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CHAMPAIGN – The bowl-less December just got a lot busier for Illinois' Ron Zook.
The fourth-year coach will be spending the week on two projects, recruiting and finding a replacement for offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, who will be announced today as New Mexico's coach.
"I'm very excited for Mike to have this opportunity," Zook said. "He is ready to take this next step and I know that he will be a great ambassador for the University of New Mexico. Locks is the whole package. He can coach. He can recruit. He can motivate the players. He did a tremendous job with our offense here and he will be missed."
One of the places Locksley will be missed for Illinois is as a recruiter. He helped Illinois land top players from the Washington, D.C. area, including All-Big Ten receiver Arrelious Benn and All-Big Ten cornerback Vontae Davis. Both players starred at Washington Dunbar.
Losing Locksley will hurt Illinois in the D.C. area, Dunbar coach Craig Jefferies said.
"It will to a certain extent," Jefferies said. "Coach Zook does a good job recruiting, but he's not going to be here pounding the pavement like Locksley is. They're going to feel the pinch. It just depends on their commitment to this area."
Jefferies has a solution for Illinois.
"They could always hire me," Jefferies said. "I'll take care of it."
Washington, D.C. is an open recruiting area.
"We don't have a state university to really go after our kids hard," Jefferies said. "We're not Maryland. We're not Virginia. We're not West Virginia. Who wants to claim it? This was home for Locksley. He claimed this area as a stronghold for him."
Jefferies said Locksley will continue to recruit D.C. as the New Mexico coach.
"I've had kids go to Utah, to California," Jefferies said. "If he comes here, he'll get kids to go wherever he is."
Illinois can continue to have success in the area, Jefferies said, if it maintains the commitment to D.C. With a number of area players on the roster, the pipeline has been established.
The loss of Locksley won't have an impact on three commitments from East St. Louis. Illinois running backs coach Reggie Mitchell recruits the 7A state champions.
"Coach Mitchell has been doing a great job and he's still there, so they feel comfortable," East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett said.
Illinois quarterback Juice Williams won't have his mentor back for his senior season. Williams credits Locksley with much of the improvement he has made during his Illini career.
"You guys saw the immaturity I had as a freshman quarterback, the mistakes I made my freshman year and even early in my sophomore year," Williams said after the Illini lost at Northwestern on Nov. 22. "He continued to stick with me, continued to coach me hard, continued to want me to be great.
"I have to give a lot of credit to Mike Locksley. He put up with a lot of things, the rawness I had coming in. He's turned me into a polished quarterback."
Locksley, who earlier interviewed for the job at Clemson, has never hidden his desire to be a head coach. About a year ago, Locksley signed a contract extension at Illinois that paid him $500,000 per season.
Locksley could not be reached Monday. His message box on his cell phone was full.
Besides New Mexico and Clemson, Locksley was also considered to be a candidate at Syracuse.
Locksley recently completed his fourth season coaching the Illinois offense. In 2007, Ilinois finished third in the Big Ten in scoring offense (28.7 points), first in pass offense (269.3 yards) and second in total offense (438.8). But the Illini struggled late on offense, averaging 16 points in their last four losses, a slump which cost Zook's program a postseason berth.
Search and replace
Who will replace Mike Locksley as Illinois offensive coordinator? Here are three possibilities:
NAME CURRENT SCHOOL/JOB
Kurt Beathard Illinois/outside receivers coach
— Second-year assistant has been offensive coordinator at three other coaching stops
G.A. Mangus Middle Tennessee/offensive coordinator
— Former Florida quarterback spent three years on the Gators staff during the early 1990s
Jim Pry Illinois/inside receivers coach
— Past work includes offensive coordinator stints at Akron, Duke, Buffalo and VMI