With so many new faces on the Maryland football coaching staff, Fa’Najae Gotay didn’t disagree with the notion that the coaches might have worn “Hello, my name is…” tags.
“I think it would help a lot,” the junior inside linebacker said with a laugh.
Annually, college football programs bid farewell to older players and welcome younger ones, and the Terps are no different. But as they opened spring practice Tuesday afternoon with their first of 15 scheduled sessions, coach Mike Locksley made several changes among his assistants, including at many key positions.
Gone are Scottie Montgomery, Jon Hoke and George Helow at the offensive, defensive and special teams coordinator roles, respectively. Co-offensive coordinator Joker Phillips also departed.
Dan Enos, who was the associate head coach and running backs coach at Cincinnati, is the new offensive coordinator. Brian Stewart returns for his second stint as the defensive coordinator after coaching cornerbacks at Baylor. And Ron Zook was promoted from senior analyst to special teams coordinator.
In all, there are four new coaches on the staff, and five holdovers with different responsibilities. But Zook said the veterans and newcomers have blended nicely.
“Locks has done a great job of assembling a very knowledgeable, a very personable staff,” he said. “And if you know Locks, he’s about people, and I think that’s what this program is about. He’s always got a staff that everyone communicates very well, and everybody relates very well, and the players have had time. There’s no issues.”
At the end of 2020, during which Maryland went 2-3 in a season truncated by a coronavirus outbreak within the program for the second time that fall, Locksley had emphasized the importance of maintaining continuity among his staff. On Tuesday, he pointed out that Hoke left to join the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons as their defensive backs coach and Helow was named the safeties coach at Michigan.
“When you hire good coaches, you’re going to lose good coaches, and we’ve done just that,” Locksley said. “But the thing that I’ve learned and what’s great about having the opportunity to be behind the wall there [at Alabama] with Coach [Nick] Saban is that the philosophy never changed of what we did on offense. You could add to it, you can bring in some new things and wrinkles in it, but who we are on offense, defense and special teams has not and will not change under my tenure. Will it improve? Of course. We’re going to always work to self-scout and study what we do and make it better.”
Many of the new coaches have longstanding relationships with Locksley, especially at the coordinator positions. Enos worked with Locksley when both were employed in 2018 by the Crimson Tide, serving as the associate head coach and quarterbacks coach when the latter was the offensive coordinator. With Enos, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa completed 69% of his passes, threw for 3,966 yards with 43 touchdowns and only six interceptions, and set an all-time NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision single-season passer rating mark of 199.4.
Enos, who now gets to work with junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, Tua’s younger brother, said his priorities include identifying the offense’s rushing identity, ramping up its production in play action and enhancing its screen game.
“I tell the guys, ‘Don’t get bored with the details. We may be good at something, but let’s get better at it. Let’s find different ways to enhance it whether it be through the play-action game or through your screen game,’” he said. “And it’s not just me. It’s all of us, it’s our head coach. As we went through and watched all the cut-ups and we went through the spring install, just continuing to find ways to get our playmakers the ball, and I think we have very good skills.”
Tagovailoa, who finished last season ranked third in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (252.8) and fourth in completion percentage (.615), said he has already seen Enos’ influence as he has pared the terminology and revived calls Locksley, Enos and Tagovailoa used at Alabama in 2018.
“It helped a lot just because the first time I learned the system was at Alabama,” Tagovailoa said. “So I’m kind of hearing the same things again, which makes me more comfortable. The terminology is more detailed, and I think everyone on the offense understands it, too.”
The defense ranked 11th in the conference in points allowed per game (32.0) and yards allowed per game (430.0). The Terps were the most generous team in the league in rushing defense (230.0 yards per game) and surrendered 14 touchdowns on the ground, which was tied for third-highest mark.
The unit was much better against the pass, ranking third in the league in yards allowed per game (200.0) and opponents’ completion percentage (.564) and giving up only six passing touchdowns. But Stewart, who guided the 2012 defense to the No. 21 ranking nationally in yards allowed and the 2013 unit to No. 18 spot in total sacks, said his objective is to have Maryland impose its will against opponents.
“We’re going to make them adjust to us,” he said. “If they’re trying to block our right end or if they’re trying to get the running back down the middle, then they’re going to be worried about us. But if we just line up and try to be sitting ducks, then we deserve what happens to us. So that’s not going to happen. We’re going to attack and we’re going to be the best sound defense that beats the team we’re about to play.”
Gotay said he did not anticipate a significant overhaul to the defense.
“I think he’s just going to make tweaks here and there,” he said. “He’s going to keep the scheme the same. He’ll tweak it up a little bit to how he wants it run, but I think it’s just going to be little tweaks.”
How the team performs in the fall will indicate the chemistry among the coaches and players. But Locksley said he believes his relationships with the newcomers have made for a seamless transition.
“With Dan, Brian and obviously Coach Zook, all three of those guys are guys that I worked with and have a great amount of respect for not just for their football acumen, but for them as people and what they’ll bring and add to our philosophies,” he said. “What we do on offense, defense and special teams won’t change regardless of who we bring in. They will be able to add to our packages and put their personalities on it, and that’s what I expect all three of these guys to do in all of their respective fields.”
Goodbye and hello
After a 2-3 season in 2020 cut short by a coronavirus outbreak, Maryland coach Mike Locksley made several changes to his coaching staff. Here’s a look at some of the old and new faces.
Position; Name in 2020; Name in 2021
Head coach; Mike Locksley; Mike Locksley
Offensive coordinator; Scottie Montgomery; Dan Enos