When Maryland chose to hire Michael Locksley as football coach last December, there were a few folks, mostly outside of this area, who politely disagreed.
Some did so because they believed Matt Canada had done enough as interim coach during a tumultuous situation last season to warrant getting a shot at the job full time. Others remembered Locksley’s disastrous tenure as coach at New Mexico and felt as though it was an albatross that should prevent him from ever becoming a college head coach again.
But the rest of us knew the truth. The rest of us knew this was the ONLY hire Maryland could make. In the aftermath of a catastrophic 2018, the school was fortunate Locksley, a face-saving hire, was even still willing to take the job. An abundance of former players, local high school coaches and just about anyone who actually knew a damn thing about Maryland football came out of the woodwork to campaign for his hire. They knew that with all due respect to Canada, he couldn’t possibly have the impact in recruiting or understand the intricacies of the job the way Locksley could.
They knew that Locksley grew from his messy tenure with the Lobos. He didn’t run from it; he didn’t pretend like it never happened. Instead, he used it to better himself as a coach and a man — so much so that he likely could have parlayed his success as offensive coordinator at Alabama into an even more significant head coaching post in another year or two.
Yet he still cared so much about this area and this school that he decided to take on this nearly impossible job at this challenging time. Not only was Locksley the only hire Maryland could make, they were incredibly fortunate to be able to make it.
Because Maryland got this right, there’s certainly been at least an amount of excitement that has come along with Locksley’s arrival. It’s not like the state has been engulfed in “Terps fever,” but at least an amount of hope exists today that did not previously.
And with that in mind, this feels like a good time to get back to that word “impossible.” We cannot allow our excitement about a coaching hire, our belief in one man’s ability or our impressions of the early work he’s done in recruiting to let us forget just how difficult this situation is.
This is a program that hasn’t produced an NFL quarterback since 2002 (Shaun Hill). Oddly enough, Locksley was a part of the offensive staff back then, too. To be fair, Maryland actually did recruit an NFL quarterback a few years back (Dwayne Haskins), but when the school didn’t hire Locksley to be its coach, the Terps lost Haskins to Ohio State.
The job at Maryland isn’t just difficult, it’s more brutal than the average temperature during the State Fair. You know what Locksley is up against. The Yankees of the 1920s think the Terps have to face a “Murderers’ Row” within their own division.
And as former football coach Ralph Friedgen has pointed out in recent interviews, the school has only started to come around a bit in terms of working with the football program when it comes to small issues like scheduling athletes’ classes for times most conducive for the team. Let’s not forget that when Locksley recruits against other major programs, he also has to overcome the incredible amenities and decades of significant history those programs can offer that he simply can’t.
Locksley might be the best hire Maryland could have made, and perhaps the fit with Maryland might prove to be one of the great fits in the history of college football. And yet, this still might prove to be a mountain too steep to climb.
It’s not just that I can’t guarantee the Terps won’t have another losing season this year. It’s that I can’t guarantee they’ll absolutely beat Howard in Week 1. (I mean, I expect them to. But let’s not forget that Bison quarterback Caylin Newton, Cam’s younger brother, already has a win against an FBS team on his resume.)
The only thing I can guarantee is that in this moment, if anyone on the planet was capable of bringing respectability and perhaps even prominence to Maryland football, Locksley was the guy. I’ll hope for the best while keeping my expectations within reason.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics
Issue 256: August 2019