Michael Locksley called Maryland his dream job in about six different ways Thursday. Every time, it sounded a little better, a little sweeter, a little more heartfelt. Finally, near the end of his family reunion of an introduction as the program’s head coach, he nailed his description.
“This is a job I coveted since the day I put a whistle around my neck as a coach,” the 48-year-old D.C. native said. “Some people grow up wanting to be the head coach at the University of Alabama, Michigan, all the storied programs. For Lox, this was it.”
In one sound bite, he provided some imagery and referred to himself by his nickname. Not bad. Locksley won the day simply by articulating a sincere passion for a job that many would consider too complicated and dreadful to want right now.
For the first time since Jordan McNair died, the Terrapins held a big, well-attended, state-of-the-football-program news conference, and it was neither sad nor shameful. It didn’t inspire rage or provoke revolt. It didn’t make you wonder about the university’s soul. Instead, the vibe was hopeful, friendly and comfortable. If it were summertime, you would have expected Locksley to throw some meat on a grill while talking about his plans to rebuild the program.
Maryland needed this kind of day. No drama, just fun and familial. It doesn’t mean that Locksley is certain to be a success or that he has buried all of his past mistakes and failures. But the positive momentum matters. And it matters that Locksley, who knows this area so well and previously served two stints as a Maryland assistant, fits the program perfectly.
In everything he said, you could feel his connection to the school and the region. As you looked around Cole Field House and saw local high school coaches, former players he recruited and close friends on hand to support him, you could see the authenticity of that connection.
“He is exactly what we needed for our community,” Maryland Athletic Director Damon Evans said. “Mike is ingrained in the very fabric of who we are as a state and who we are as Terps. He embodies the spirit of One Maryland.
“As we all know, this has been a difficult season for our team. They deserve someone who can bring us together, someone who understands what they have gone through, someone who can help them continue to heal after the tragic passing of their teammate, Jordan McNair.”
Maryland didn’t need just any fixer. It needed the right kind of fixer. It’s still going to take years to move past McNair’s preventable death and the questionable football culture that led to former coach DJ Durkin’s firing. But while the healing continues, the program needed a coach and recruiter with tremendous local credibility. It also needed a coach who has learned a few hard lessons and figured out how to evolve. Locksley’s coaching talent and his journey make him an intriguing new steward of Maryland football.
The man’s ability has been clear for a long time. Locksley, the 2018 recipient of the Frank Broyles Award honoring the nation’s top football assistant coach, has enjoyed three incredible years coaching under Nick Saban at Alabama. You know he has the recruiting acumen. You know he has a good track record as an offensive play caller. The concerning part is his 3-31 career record as a head coach, which includes a 2-26 mark during a disastrous stint on and off the field at New Mexico and a 1-5 run as the Maryland interim coach in 2015 after Randy Edsall was fired.
But it has been 10 years since New Mexico hired Locksley as a first-time head coach. Time doesn’t erase that Locksley had an altercation with an assistant in 2009 while with the Lobos. People won’t forget that an administration assistant accused him of age and sex discrimination, even though she eventually withdrew those claims. Locksley will need to prove that he can function better as the CEO of a program. But in listening to him speak, you can sense his growth and humility. He has been through a lot, including the 2017 death of his 25-year-old son, Meiko Anthony Locksley, who was shot in Columbia, Md.
You also can sense how fortunate he feels not only to get another head coaching job again but to get the one he always wanted.
“You mature. You grow,” Locksley said. “I just spent three years saturated in winning under Coach Nick Saban and the Alabama football program. It’s my goal to basically take the experiences that I’ve had as a coach, not just at New Mexico but at every stop along the way. Take what I’ve learned from being under Coach Saban and his process and find a way to create that environment here with our football family.”
Locksley also re-connects Maryland to its most recent run of great success. He was on Ralph Friedgen’s staff in 2001 when the Terrapins finished 10-2 and went to the Orange Bowl. In Friedgen’s first three seasons, Maryland went 31-8, and Locksley was a big part of that success before taking a job at Florida in 2003. He knows what it feels like to win here. He knows what it feels like to lose, too. Now, it’s his turn to build something.
“’I’ve spent 10 years of my coaching career here,” Locksley said. “I’ve seen the good, bad and ugly of Maryland. I’ve had the opportunity to win a conference championship here. I was part of winning 30 games in three years during the early 2000s under Coach Friedgen. I have a vision, a picture in my mind of what it felt like and what it looked like when we accomplished those goals as a team. I know it can be done again.”
Before he even gets to trying to win in the Big Ten, Locksley must take care of his players. It’s the most important job for any coach, but after McNair’s death, it will be scrutinized heavily. If Maryland is true to its word, it will be more careful and more transparent in how it trains its players. Locksley must welcome the extra attention and live up to his intention to make the program a family.
“It’s my goal to build this thing into a football family,” he said. “With family, the words that come to mind to me are trust, respect, discipline, and with any family, there are always going to be issues that come up. The No. 1 thing for me, just like being a father in the family, is ensuring that every decision I make moving forward as the leader of this family will put the health, welfare and safety of the students first, like I would my own children.”
As Locksley did several rounds of one-on-one interviews after his news conference, friends and family waited patiently to hug and congratulate him one more time. They joked how important he is now. But they kept waiting because they knew Locksley, the boy who used to hang around outside Cole Field House, wouldn’t big-time them. As much as Locksley has changed, he is still the same. If all goes well, Maryland will benefit from both his lifelong affinity for the school and his personal evolution.
For more by Jerry Brewer, visit washingtonpost.com/brewer.
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