J.B. Gerald, the Lobos’ former wide receivers’ coach, said he had faith that the University would expose the truth at the conclusion of its investigation into a Sept. 20 physical altercation between him and head coach Mike Locksley.
But during a 50-minute interview with the Daily Lobo on Saturday, Gerald said it became increasingly apparent throughout the process that the University wasn’t concerned with determining exactly what happened that day.
For that reason, Gerald said the University and Locksley can expect a lawsuit, though he didn’t specify when he would file one.
University spokeswoman Susan McKinsey said UNM expected a lawsuit from Gerald.
“We knew coach Gerald had retained a lawyer, so hearing that a lawsuit will be filed comes as no surprise,” she said. “However, since we haven’t seen it, and don’t know the details of it, we can’t comment on that which we haven’t seen.”
Lawsuit aside, in his first local interview, Gerald expanded upon comments he made to ESPN. He said Locksley punched and choked him during a coaches’ meeting.
Gerald’s testimony, along with documents provided by the office of the Custodian of Public Records, corroborate his claim and back an ESPN report, though Locksley and University officials continue to dispute that Locksley punched or choked Gerald.
Gerald said he and Athletics Director Paul Krebs met on three occasions after the altercation, and Gerald told Krebs that he didn’t intend to return because his relationship with Locksley was irreparably damaged.
“Those discussions were about, as (Krebs) used this term a lot, ‘damage control,’” Gerald said. “‘Can you get past this?’ The conversations were pretty much about that.”
Shortly before the incident was made public, Gerald said Krebs contacted him and urged him to downplay the severity of the incident and even encouraged him to return to work.
“He said, ‘We need you to give a statement to defuse this thing. Go back to work. Give a statement. Defuse it, so you don’t pour gasoline on this thing,’” Gerald said.
“From that standpoint, I knew that it wasn’t about what happened to me in that room. It was about the perception of the University more so than what happened.”
Krebs didn’t return phone calls on Sunday.
All the ruckus was caused by a disagreement over a play. Locksley, upset because a motion formation wasn’t executed correctly during the Lobos’ game against Air Force, had heated exchanges with at least two other coaches before directing his anger toward Gerald.
He asked Gerald if he could get the problem fixed, according to Gerald’s first-hand account and handwritten notes from HR investigator Shannon Garbiso, provided by the office of the Custodian of Public Records.
“‘However you want it done, let me know, and that’s how I’ll install it,’” Gerald said. “(Locksley’s) response was, ‘It should’ve (expletive) been done that way from the first (expletive) day.’”
The meeting then seemed to move forward, Gerald said, but Locksley turned his attention back to Gerald.
“Out of the blue, he comes back to me, ‘Hey J.B., you think we can (expletive) get the play put in that way,’” he said.
Again, Gerald said he would install the play however Locksley wanted it put in. That’s when, Gerald said, Locksley walked over and attacked him.
“I’m looking at him like, ‘What’s he about to do?’” Gerald said. “He basically jumps in my lap, hands around my neck, my collar included. As he’s pulling me up, I’m trying to get up. I grab his hands he’s trying to pull me up out of my seat. My arms are down by my side, pinned to my side, and coach Locksley’s swinging punches.”
Mike Degory, centers/offensive guards coach, attempted to restrain Locksley, while quarterbacks coach and offensive tackles/tight ends coach Cheston Blackshear and quarterback coach Tee Martin pulled Gerald away from Locksley.
At an Oct. 12 news conference to announce Locksley’s 10-day, unpaid suspension for his role in the altercation, Krebs refuted Gerald’s claim that Locksley threw a punch, saying that “no witnesses verified coach Gerald’s allegation that coach Locksley threw a punch.”
What Krebs failed to mention, though, was that a coach did support Gerald’s allegation of a punch — Degory. Moreover, three coaches, including Degory, told Garbiso that Locksley choked Gerald.
According to Garbiso’s handwritten notes, Degory told her that Locksley “reached out and started choking (Gerald),” before adding that he “held Locks back as he was swinging at Gerald.”
Both Martin and Blackshear’s accounts of the incident were nearly identical. Martin told Garbiso, “All of a sudden, coach Locks was grabbing coach Gerald around the throat choking him” — Blackshear stated Locksley “grabbed (Gerald) by the shirt and started choking him.”
However, Garbiso’s notes were taken during the initial athletic inquiry, completely separate from UNM Human Resources’ official probe, said Helen Gonzales, vice president of HR.
“I read her notes,” she said. “However, I focused on what coach Gerald alleged, and he alleged that he was punched in the mouth. There was some sort of a scuffle over several seconds, and arms were flailing.”
Gerald said this conclusion falls short of the plain truth.
“That’s a way of them trying not to call it a punch,” he said.
Gonzales, who conducted the HR investigation into the incident, said her finding didn’t confirm Gerald’s allegation of a punch, nor that he was choked. All that could be verified, she said, was that Locksley grabbed Gerald by his shirt collar.
“Coach Gerald did not report being choked in the police report, so there were differences of opinion about what people saw,” she said. “He did report being grabbed by the collar. I did verify that coach Locksley did grab coach Gerald by the collar.
The questions I focused on were the allegations coach Gerald alleged with the police.”
Gonzales said she didn’t take notes during the Human Resources’ investigation. Instead, she had a lawyer present who documented everything, because she wanted to “concentrate on what was being said.” Those notes, however, are protected by law, Gonzales said, and are not available to the public.
Gerald said his relationship with Locksley was strained before the altercation in September. The head coach threatened Gerald physically after a practice on Aug. 13, Gerald said.
During a verbal spat, Locksley dressed down Gerald, berating the former wide receivers’ coach and even threatening him.
“‘This is my (expletive) field,’” Locksley told Gerald, the assistant coach said. “‘I reserve the right to say whatever I want. This is my field, my sanctuary. I can say whatever I want to say.’ I was like, ‘You can’t talk to me like I’m one of your kids or one of these players.’ He said, ‘I’ll (expletive) slap you right now.’ I said, ‘No you won’t. You will not slap me.’”
When asked why he didn’t inform the administration that Locksley threatened to slap him, Gerald said he didn’t believe Locksley meant what he said — that they were just words. Nonetheless, after that, Gerald said his relationship with Locksley was strictly professional.
And now, he and Locksley have no relationship. Gerald said he will not return to his post at the University, even though he misses his players.
“I won’t sell my soul for a job,” he said. “I won’t subject myself for something I don’t believe in for a job. What happened in that room — those working conditions are unfit for anybody. That was Week 3 of a football season where he snapped. In Week 3, with nine more games to go.”