COLLEGE PARK — Mike Locksley is 42 years old, a father of four and a $500,000-a-year offensive coordinator. Mike Locksley is also well versed in the art of freestyle rap.
Just not well enough, apparently.
"My kids will tell you I'm awful at it," Locksley said Tuesday, chuckling heartily before repeating once more for emphasis: "Awful at it."
He knows enough to know what he likes, though, and what he doesn't. So when he strolled through the Maryland locker room after one practice this spring, his first back in College Park in a decade, and heard defensive back Jeremiah Johnson's lyrical barbs aimed at his offense, he turned to the sophomore.
"What you got?" Locksley asked him, his question more inviting than inquisitive. Johnson, in kind, gave him a few lines. "Pretty good," Locksley later remarked.
"I didn't go back on him. I really didn't want to do that right away. The day will come, though."
If Locksley's first season in his second go-around at Maryland ends up known for his off-the-field rap stylings, it might be a success for a man looking to rehabilitate his image and revitalize the Terps offense.
This fall, whether it's inside the Gossett Football Team House, on message boards or across local airwaves, the focus will inevitably turn to Locksley's players, who are set to unveil an admittedly watered-down scheme at today's annual Red-White spring game at Byrd Stadium. The former Maryland running backs coach told his offensive unit as much in their first meeting last winter, explaining that the playbook, the coaching staff and how it coached didn't much matter. The players, he said, determined success or failure.
Still, for a coordinator with his past and pay grade, Locksley will be an object of intense and constant curiosity throughout Maryland's second season under coach Randy Edsall. In an offseason with the unending drama and unexpected departures of a daytime soap opera, Locksley's hire in late December perhaps best expressed the program's reprocessed state.
His two-plus seasons as New Mexico head coach ended with just two wins last September, his dossier stained by seven straight losses and the arrest of a 19-year-old found driving drunk in a car registered to Locksley's son and wife. He had previously served a one-game suspension in 2009 for an altercation with an assistant coach and was also accused by a former administrative assistant of sexual harassment and age discrimination last season, though those charges were dropped. The administrative assistant later called the situation with Locksley a "misunderstanding."
When Locksley, a former Towson State player and Towson coach, was introduced as the Terps' half-million-dollar man just months after his exit from Albuquerque, all that seemed to be forgotten. He would be the offensive whiz and recruiting dervish he fashioned himself into during four seasons as Illinois' offensive coordinator, Edsall said, not anyone else.
"They had a tough time in New Mexico for whatever reason, but he came back here to be an offensive coordinator so he can, I guess, refocus and re-prepare to try to do it again," linebacker L.A. Goree said. "They had a bad record, but so did we. Everybody does from time to time, so you got to get back on your feet."
The foundation from which he'll stand and carry out his multiple-set offense isn't exactly stable, however. Last year's 2-10 team had no All-Atlantic Coast Conference honorees on offense. The one everyone predicted would be, quarterback Danny O'Brien, is off to play at Wisconsin. His replacement, sophomore C.J. Brown, has so far been like much of the unit he has huddled with this spring -- up and down, frustrating, his head swimming with a third offense in as many seasons.
When Locksley was asked Tuesday what he was happiest about on the eve of the offense's first public scrimmage, he exhaled, hemming and hawing for a second.
"We got a lot of work to do," he finally said.
Added Edsall: "We've created some problems for our offense [on defense]."
The hope, then, is for the product at Byrd Stadium to match the rapport already cultivated in the locker room. In a program teeming with former Locksley targets, players separately described the Washington native as "like your neighborhood adult that played basketball with the kids," "a players' coach," and someone who "plans to stick around for a while." Locksley's life, Brown said, "is football and to coach me."
He also has a pretty good memory. When Locksley spotted Goree next to his locker this winter, he joked with the Springdale native about his decision to pick Maryland over Illinois as a recruit four years ago.
"I'm here for payback," Goree recalled Locksley telling him.
He probably didn't realize how right he was. Locksley's return to Maryland might not include comebacks to freestyle rap disses -- at least not yet -- but it will be steered by everything he learned, and some things he would probably just as soon forget, since he left College Park 10 years ago.
"For me, I'm just being myself. It's all I know how to be," Locksley said. "I learned that a long time ago. If you are who you are, you don't have to remember who you were yesterday."