The atmosphere in Cole Field House Thursday morning reflected that of a high school pep rally. Cheerleaders. The Mighty Sound of Maryland. 20-foot Maryland flags standing on opposite sides of an elaborate Maryland-themed stage.
There were reserved seats for donors and distinguished guests like University President Wallace Loh, new Maryland System Board of Regents chair Linda Gooden and Maryland Senator Mike Miller (‘83). Multiple Maryland coaches, including head women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese, were in attendance for the introduction of Mike Locksley as Maryland’s next head football coach.
Embattled athletic director Damon Evans’ face beamed with excitement as he spoke glowingly of Locksley, a Washington, D.C., native returning home.
“During the process, what stood out to me most about coach Locksley was two things,” Evans said. “One, his heart. And two, his humility. These are the values that he will imply as he helps to develop our student-athletes to leaders in our community. And we are excited, extremely excited, for how he will shape our program.”
The general mood in Cole for the press conference was festive, a drastic change from many of the pressers the university found itself involved in over the last six months. Following the June heatstroke death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, Evans and former head coach DJ Durkin held an emotional, somber news conference.
In the months following, Evans and Loh participated in tense news conferences, having to answer to reports of dysfunction within the athletic department and its training staff, and allegations of a toxic football program.
Today was different.
There was an air of optimism, as Evans lauded Locksley for not only being a respected coach and recruiter within the DMV, but a leader, and the one Maryland needs following months of turmoil and uncertainty.
Locksley, dressed in a black suit, red tie and Maryland pin on his suit jacket, called coming back to Maryland a “dream come true.” The Towson State graduate was in College Park as a coach for two stints, most recently serving as interim coach in 2015 after the university fired Randy Edsall.
He coached the team to a 1-5 record over the last half of the season and after a failed gig at New Mexico in which he finished 2-26, carries a total head coaching record of 3-31 into his new job.
Locksley also found himself in off-the-field troubles at New Mexico. A former administrative assistant filed an age and sex discrimination complaint against Locksley but later withdrew the claims. Locksley was suspended for 10 days in September 2009 after an altercation with an assistant coach. His time with the Lobos ended early after he was fired following an 0-4 start to the 2011 season.
Evans acknowledged that Locksley’s time at New Mexico drew a lot of conversation during the interview process, but said he was assured that Locksley had grown during the almost 10-year period.
“I’m so far removed from that New Mexico experience,” Locksley said. “Who I’ve become as a coach and who I’ve become as a person, as everyone else, you mature, you grow.”
Locksley noted his time coaching under Alabama head coach Nick Saban — where he has served in some role since 2016 and on Tuesday won the 2018 Broyle’s Award as the nation’s top assistant coach — as beneficial as he makes the jump back to the head coaching ranks.
Describing himself as a “copious notetaker,” Locksley will be tasked with regaining the trust of the university community and fostering not only a winning culture, but a safe environment for his players, a point of issue in the board of regents’ months-long investigation into the football program. Locksley named the health, development and safety of his players as his No. 1 priority.
While speaking, Locksley also made mention of one particular guest in the crowd: Marty McNair, the father of Jordan McNair. Locksley said the two have known each for years, as their kids both attended McDonough School in Baltimore. The two have also grieved the loss of a child; Locksley’s son, Meiko, was killed in a Maryland shooting in September 2017.
“I have been a sounding board for Marty,” Locksley said. He’s been an ear for me. Our relationship has continued to grow. For him to be here today just means the world to me and my family, to see me take the reins of this football family.”
Locksley’s work at Maryland won’t start immediately. With top-ranked Alabama in the College Football Playoffs, Locksley said he’ll likely stay in College Park until Thursday, then depart for Tuscaloosa to game plan for No. 4 Oklahoma. He said he already met with Maryland’s football team as a whole, but will take the next week to meet with players, as well as assistant coaches, individually.
“I’ll work on Oklahoma during the day when we practice,” Locksley said. “And at night, I’ll go in my office and put my Terp hat on and start recruiting for the Terps, getting the Terps ready for our season.”