The brass notes of the Mighty Sound of Maryland marching band and cheers of program donors seated front row ushered in what many believe to be a new era of Terrapin football.
Locksley, the offensive coordinator at the University of Alabama, is a native of Southwest Washington and a two-time Terrapin assistant coach. Throughout the morning, both Locksley and the school emphasized his roots in the region and his background as a lifelong fan of the football program.
“I can’t tell you guys enough how this is a dream come true for me,” Locksley said, “to be the leader of the Maryland Terrapin football family.”
Athletic director Damon Evans said Locksley embodied “the fabric of who we are as a state and who we are as Terps.”
The celebratory atmosphere was punctured more than once by the same topic — the loss of offensive lineman Jordan McNair earlier this year. McNair’s father, Martin, was in attendance to support Locksley.
Locksley — whose son Meiko was killed in Columbia, Maryland, in September 2017 — touted his “tremendous relationship” with Martin McNair, which predates their sons’ deaths.
“Marty and my relationship goes back a long way,” Locksley said. “Our kids went to school together. We both tragically lost our kids, and I have been a mentor for Marty and Marty has been a sounding board for me the last year and a half as we work through dealing with the emotions and the toughness of losing a child.”
It was a stark reminder of why Thursday’s press conference had to happen at all.
Jordan McNair received improper treatment for heatstroke at an offseason workout earlier this year, was hospitalized and died two weeks later. An ESPN story later highlighted allegations of a fear-based culture within the football program, which the McNair family claimed kept their son from speaking up for himself while he was suffering. Head coach D.J. Durkin was suspended with pay, reinstated for one day and then finally fired on Oct. 31.
Locksley does not come to College Park without his own baggage.
During his only prior tenure as a head coach, at the University of New Mexico, Locksley attacked an assistant coach — briefly choking him and punching him several times — and was suspended for 10 days for his behavior. He also faced an age- and sex-discrimination complaint that was later withdrawn.
That history has some people questioning whether he is the right person to enter Maryland’s delicate situation and reform the program.
“I’m so far removed from that New Mexico experience,” Locksley said Tuesday. “Ten years removed, almost. Ten years and two days from when I was introduced there. Who I’ve become as a coach and who I’ve become as a person, as everyone else, you mature and you grow.”
Evans — who has his own history at a prior career stop, a DUI while at Georgia — backed Locksley up.
“Mike and I did have an extended conversation about it. … He’s grown as an individual,” Evans said. “I saw that. He indicated what he learned, and you could just see in him — where he was then, which was eight to 10 years ago, to where he is now, he’s had a lot of life lessons as we all have. (He was) well-vetted, and I could not be more proud to have him sitting right next to me on this stage.”
“I told the team, our family name is Terrapins. Terps, for short,” Locksley said. “And when people say it, I want them to say it with some respect. I want our players to be very prideful about that family name. I want us to display and be the program we need to be to make the Terp name proud and successful.”
Locksley will continue to coach Alabama during its run in the College Football Playoff. The Crimson Tide face Oklahoma in one semifinal game, the Orange Bowl, on Dec. 29.
In Locklsey’s lone season as offensive coordinator, Alabama set four school records: most points scored, total yards, passing yards and passing touchdowns. Locksley credited Alabama coach Nick Saban for teaching him during his three-year tenure.
“I just spent three years of my 28 years in this business coaching under a guy that I feel is the greatest coach in the history of college football, if not football alone,” he said. “I just spent three years saturating and winning and seeing what it’s like to be done right, and I can only hope that I can take just a little bit of what I’ve learned from Coach Saban the past three years to implement and install here at the University of Maryland.”
Locksley said he will meet with the coaches still on Maryland’s staff, but did not reveal whether he would want to bring back Matt Canada as offensive coordinator. Canada’s first season at Maryland took a surprise turn as he became the interim head coach when Durkin was suspended. He was also a finalist to keep the position full time.
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