The Maryland football season ended Saturday with a wild 46-41 shootout win over another Big Ten bottom feeder, giving interim coach Mike Locksley his first victory in six games and what might be a going-away present for the popular assistant in College Park.
Sometime soon, the Terps hope to be putting the memories of a disastrous 3-9 season – the Rutgers game included – behind them when athletic Kevin Anderson announces the team's next coach. For their sake, Anderson needs to move decisively.
Of the 15 jobs open in the Football Bowl Subdivision, Maryland is somewhere in the second tier, for now closer to the middle than scraping the bottom of this ever deepening barrel. Yet every time a job opens – such as the one at Georgia after Mark Richt was fired Sunday – the Terps keep moving down in the pecking order.
Which is why Anderson needs to hire Pep Hamilton unless Maryland is ready to open its checkbook and hire Richt or Mississippi State's Dan Mullen.
Hamilton might not be the home-run hire Anderson and university president Wallace Loh were hoping for to "excite the fan base" when they fired Randy Edsall in mid-season, but the former Indianapolis Colts and Stanford offensive coordinator checks off more boxes than just about anyone else the Terps can attract.
The most-important factor in whomever Maryland hires is his ability to keep a potential top 30 recruiting class intact, and be able to build on what Locksley and Edsall started. Hamilton has recruited the area, including bringing current Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan from the D.C. suburbs to Palo Alto, Calif.
Of course, the most important recruit that the new coach has to keep on board is four-star quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., who visited Florida this past weekend while still proclaiming his allegiance to the Terps - and more specifically to the man the players and recruits call "Coach Locks".
Having coached Andrew Luck at both Stanford and with the Colts – until being fired last month in a power struggle between general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano – is certainly going to a plus for Hamilton.
There's also the matter of keeping Locksley at Maryland, something Anderson has said privately is a priority.
It might take some negotiating, since Locksley's ability to recruit is widely respected. If their relationship wasn't soured when Hamilton left New Mexico for Stanford without coaching a game in 2010 under Locksley, then the Lobos' head coach, then it should be doable.
Locksley will not want to get bumped down to being a position coach and being paid as such after getting bumped up in salary last year and again when he took over for Edsall last month. The money Maryland could save for not doubling the new coach's paycheck from the $2.1 million Edsall was being paid could help keep Locksley in College Park.
Giving him a title – assistant head coach – might also make it work.
The Terps would certainly be taking a gamble naming the 41-year-old Hamilton to his first head coaching job, considering some of the giants he will have to face in the Big Ten's East Division. That is actually one of the biggest drawbacks to the Maryland job, the fact that the big names that have been mentioned over the past month as possible successors to Edsall might view it as a potential career-killer.
Maryland is not going to be competing for Big Ten championships in football any time soon, if ever, as Anderson stated when he extended – well, sort of – Edsall's contract over the summer.
To be competitive – as the Terps were briefly last season when the stars were aligned enough for Maryland to beat both Michigan and Penn State on the road – is going to take time and is going to take someone who can build the program around the local talent available.
That's not Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, whose name surfaced last week with a report on Yahoo! Sports. Durkin might have been the 2012 Gatorade assistant of the year because of his ability to recruit at Florida, but it's a little easier to bring talent to Gainesville to play for the Gators than to College Park to play for the Terps.
That's certainly not San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich or Toronto Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich, two former Maryland quarterbacks who have never coached on the college level. Considering that there are no guarantees that Locksley sticks around to recruit, hiring a coach who thinks mid-February is for the scouting combine and not for national signing day is a mistake.
Except for Hamilton and former Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, who declared his allegiance to the Houston Texans quite publicly and quite dramatically after his team beat the then-unbeaten Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football two weeks ago, none of the candidates mentioned so far have ties to recruiting the local talent.
With the coaching carousel starting with Memphis' Justin Fuente going to Virginia Tech, Toledo's Matt Campbell to Iowa State and Bowling Green's Dino Babers to Central Florida, and many more moves to follow, Anderson needs to act quickly and welcome Pep Hamilton to College Park. It might not be the kind of hire that is going to immediately excite the fan base.
Reich might get the old fan base pumped up, though many of them stopped going to games years ago. Durkin might have the kind of coaching pedigree Anderson is looking for, but Saturday's shellacking at home to a previously struggling Ohio State is not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Then again, barring another perfect storm, Maryland was never the kind of job that was going to attract the big name, home run hire coach Anderson and Loh promised. Hamilton would be a solid double, maybe even one with the bases loaded.