As Maryland searches for a new head football coach, Mike Locksley has generated widespread support from many stakeholders in College Park. The offensive coordinator at Alabama, who previously spent two stints as an assistant with the Terrapins, is already considered to be a finalist for the job, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation, even though he will not interview until after the SEC championship game on Saturday.
There is mounting pressure on Maryland Athletic Director Damon Evans to hire Locksley, according to two people with direct knowledge of the process, and on multiple levels it would be considered a home run hire. A Washington native who is beloved in local coaching circles with deep recruiting ties to the area, Locksley, 48, is also considered an innovator who has helped Alabama’s offense reach historic heights this season and who, many believe, is the right coach to energize a dwindling and fractured fan base at Maryland.
But Locksley’s candidacy also stirs questions about the school’s search in the wake of one of the most turbulent periods in the university’s history. Maryland will have to decide whether it will try to stabilize the program under Locksley — whose first head coaching experience at New Mexico was mired in a string of ugly off-the-field incidents and ended disastrously when he was fired just four games into his third season in 2011 — or whether it will hire another coach with less baggage.
“I think Mike is unique, in that I think he can be a uniting force for players, fans and donors,” said one high-level booster, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “People will rally to help him.”
Locksley was last considered for Maryland’s head coaching job in 2015 after he served as the team’s interim head coach for the final six games following the midseason firing of Randy Edsall. Locksley finished his short tenure 1-5, bringing his career head coaching record to 3-31, but he was considered for the permanent job after the season concluded. Maryland opted to hire DJ Durkin instead. Durkin offered Locksley a position on his staff, but Locksley turned down the offer and joined Alabama.
According to multiple people with knowledge of the situation, the process created friction between Locksley and Evans, who was the athletic department’s second-in-command at the time. Three years later, with the program in shambles following the June death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair and the Oct. 31 firing of Durkin, Locksley has another chance at the job.
Maryland is expected to conduct finalist interviews Sunday and Monday in Maryland, according to two people with knowledge of the process. Michigan passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton and Maryland’s 2018 interim coach, Matt Canada, will also interview as finalists.
Though high-level boosters and former recruits at Maryland and Alabama have endorsed Locksley’s candidacy, the College Park administration will have to weigh the complicated optics of his potential hiring. For the 2009 season he inherited a downtrodden program at New Mexico, which had been slapped with three years’ probation in 2008 for NCAA violations. That challenge was compounded by multiple off-the-field incidents after Locksley’s arrival.
In the spring of 2009, before Locksley coached a game at New Mexico, an administrative assistant, Sylvia Lopez, filed an age and sex discrimination complaint against Locksley with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Lopez’s attorney told the Albuquerque Journal that Locksley had told the assistant that he wanted younger women in the role to help with recruiting. The claim was later withdrawn. Lopez’s attorney, Whitney Warner, could not immediately be reached for comment this week.
In September 2009, during a coaches meeting following New Mexico’s loss to Air Force, Locksley was accused of punching assistant coach J.B. Gerald in the face. “Locksley became upset about [Gerald’s] response to questions concerning a play in the game and began shouting at him and other coaches,” according to a lawsuit later filed by Gerald, which also included allegations of a hostile work environment.
Locksley then attacked Gerald, “pinning him to his chair and choking him,” the lawsuit said. Other coaches in the room pulled Locksley and Gerald apart, but while Gerald was restrained, Locksley broke free and struck him in the face several times, according to the lawsuit.
In response to those allegations, the university said in the lawsuit that Gerald was texting while Locksley asked him a question multiple times. The university suspended Locksley for 10 days without pay.
In the lawsuit, Gerald also alleged Locksley used “profane speech and demeaning conduct” when dealing with black coaches, which the university denied.
The two parties reached a settlement, and Gerald, now the director of high school relations at Syracuse University, received $25,000. Gerald did not respond to request for comment.
Asked to comment on Saturday after No. 1 Alabama defeated No. 4 Georgia in Atlanta, Locksley said, “I’m really excited about winning the SEC championship today, man. That’s all I’m concerned with right now. Thank you.”
Locksley also had a run-in with a student reporter while at New Mexico. In July 2010, Ryan Tomari, a former sports editor at the University of New Mexico’s student paper, said he was confronted by Locksley at an Albuquerque bar after Tomari had written a column critical of the football program. Locksley allegedly yelled profanities at Tomari and a friend about the local media. Locksley did not comment on the incident later that season.
Tomari confirmed the incident in a telephone interview earlier this week and said of Locksley’s tenure, “I thought it was off the rails from the get-go.”
At the end of Locksley’s stint at New Mexico, a 19-year-old friend of Locksley’s son was charged with suspicion of driving while intoxicated in a car that was registered to Locksley’s son and wife. Hours later, the team suffered an ugly loss to lower-division Sam Houston State to fall to 0-4. Locksley was fired the next morning after compiling a 2-26 record in less than three seasons.
“I was on the fast track,” Locksley told The Washington Post in 2015, “and the next thing I know, it got derailed.”
Maryland hired Locksley, who had previously been an assistant coach in College Park from 1997 to 2002, the following season to be the team’s offensive coordinator. He began to rebuild his career from there. Although he won just one game during his interim head coaching stint at Maryland in 2015, he was praised by his players that season for galvanizing the team after Edsall was fired.
Locksley became an analyst under Nick Saban at Alabama in 2016. He coached receivers and was the co-offensive coordinator last season. Locksley began calling plays this year with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a Heisman Trophy front-runner, leading the offense. Alabama, the defending national champion, enters Saturday’s game with a 12-0 record and an offense that averages 49.0 points per game (second nationally), 538.0 yards per game (fourth) and 8.04 yards per play (second).
“If Saban wants Mike Locksley around, that means he’s doing some good things, the right things,” said Craig Jefferies, who coached under Locksley at New Mexico and now coaches at Oxon Hill High in Prince George’s County, Md. “While Mike is around, Mike is learning and growing and developing new things the way to be successful to the standard that Alabama has.”
Locksley has also received praise for his ability to recruit, particularly in the D.C. area. While Locksley was the offensive coordinator at Maryland, the Terps’ recruiting classes ranked 38th (2013), 41st (2014) and 47th (2015) in the nation, according to 247 Sports. Some of the players Locksley recruited to play at Maryland include wide receiver Stefon Diggs of the Minnesota Vikings and linebacker Jermaine Carter of the Carolina Panthers, both local products.
Maryland’s best recruiting classes in more than a decade came under Durkin, who brought in the No. 18 class in 2017 and No. 28 class last year. But the program’s recruiting operations were badly damaged following McNair’s death, and some donors and analysts believe it will take someone such as Locksley, with his strong local relationships, to fix it. With the NCAA’s early signing period less than a month away, Maryland has just eight prospects committed to its 2019 class.
“Considering everything that’s gone on in the past eight months with this program, you can count on maybe one finger right now the number of coaches in the country that can go into parents' living rooms and convince them to have confidence in the Maryland program and let them know that Maryland would take care of their son at this football program,” said Adam Friedman, a Mid-Atlantic recruiting analyst for Rivals. “Mike might be that only guy that can do that.”
While recruiting is the lifeblood of a college football program, whoever takes over at Maryland will face challenges on other fronts. The foremost challenge will be winning back the trust of the fan base and the campus community after the fallout of McNair’s death and reports of an abusive culture within the program.
Locksley once said that he had seen the “good, the bad and the ugly” at Maryland, but never during his two tenures at the school had the program been as low as it is now. Whether he gets a chance to revive it remains to be seen.
Chuck Culpepper contributed to this report from Atlanta.
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