by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

Mike Locksley is a fortunate fellow. How, you say? Just imagine if he had been coaching a South American soccer team over the past two seasons with the same sorts of results he has posted with New Mexico’s football team. Let’s just say he might be lucky to have avoided physical harm, or serious injury, rather than just worrying about holding onto his job.

Which he has done rather remarkably in Albuquerque despite perhaps the worst two-season run that we can remember since Red Klotz was coaching the Washington Generals against the Harlem Globetrotters. How bad has it been? Try a 2-22 record the past two seasons since Locksley’s hiring. And those who thought things couldn’t get much worse than they were in his 1-11 debut campaign of 2009 were shocked to see Locksley’s Lobos plumb even deeper depths in 2010, completing a near-impossible parlay by almost ranking last nationally in both total offense (which New Mexico did at a paltry 266 ypg) and total defense (in which the Lobos came in at 119th, above only East Carolna, allowing a whopping 469 ypg). New Mexico would make President Obama proud, however, sharing the burden of its ineptitude almost equally between its offense, defense, and even special teams. Further embarrassing numbers from a year ago included ranking last in scoring defense at 44.33 ppg, last in rush defense at 250 ypg, 119th in punt returns (2.3 yards per try), 116th in scoring (15.83 ppg), and 115th in punting (31.9 yards per punt). Not to mention a second straight loss to New Mexico State (has anyone watched the Aggies the past two seasons?) and being run off the field last September 25 by a 2-win UNLV team, 45-10.

That 2010 performance would be almost hard to comprehend had it not come on the heels of a similar 1-11 collapse during Locksley’s first season in charge the year before, one in which he was also the target of a sex and age discrimination suit by a Lobo football staffer (a big no-no for a new coach) and got involved in an early-season punchout with assistant coach J.B. Gerald (a double no-no for a new coach), which resulted in a subsequent one-game suspension for a game vs. UNLV. New Mexico fans, who have endured numerous nightmares over the decades that included a 94-17 loss at Fresno State in 1991, have been forced to relive all of those bad dreams over the past two years, as the encouraging progress the program had made from 1992-2008 under Dennis Franchione and native son Rocky Long vanished in a cascade of ineptitude rarely seen on any athletic level. About all that has looked good for the Lobos the past two seasons has been their cherry-and-silver uniform combinations, which Locksley has tastefully coordinated.

How, then, has Locksley, who arrived after a stint as the offensive coordinator at Illinois, held onto his job? That’s a good question, although most Mountain West observers believe it was strictly a matter of economics after last season, with AD Paul Krebs reluctant to tap into his cash-strapped department and support base to buy out the remainder of Locksley’s contract, which reportedly had three years to run at a total cost approaching seven figures. Krebs could have more easily hit the eject button the year before, when Locksley’s behavior issues could have legitimately voided his contract, but sources suspect that Krebs might not have been anxious to deal with any political repercussions from dismissing a rare minority head coach so quickly. Now, however, Locksley’s insulation has evaporated, as anything close to a repeat of 2009 or 2010 likely gets him the boot. Already, many Lobo fans are dreaming about luring Mike Leach back onto the sidelines to rescue the New Mexico program in 2012. Stay tuned for further developments.

We might not have to stay tuned very long, however, because some regional observers are suggesting that Locksley already has one foot out the door, and another slow start could force Krebs into action before the season is complete. Septembers have been bad news for Locksley’s Lobos, who are 0-8 both straight up and vs. the spread in that month the past two years, with losses by scores such as 41-6, 44-10, 37-13, 72-0, 56-17, 56-14, and 45-10. We’ll go on record now that if New Mexico loses its first five games this fall, which would have to include home setbacks against New Mexico State and Sam Houston State in back-to-back weeks, that Locksley’s regime would be humanely terminated before Columbus Day. The Lobos also play five of their last seven games on the road, including trips to Mountain West heavyweights TCU and Boise State, so things hardly figure to improve as the campaign progresses.

In retrospect, Locksley’s accomplishments at Illinois were limited to the surprise Rose Bowl season in 2007, as the Illini returned back to mediocrity the following year as QB Juice Williams regressed from his decorated soph campaign. And given that Locksley had spent almost the entirety of his coaching career east of the Mississippi River, his hiring two years ago was immediately met with skepticism in MWC circles.

Locksley’s supposed offensive expertise has been exposed the past two seasons, as New Mexico’s version of the spread has been a poor fit for the available talent. It is hoped that Locksley might finally have a QB who can more effectively detonate the spread in 6'0 soph bowling ball Stump Godfrey, who performed with a bit of flair when starting the final four games of 2011, including the Lobos’ lone win against Wyoming by a 34-31 count. Godfrey displayed a bit of a playmaking bent and is expected to beat out skinny 6'3 jr. B.R. Holbrook, who started the first seven games last season but managed to throw just 2 TD passes in the process. Another soph, 6'2 “athlete” Tarean Austin, also took some snaps last year and could be featured in a variety of roles, but the aerial game lacked sophistication despite Locksley’s best intentions, and ranked 116th in passing efficiency.

Poor blocking and a lack of downfield aerial targets have been further negatives on the attack end that require immediate upgrades. To that end, Locksley will likely be plugging in three new starters along the forward wall, with touted 322-lb. juco Korian Chambers hopefully providing an immediate upgrade at the all-important left tackle position. Although he might be the only lineman to tip the scales at over three bills, as Locksley and new o.c. David Reaves endeavor to get a bit smaller and quicker up front after recent Lobo OLs moved as if they were stuck in molasses. The wideouts haven’t been able to get deep the past two seasons, but they do own some speed, even more now with jr. Ohio State transfer Lamarr Thomas, also a sprinter for the Buckeyes and featured mainly on Jim Tressel’s special teams during his OSU football career. But the WRs have been prone to cases of “dropsies” in the past, including leading returning receiver Ty Kirk, who still caught 38 balls last season. The best hands on the team likely belong to 6‘6 TE Lucas Reed, who caught 33 passes last season but whose aversion to blocking assignments makes him a one-dimensional component. The infantry, a staple of the Rocky Long teams that preceded the Locksley disaster, has mostly disappeared, although it is hoped that smallish 5'9 jr. Kasey Carrier can provide some of the pop he displayed at times late last season when gaining a team-best 373 YR (we told you the Lobos didn’t run too well a year ago). The impotent return game, however, could get a boost from aforementioned Ohio State transfer Thomas.

Lockskley and brave new defensive coordinator George Barlow welcome back nine starters from last year’s stop (go?) unit that might have been the nation’s worst. With no alternative but to change the recipe, the Lobo brain trust has decided to switch to 4-2-5 defensive looks, which on the surface seems a bit curious because the supposed strength of the platoon lies in the LB corps featuring the Mountain West’s leading tackler from 2010, Carmen Messina. One of the reasons Messina made so many tackles a year ago is that the defensive line didn’t make many of them, and rarely pressured opposing QBs, either, generating only 11 sacks all season while ranking in the triple-digits again (113th). A couple of touted transfers who followed Locksley from Illinois, DT Ugo Uzodinma and DE Reggie Ellis, were both disappointments a year ago, and another ballyhooed recruit, DE Calvin Smith, rarely made an impact as a frosh. Given UNM’s bottom ranking in rush defense and paltry sack numbers a year ago, things at least don’t expect to get worse (or can they?) on the DL. A veteran secondary figures to be the strength of the “D” (such as it is), with the new five-DB alignments designed to get more foot speed into the platoon. The most impactful newcomer might be juco DeShon Marman, a transfer from O.J. Simpson's City College of San Francisco who will likely man the new “wolf” position in the secondary. Remember, however, this “D” allowed a nation’s high 44 ppg in 2010; nine returning starters and a new alignment or not, don’t expect the Lobos to mirror TCU.

Summary...We don’t know how much more we can say about the Lobos and Locksley, who to this point looks like one of the worst head coaching hires in college football history, making Gerry Faust look almost Knute Rockne-like by comparison. The offense and defense both might have been the nation’s worst last season, which is quite a neat trick, and prospects for any improvements are guarded at best. It's worth noting that the pointspread pattern the past two years has been for New Mexico to get so overwhelmed in the first half of the season that numbers increase and the Lobos began to sneak inside some over-inflated imposts as the season progresses. But another case of being left at the starting gate (UNM is 0-8 SU and vs. the line in September the past two campaigns) makes it unlikely that Locksley will even be around to cover a few sky-high pointspreads in late October or November this fall. Don’t be surprised if serious Mike Leach-to-Albuquerque rumors commence before Halloween.

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