Maryland football coaches stick together, on the field and off it

Jonathan Newton/WASHINGTON POST - Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, from left, Coach Randy Edsall and defensive coordinator Brian Stewart spent their August nights on cots and air mattresses on campus.

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Deep into the first night of summer training camp, Mike Locksley awoke on the floor. The Maryland football team’s offensive coordinator had been snoozing in his office atop a queen-size inflatable mattress complete with a headboard, the Cadillac of makeshift beds. The Terrapins’ coaching staff lives on campus during the preseason, and Locksley wanted to spend his 18 nights sleeping comfortably.

Locksley checked the clock. It read 3 a.m., long before morning meetings began. He felt his back stiffen and wondered how his “super deluxe” store-bought mattress could flop on the first night. At that moment, Locksley checked underneath and realized his mistake. The instructions recommend clearing the floor of sharp objects. Sure enough, Locksley forgot, so a rogue screw had deflated the mattress.

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When Locksley finally emerged from his office, woozy after spending the night fixing the puncture wound, he opened the door and met his colleagues. They, too, were sore from sleeping on cots and air mattresses. But that’s the price of spending Augusts in the office.

“It’s kind of being out at camp,” Locksley said. “Camp without the campfire.”

Both of Coach Randy Edsall’s coordinators departed after his rocky first season in 2011, when Maryland went 2-10. But this offseason, Maryland was the only ACC team — and one of only 18 nationally — to enjoy zero turnover on its coaching staff. The stability may not last beyond the year — all nine assistants besides Locksley and defensive coordinator Brian Stewart signed contracts that expire Dec. 31 — but maintaining the same staff has afforded Edsall the unique luxury of continuity.

“It’s huge,” Edsall said. “You know how each other thinks. You know what everybody’s doing. Everyone’s on the same page. There’s not as many questions being asked about certain things. It’s a big bonus to us as a staff. It’s a bonus to the players because they’re not getting used to different techniques, a different scheme. And you can really see it when you go out to practice. It just makes the ship sail a lot smoother.”

Said Locksley: “If you look at all the great teams, the teams that have been successful year in and year out, it usually starts with the continuity of the head coach and the coordinators and the system. I’ve got some experienced guys in the room, guys who have coached football at some of the top levels and better programs. It’s great to have different resources to reach out and lean on. Each guy has some ownership into what we do.”

Long ago, Edsall decided that if players lived on campus during camp, his coaches would, too. He says he would never ask players to do something he wouldn’t try himself. So at night, once the players retire to their dormitories, the offices transform into bedrooms, the locker room into a bathroom, Gossett Team House into the Gossett Team Hotel.

The summer-camp environment fosters better communication among the coaching staff, something the Terps stressed throughout the offseason. They stay up late, swapping stories and talking current events, anything but the football that consumes their days. No coaches have pulled pranks yet, but Locksley recalls days when stringing water buckets above dorm room doorways wasn’t uncommon.

Players notice the cohesion, too. During practice, the defensive backs will recall an assignment Stewart taught them during a positional meeting, only to have the linebackers recite that same assignment verbatim to them in the huddle. Last year, as both Locksley and Stewart implemented their new systems into the program, other coaches struggled to grasp the concepts and, as a result, allowed their old tendencies to trickle into their instruction. After one year, the coaches say, they have moved past the buy-in phase and into more advanced territory.

“That shows you they’re all on the same page, teaching the same things in each person’s room,” cornerback Jeremiah Johnson said. “That helps a lot. That’s the biggest tell. We all have the same mind-set for each defensive call, what we want to do and what we’re trying to accomplish. We don’t have to be in the same room to learn together so long as the coaches are teaching the same thing.”

Only two coaches — Stewart and wide receivers coach Lee Hull — opted for the dormitories, where Stewart slept on a blue military cot more suited for kindergarten nap time than a grown man’s bed. But the defensive coordinator grew weary of rising to roaring vacuum cleaners at 4:30 a.m. because “that’s when you’re in that REM [rapid eye movement] sleep.”

Some coaches snore, too, and the office walls aren’t soundproof.

“I’m 48 now; I probably looked like I was 78,” Stewart said this week after the training camp exile from his home had ended. “I’m refreshed because I don’t have to wake up at 4:30.”

As for the head coach, Edsall slept in the locker room. His office’s air vents proved more noisy distraction than soothing white noise, and only two people know the combination to the locker room doors, so he could shut out the early-rising janitors for some extra hours of shut-eye. Since Edsall began coaching some two dozen years ago, he has always spent the preseason in the dormitories. Coaches, players, trainers, all under the same roof. “We’re all in it together,” he said.

Moving from the dorms into the air-conditioned offices seemed only natural, both to centralize the coaching operation and forge relationships among a staff that came together last season and remains fully intact. So rather than schlep across campus, Edsall can leave practice, go to meetings, review film and sleep all in the same building.

“Shoot,” he said, “all I have to do is walk down the hall, down the stairs and go to bed.”

 
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