With a small contingent of cheerleaders and members of the band, Maryland unveiled Michael Locksley as its head football coach on Thursday with pep-rally-style hoopla — the sense of excitement that comes when the new coach has yet to lose a game.
Locksley, a Washington native who worked at Maryland for 10 seasons over two previous stints as an assistant, nodded and mouthed along with the “Go Maryland” parts of the school fight song before he was introduced by Athletic Director Damon Evans.
“When I got into coaching,” Locksley said, speaking from a platform inside the team’s indoor practice facility, “this was the one job that I always coveted.”
Each weekend, Locksley said he keeps up with five teams: the one he coaches; Ballou High School and Towson, his alma maters; the Washington Redskins; and Maryland.
But now that he’s in College Park — at least some of the time, as he will continue his duties as offensive coordinator at Alabama through the College Football Playoff — he will face the challenges of leading a team that has navigated chaos since June.
Locksley must build his staff, finding the right coordinators and determining if any from the past regime should stay. He will juggle recruiting with his Alabama game preparation, and he inherits a recruiting class that has lagged during the recent controversy. Then, he’ll have to win.
As a head coach at New Mexico and as interim coach at Maryland for half of the 2015 season, Locksley accumulated a 3-31 record, notching those three wins by a combined margin of 10 points. In his tenure at New Mexico, Locksley also had multiple off-the-field issues from 2009 to 2011.
“I’m so far removed from that New Mexico experience,” said Locksley, 48. “Who I’ve become as a coach and who I’ve become as a person, as everyone else, you mature, you grow.”
As Evans is quick to point out, Locksley has spent the last three seasons working for Nick Saban at Alabama. With Locksley as the team’s play-caller this season, he has helped the Crimson Tide offense reach record heights. Locksley won the Broyles Award, which is given to the nation’s top assistant, and he’s coached quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a Heisman Trophy finalist.
“I just spent three years saturated in winning and seeing what it’s like to be done right,” Locksley said.
Locksley said he’d need a three-hour course to explain everything he’s learned under Saban, ranging from discipline to consistency to the way Saban enters the team facility at the same time each morning.
That preparation, he said, has set him on the path toward not just any head coaching job but this one.
“Mike is ingrained in the very fabric of who we are as a state and who we are as Terps,” Evans said.
Locksley grew up attending Maryland basketball and football games. He said Thursday that he and his closest friend would hang out in the Cole Field House parking lots. He remembers what he described as the tough football teams of the 1980s. He wanted to be a Terp but said he wasn’t good enough so he played at Towson instead.
“I’m here to build a winning football family,” Locksley said. “The thing about family is we all know that family name is something people wear with pride. … As I told the team, our family name is Terrapins, Terps for short, and when people say it, I want them to say it with some respect.”
Locksley’s local ties give him an edge in recruiting that will be tested as he scrambles to build on a 2019 class that ranks 85th in the country and last in the Big Ten, according to 247 Sports.
While their futures with the program remain uncertain, some Maryland assistants coaches, including Chris Beatty and Bryan Stinespring, attended the news conference, along with a couple of players. Locksley met with the players Thursday morning and plans to soon meet with them individually.
Locksley will stay at Maryland until late next Thursday, then return to Alabama to help the team prepare to face Oklahoma on Dec. 29 in a playoff semifinal. Even there, he said, “at night, I’ll go in my office and put my Terp hat on and start recruiting for the Terps.”
Locksley said he doesn’t want to rush the process of building a staff, but he has a few names in mind. In the next few days, he plans to meet with all current assistants.
The program Locksley will now lead garnered national attention after the death of 19-year-old offensive lineman Jordan McNair and the ensuing reports of an abusive culture within the program. Evans called Locksley the coach who can help the team “continue to heal,” referencing that Locksley lost a son, Meiko, in September 2017. Locksley’s daughter, Kori, attended McDonogh School outside Baltimore with McNair.
McNair’s father, Martin, attended Thursday’s news conference.
Locksley promised that the players’ safety and well-being will be his foremost priority when establishing the program’s culture. Winning, he said, will follow.
As Locksley’s Alabama team prepared to face Louisville in its season opener, Locksley said he watched Maryland upset Texas, and he noticed the players’ energy in an emotional game.
“I’m not coming into a bare cupboard,” Locksley said. “I’m coming into a team that has fight in them, that has the toughness and the characteristics that I feel like we can build on.”
Read more college sports coverage: