ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Incoming New Mexico coach Mike Locksley is picking up where his predecessor left off, saying the program is in good shape and he's ready to make things even better.
"This isn't a rebuilding project. I look at it as a renovation," Locksley said Tuesday. "I'll be putting my personal touches on the great foundation that's already been laid."
Locksley is the fourth black head coach in the Bowl Subdivision. Asked about the low numbers of black head coaches in college football and what his hiring means, Locksley drew applause with his response.
"I don't think I was hired because I'm a black football coach," he said. "Hopefully, I was hired for all the work I put in. Hopefully, my success will open up doors for others that look like me."
New Mexico athletic director Paul Krebs said Locksley, the offensive coordinator at Illinois over the past four seasons, was the only candidate offered the job. He agreed to a six-year contract worth $750,000 annually.
"Make no mistake about it. This man was our No. 1 choice," Krebs said during a pep-rally news conference with cheerleaders, vocal students and a band playing New Mexico's fight song.
Locksley, who turns 39 on Christmas Day, is taking his first college head coaching job.
"He's been in big programs," quarterback Donovan Porterie said. "He's been around big-time players. He's been around fan bases that appreciate the players and what they do for the university. I definitely believe he has what it takes."
Locksley comes to Albuquerque with a reputation as an accomplished recruiter, meeting a top priority Krebs outlined when the search began. Locksley pledged to be an enthusiastic salesman for the program.
"It fits the bill," Krebs said.
Krebs also wanted someone who runs an exciting offense. Under Locksley this season, Illinois ranked second in the Big Ten and 19th nationally in total offense, averaging 439.4 yards per game.
The Illini have produced more than 5,000 total yards each of the past two years.
"We may need to add another digit to the scoreboard," Locksley told Krebs.
Illinois reached the Rose Bowl last season but was 5-7 this year. Despite the dropoff, Locksley was deemed by analysts as one of the most attractive assistants available to schools filling jobs this month.
"Locks is the whole package," Illini coach Ron Zook said. "He can coach, he can recruit and he can motivate his players. He did a tremendous job with our offense here and will be missed."
Locksley joins Turner Gill of Buffalo, Miami's Randy Shannon and Houston's Kevin Sumlin as the only black head coaches among the 119 major teams.
His hiring was enthusiastically endorsed by the Black Coaches and Administrators. Executive director Floyd Keith said the organization was "ecstatic over this great opportunity for Mike Locksley."
"Mike has been an acknowledged talent on the collegiate coaching front," Keith said. "This appointment will be a positive experience for all concerned."
Locksley replaced Rocky Long, a former New Mexico quarterback who stepped down last month after 11 seasons as the most successful coach in school history.
In announcing his decision, Long spoke of his affection for the school but said he concluded he couldn't harness the community support needed to lift New Mexico to its first league title since 1964.
Krebs and university president David Schmidly took time to praise Long for elevating New Mexico's program. Now it's up to Locksley, who also coached at Maryland and Florida, to work from there.
"He's ready to take this team to the next level and we're ready to follow," Porterie said.
Locksley promised to be "very passionate" about protecting the New Mexico brand.
Along with filling in the dates of his family's birthdays on his 2009 calendar, Locksley said he already noted the dates when the Lobos will play Mountain West top dogs Utah, BYU and TCU.
"We're not going to take a back seat to anybody in the Mountain West," he said. "We're not going to take a back seat to anybody in the nation."
Locksley grew up in Washington. He was a three-year starter at safety at Towson in nearby Maryland, where he was named the team's defensive MVP in 1991 as a senior. He started his coaching career at Towson in 1992, handling defensive backs and special teams.