For Maryland head football coach Michael Locksley, his team’s struggles in 2019 were all too familiar. The Terps won three games, but for Locksley, that was an improvement over his first head coaching job.
When he led New Mexico for parts of three seasons, Locksley stumbled to a 2-26 record and dealt with multiple off-field controversies as well before being dismissed partway through the 2011 season. Despite his failures with the Lobos, Locksley said his tenure was a learning experience.
“The two years and four games I had at New Mexico has done more for my ability to be a better leader and better coach here at Maryland than the three years and national championship I won at Alabama,” Locksley said during a video call with Stan “The Fan” Charles and Gary Stein July 1.
Locksley first joined Maryland as an assistant in 1997 and stayed on for six years before moving on to Florida and Illinois. In 2009, he took over at New Mexico and then returned to College Park, Md., after he was fired. And once Maryland cleaned house after a disastrous 2015 season, Locksley joined the Crimson Tide and helped lead one of the country’s most successful programs.
At each of those schools, Locksley attached himself to veteran mentors — Ralph Friedgen at Maryland, Ron Zook at Florida and Illinois and Nick Saban at Alabama — each of whom guided the D.C. native and helped him craft a winning mindset.
“You learn so much more from failure than you do from winning,” Locksley said. “Now I did learn at Alabama how even when you win, you can still find [ways to improve] and there are still things within winning that you can concentrate your efforts on [fixing].”
That time spent learning from some of the sport’s top coaches — in addition to his difficulties at New Mexico — has given Locksley a blueprint to help build a program of his own.
The trials and tribulations in Locksley’s first season helming the Terps were expected. The team was on its fourth head coach (including interims) in five seasons and had just come out of a tumultuous period that included multiple investigations into the 2018 death of Jordan McNair and the program’s alleged toxic culture.
For Locksley, on-field results did not turn out to necessarily be the most important thing in 2019. He wanted to stabilize the program and create a structure and series of standards for his players to meet. He wanted to foster a more open dialogue between the players and the coaching staff. And most critically for Locksley, he wanted to come away with a better understanding of who his players were as people and as athletes.
“What we went through last season was necessary for our program to be the type of program we want to be down the road,” Locksley said.
And entering his second season as head coach, Locksley is beginning to see the payoff from his investments. Maryland did not play smart football in 2019, he said, so the 50-year-old focused much of his offseason efforts on improving the mental side of his team’s game.
Those efforts could have been sidetracked by the coronavirus pandemic, but Locksley said his players bought in and regularly attended online coaching sessions, which helped improve their football IQ. Now with players returning to campus, the Terps are looking to put all the mental and physical components together to show real progress in 2020. And even if his second year might not go according to plan, Locksley is confident in what he is building for the future.
“It’s going to be some heavy lifting, and we still have a lot of heavy lifting to do,” Locksley said. “But I feel good that we have the resources available to us here, our players have really bought in, guys that didn’t have the same principles and values and standards that we brought in are no longer a part of [the program], and we’ve moved forward the right way.”
For more from Locksley, watch the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox