerned, Locksley said his players knew about it a day after it happened. He said it has been dealt with, and the program has moved on.
"We had our team meeting on Monday, and I flat-out addressed the team like I would any other Monday, and I said, 'Obviously something went down between coach Gerald and I, an altercation that I wish hadn't happened.' "
Locksley said he has apologized to Gerald and asked for his forgiveness, but is not sure if the assistant coach will return to the program.
"The only way I know how to handle it is to be honest, up front ... and apologize for the distraction I may have caused," he said. "Very rarely in my lifetime have I made the same mistakes twice. If given the opportunity to correct it, I will try to get coach Gerald back in the fold, use it to grow as a head coach, and move on."
Locksley said it is unfair to "piggyback" the physical altercation incident with the harassment claims because he has accepted full responsibility for the altercation, but denies any wrongdoing last spring.
"There are always two sides to the story," he said. "As far as the earlier incident that you [a reporter] keep referencing, that will take care of itself. I have no problems with taking the heat with what just recently happened. The other part will be handled through mediation or through the courts."
The coach said the program desperately needs a win to get back on track.
"The best thing I know to do is focus on the football," Locksley said. "Because when it is ultimately said and done, the bottom line is I have to find ways to win ball games."
Wowing 'em in Wyoming
Wyoming coach Dave Christensen was hospitalized Tuesday with kidney stones, causing him to miss the MWC conference call, but at least his quarterback concerns seem to have been resolved. Austyn Carta-Samuels , a freshman, seized the job Saturday by completing 24 of 37 passes for 234 yards and three TDs to help Wyoming upset UNLV 30-27 in Laramie.
Assistant coach Dan Hammerschmidt compared his scrambling ability to that of former Minnesota Vikings great Fran Tarkenton .
UNLV, which plays host to BYU on Oct. 10, expects quarterback Omar Clayton to play Saturday against Nevada. Coach Mike Sanford said Clayton had an MRI on his throwing shoulder, but that it was just for precautionary reasons. ... Air Force, which plays a rivalry game at Navy on Saturday, leads the country in turnovers gained, with 15. ... TCU defeated Clemson 14-10 last Saturday, but saw its nation-leading sack streak of 26 games come to an end. ... Utah has recorded interceptions in a conference-leading eight straight games.