COLLEGE PARK — During Maryland football coach Mike Locksley’s tenure, the Terps have been through a defensive coordinator carousel that was in full spin in late January and early February.
After Brian Stewart ran the defense during 2021, Maryland turned in another direction and orally agreed to hire defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, gave him an office and had him meet recruits — then watched him leave for Miami.
During spring football media day Tuesday, Locksley addressed the Steele situation only by saying he’s focused on the current staff and players.
“People that aren’t here don’t concern me. Why they are not here doesn’t concern me,” Locksley said.
Now, he has moved forward with Brian Williams as defensive coordinator. Even though Williams is a familiar face around the program, he is Maryland’s fourth coach to accept the role since 2019.
Williams, who’s also the defensive line coach, has moved up the ranks since coming to College Park after three seasons as a linebackers coach at Alabama Birmingham.
At Maryland, Williams started as an outside linebackers coach before transitioning to defensive line coach in 2020 and was elevated to co-defensive coordinator last season. He is considered one of the best recruiters in the country, ranking No. 6 in the nation and No. 2 in the Big Ten Conference during 2021, according to 247 Sports.
The Terps’ season finale against Rutgers in November was perhaps Williams’ biggest test. After Maryland allowed 59 points in a loss to Michigan the week before, Locksley thought a change was needed and made Williams the primary defensive play-caller.
The Terps held Rutgers to 16 points in a victory that secured their first bowl appearance since 2016. After Maryland’s victory over the Scarlet Knights, Locksley gave Williams the nod to call defensive plays in the Pinstripe Bowl against Virginia Tech, and he delivered.
Maryland held a depleted Hokies team to 259 total yards (no points and 63 yards in the second half), securing a 54-10 win and the program’s first bowl victory since 2010.
“It was a tremendous experience,” Williams said. “We needed a little spark at the time, and we got it going.”
Those two games served as an audition tape for Williams’ new role as defensive coordinator, which he called “a dream come true.”
“He’s earned the respect of his coaching staff,” Locksley said. “He’s a guy that has continued to grow within our program and did a tremendous job in the Rutgers and Virginia Tech game, which earned him the right to have an opportunity.”
Williams will be tasked with improving a Maryland defense that ranked 13th in the Big Ten Conference in points allowed (30.7) and 12th in total yards allowed (404.3). The Terps allowed 40 or more points four times in 2021 while ranking 13th in the league with six interceptions.
Williams said he wants the defense to play physical football but doesn’t anticipate many changes in scheme. Asked whether his recruiting trips will be impacted by his new role, he said it depends on Locksley.
“I know he invested a lot of time into his players, and just like raising kids, you got to put time into them,” Locksley said. “I see the extra things that he does to develop meaningful relationships. I think that lends itself to why he’s had great success recruiting.”
Williams’ elevation was among a handful of coaching changes before spring football. Locksley hired Gunter Brewer as a wide receiver and passing game coordinator, longtime Southeastern Conference assistant coach Lance Thompson as the inside linebackers coach and Wes Neighbors, a former Alabama safety and defensive assistant at Louisiana-Lafayette, as the safeties coach.
Locksley called Maryland a “receiver-friendly system,” and said he thinks Brewer, who has spent over 30 years coaching at the college and professional level, adds valuable experience to the wide receiver room.
Tight ends coach Mike Miller was promoted to co-offensive coordinator, while James Thomas Jr. replaced Ron Zook as special teams coordinator after serving as an analyst.
Similar to Williams, Miller has been a part of Maryland’s staff since Locksley replaced former coach DJ Durkin. Locksley said Miller had opportunities to coach elsewhere but chose to stay in College Park.
“There’s so much movement in college football,” Miller said. “I wanted to stay and do it the right way and see it through. Not much has changed. I’m still coaching the tight ends. It’s my job to recruit, develop and manage.”
Miller’s relationship with Locksley and offensive coordinator Dan Enos goes back to Alabama. Miller was a graduate assistant when Locksley was an offensive coordinator while Enos was a quarterbacks coach for the Crimson Tide.
Miller, who was a student coach at Clemson in 2015, said coaches such as Nick Saban, Locksley and Dabo Swinney have been vital to his career. Miller credited Locksley for getting him hired at Alabama after he worked three years as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Charlotte Christian High School in North Carolina.
“Mike Miller and Brian Williams have continued to grow in the roles they are in,” Locksley said. “My goal as the head coach is to put the coaches and the players in positions to reach the goals they want to achieve.”