Commentary

Illini retain Locksley, Trojans struggle with injuries

Updated: December 31, 2007, 5:55 PM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Illinois has locked up offensive coordinator Mike Locksley to a new five-year contract extension through the 2012 season, after West Virginia officials called Locksley to inquire about his interest in the Mountaineers' vacancy.

Locksley, who joined coach Ron Zook after working as Florida's running backs coach and recruiting coordinator for two seasons, said West Virginia officials called him immediately after Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan. But Locksley said he hasn't heard anything from the Mountaineers since the initial contact.

"I was never asked to interview and they never asked to meet with me," Locksley said. "Is West Virginia a great opportunity? Obviously, when it's a BCS school that's had the success West Virginia has had, it would be a great opportunity for any coach and not just Mike Locksley."

West Virginia officials have apparently focused on three candidates to succeed Rodriguez: Central Michigan coach Butch Jones, former Auburn coach Terry Bowden and Florida assistant Doc Holliday.

Locksley's new contract at Illinois will make him one of college football's highest-paid assistant coaches with an annual salary of more than $500,000. He has led Illinois' recruiting efforts the past three years, helping the Illini sign highly regarded players such as receiver Arrelious Benn and cornerback Vontae Davis from the Washington, D.C., area. Locksley previously worked as recruiting coordinator and running backs coach at Maryland.

Under Locksley's direction, Illinois' offense led the Big Ten and ranked fifth nationally with 266.2 rushing yards per game. The No. 13 Illini play No. 7 Southern California in the Rose Bowl presented by Citi on New Year's Day.

"He's a very, very loyal person," Zook said. "He's a great football coach. He's a great person. All the things that you would want, and he's going to be a head coach. Whether it's this year or next year, the year after, he'll be a head coach."

Zook also plans to keep linebackers/special teams coach Dan Disch and secondary coach Curt Mallory as co-defensive coordinators next season. The coaches assumed the dual role when former defensive coordinator Vince Okruch unexpectedly resigned.

"Coach Zook basically said, 'I want you two to coordinate and you know how things are run,'" said Mallory, son of former Indiana coach Bill Mallory. "This is the first time [Zook] has ever had co-coordinators. He really didn't know how it was going to be run. He just knew Dan and I would figure out the responsibilities as we went along. We didn't change anything as far as our coaching assignments during the game. We just did what we've done in the past with Dan on the field and me in the box."

Turner questionable for Trojans: USC junior Patrick Turner, the team's starting split end, is questionable to play in the Rose Bowl because of a quadriceps injury he suffered in practice last week. Turner was third on the team with 48 catches for 569 yards with three touchdowns. Tight end Fred Davis leads USC with 55 receptions.

Washington gets nod for USC: Trojans coach Pete Carroll said senior tailback Chauncey Washington would start in the Rose Bowl. Washington, from Torrance, Calif., had been bothered by a hip pointer the past month. Washington started each of the past 10 games, although USC used a tailback-by-committee for much of the season.

Three USC players -- Washington, sophomore Stafon Johnson and freshman Joe McKnight -- each had more than 80 carries this season. Washington led the Trojans with 894 yards and nine touchdowns on 183 attemtps.

USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian remains excited about McKnight, regarded as one of the country's top prospects after his senior season at John Curtis High School in River Ridge, La. McKnight ran for 415 yards and two touchdowns, and caught 17 passes for 158 yards and one score this season.

"You have to remember he was very limited at the running back position," Sarkisian said. "He did not play it in high school, as much as people think. It took time, especially the hit-and-runs."

Carroll likes new UCLA coach: Carroll endorsed crosstown rival UCLA's choice for a new football coach. Carroll said former Colorado and Washington coach Rick Neuheisel, who most recently worked as offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, was the "natural fit" for the Bruins. Neuheisel was named Karl Dorrell's replacement on Saturday.

Neuheisel, who had a 66-30 record as a college coach, played quarterback at UCLA from 1979-83, leading the Bruins to a 45-9 win over Illinois in the 1984 Rose Bowl.

"I think it's a great hire," Carroll said. "This guy has been successful. He's totally familiar with the situation and the conference. I think it's a natural fit for them."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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