Locksley, Walker hires small step, but giant leap still needed in FBS

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Now, the two are part of an even smaller fraternity. On Dec. 8, New Mexico hired Locksley, then offensive coordinator at Illinois, as its head coach. Later that month New Mexico hired Walker, then defensive coordinator at UCLA, as its head coach. The landmark hirings increased the number of minority coaches among the 119 FBS programs to seven.

While BCS schools -- most notably Auburn, which passed on Buffalo coach Turner Gill this offseason, and the Big East, which has never had a black head coach among its current membership -- have taken heat for not hiring minority coaches, New Mexico, a state which ranks 42nd nationally in total black population per capita, saw two join the head coaching ranks at its two biggest state institutions during the same offseason.

Locksley and Walker know their hires could spell change, but Walker's quick to remind race ultimately will matter less than wins and losses.

"The state of New Mexico definitely should be recognized for hiring two minorities at the same time," Walker said. "But again, at the end of the day it comes down to winning football games and building great programs. It should be acknowledged, but once the season starts it's not going to matter anymore. What's going to matter is winning games, and [Locksley] and I understand that."

The nearly simultaneous ascension into college football's head coaching ranks isn't the only thing the old friends have in common. In Albuquerque, Locksley inherited a team that reached bowl eligibility seven of the last eight years, but won just four games in 2008. He quickly scrapped the Lobos' old system, switching to a no-huddle, wide-open spread on offense and a 4-3 base set on defense. He's even changed the Lobos' uniforms.

Meanwhile, 222 miles away in Las Cruces, Walker took over an Aggies program that won just 11 games over the last three seasons and hasn't reached a bowl game since 1960. He's ushered in a schematic transformation, ditching the high-risk, high-reward passing attack that ranked 10th nationally last season for a traditional ball-control offense and a 3-3-5 defense for a 4-3 he himself will direct.

Both coaches have also taken a vested interest in a 6-foot, 168-pound dual-threat quarterback out of La Cueva (Albuquerque) High, a prospect who just happens to be Locksley's son. Meiko Locksley has already received three scholarships offers, from Towson, his father's alma mater, and from the Lobos and Aggies.

"We've talked about his son a little bit," Walker said, laughing. The elder Locksley, however, would rather not have to worry about facing his son when the two in-state rivals play for the Maloof Trophy. "That's not something I look forward to," he said.

Both coaches have had trouble off the field. In May a former administrative assistant accused Locksley of sexual harassment, age discrimination and retaliation. The investigation is still ongoing. Walker, meanwhile, was arrested this offseason on suspicion of drunken driving after driving his GMC Yukon the wrong way on a one-way street. Charges were later dropped.

Locksley and Walker join Eastern Michigan's Ron English and Miami (Ohio)'s Mike Haywood as the four first-time black head coaches this season. But while those hires increased the number of minority coaches from three, the lowest number at the Division I-A level since 1993, to seven, they occurred in Ypsilanti and Oxford, not Chestnut Hill or Syracuse. The offseason firings of Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State, Ron Prince at Kansas State and Tyrone Willingham at Washington leave Miami's Randy Shannon as the only black coach among the 65 BCS schools.

"Why the lack of representation at the BCS level?" Locksley said. "I don't know. I don't know why. I think if I can do a good job where I'm at and have some success, hopefully I can knock down some of those barriers and have some opportunities."

Locksley may not know the answer, but it's no secret a fundamental flaw in the hiring process has left the likes of he and Walker, who were among the top coordinators in the nation the past few seasons, to take jobs at mid-major programs and hope BCS programs will give them a hard look if they prove themselves. But if recent history proves anything, success alone isn't enough. Gill turned Buffalo from a doormat into a bowl team, but still resides in the MAC. Perhaps more tragically, Charlie Strong, the man behind the Florida defenses that helped deliver two national titles in three years, didn't get a sniff at any of the 22 Division I-A jobs filled this past offseason. "Not one interview," Strong told the Tampa Tribune. "Nobody called me."

Despite the lack of progress, it seems college football's nowhere near stealing a page from the NFL and creating its own Rooney Rule. Oregon's state legislature has proposed a bill that would require state institutions to interview at least one minority candidate for all coaching and athletic director openings, and while that seems like progress, it's unlikely the issue will gain much traction with the NCAA.

In a recent post on the NCAA's Double-A Zone blog, vice president for diversity and inclusion Charlotte Westerhause wrote "mandatory interviews of minority candidates will not eradicate the practice and stigma of tokenism. The only thing worse than not being hired due to one's race or ethnicity is being considered for a position solely because this individual represents diversity within a mandatory interview process. This is a belittling practice."

If mandating minority interviews isn't the answer, what is? Walker believes it lies with coaches like himself, Locksley, Houston's Kevin Sumlin and the rest of the nation's minority coaches.

"There are a whole lot of qualified minority coaches out there, they just need the opportunity," Walker said. "You have to start somewhere. We have seven and the seven minority coaches are fortunate to be head coaches. We have an obligation to do a good job so hopefully we can give other minority coaches the same opportunities."