During the May 13 episode of Glenn Clark Radio, I asked Fox Sports analyst and former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer about Michael Locksley, who is entering his second season as the head coach of the Maryland football team.
He admitted that with the quick start the Terrapins experienced last year (including a thrashing of Syracuse) and the talent on their roster, he truly believed his (very brief) one-time former assistant was going to figure out a way to finally turn the program into a winner. Instead, they sputtered to a 3-9 record.
Yet despite the struggles of last year’s team, Locksley’s painful overall record as a head coach (6-40) and the program’s seemingly eternal lack of success, the coach has remained wildly successful in terms of being able to land talent, particularly local talent.
Because of that, Meyer said back, “I have confidence in Mike that he can do it … but it’s not one of those things [where] you’ve got three, four years to build this thing. He’s got to get this thing going.”
Two days later, Locksley landed the biggest “recruiting” score of his Maryland tenure, coaxing former Alabama quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa to transfer to College Park. The former four-star prospect is not the most highly-regarded prospect Locksley has ever landed, but he’s certainly the most well known and nationally recognizable.
The reaction from Maryland fans was perhaps a bit over the top, but deservedly so. Look, with the exception of just a few seasons here and there, it’s been extremely painful to be a Maryland football fan since … ever. Let’s call it like it is. Since ever.
There have been a few actual accomplishments throughout the years, but things have been so bad in recent years that as Big Ten Network put together days worth of programming for respective schools recently to help fill the void of no actual sports, the network’s “Maryland Classics” were the wins an absolutely no more than average 2014 Maryland team recorded against downright BAD Penn State and Michigan teams.
The bar is so very, very low.
So for Maryland fans, it was worth celebrating some really good news. It certainly wasn’t reason to trash talk or start making wild proclamations, but it was absolutely worthy of excitement. There was reason to believe the former Elite 11 finalist might simply be headed to South Florida to be close to his apparently well-known brother. This was a win for the program, to be certain.
Is it a “total game changer” or a “culture shifting moment” or something along those lines? Ehh…to be determined. The younger (and somewhat smaller) Tagovailoa was set to be lost in the quarterback shuffle at Alabama. Former Ravens scout and NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah is about the only analyst I’ve found who’s made any sort of direct parallel between Taulia and his brother. Privately, two football evaluators whose opinions I trust told me that they far preferred current Ravens and former Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley as a comp (one I first heard from AL.com Alabama beat writer Matt Zenitz on GCR May 14).
Few would confuse the player who might have gone No. 1 overall in this year’s draft had it not been for injury with the player who went No. 197 to Baltimore a year ago. But even fewer would confuse McSorley with the brutal list of quarterbacks Maryland has trotted out for the last decade and a half. McSorley would have been the best quarterback Maryland would have had since AT LEAST Scott McBrien or Shaun Hill in the early portion of the century.
That doesn’t guarantee that Tagovailoa can be as good as McSorley … or frankly that he can’t be more like his brother. And while Maryland has largely done a good job of putting big-time pass catchers on the field (with incoming freshman Rakim Jarrett expected to continue the trend), there’s also no guarantee the Terps will be strong enough up front to protect Tagovailoa and keep him healthy even if he is that good.
Perhaps you’ve heard that there have been a few issues in the “quarterback health” department for Maryland throughout the years.
We don’t yet know if the 5-foot-11, 208-pound Tagovailoa will be able to play this season. Of course, we don’t know if Maryland will be able to play this season. And there is still competition in the quarterback room from senior Josh Jackson and redshirt freshman Lance LeGendre, who was supposed to be a significant get for Locksley himself.
And that brings me back to Meyer’s comments. Maryland football has provided a modicum of good news throughout the years. Tagovailoa’s Friday night announcement reminded me of another Friday night in 2012, when receiver Stefon Diggs chose Maryland over Ohio State. It was an exciting moment for Maryland fans, but just months later he was catching passes from a linebacker.
Maryland’s abysmal overall history isn’t the responsibility of Locksley (and frankly his recruiting has provided many of the rare pleasant moments in the past), but he inherited it nevertheless. And it’s absolutely unfair to suggest that he needs to turn Maryland into a Big Ten contender this season. Programs aren’t overhauled (particularly from such tragic situations) overnight. And Maryland fans absolutely should celebrate a commitment as meaningful as Tagovailoa’s.
But what matters will continue to be what actually happens on the field (whenever it can). May this be the one that finally changes all of that.
Photo Credit: Alabama Athletics Photography