COLLEGE PARK — Maryland is set to begin its first spring practice under new football coach Michael Locksley on Tuesday. Locksley takes over a program that dealt with tragedy last season when offensive lineman Jordan McNair collapsed at a preseason practice and later died from heatstroke. Coach DJ Durkin was put on administrative leave following McNair’s death and was fired Oct. 31, a day after the university system’s Board of Regents reinstated him.
A few weeks ago, The Baltimore Sun talked with the new Terps football coach about his return to College Park, where he had previously served as offensive coordinator and as interim head coach in 2015.
Here are a few of the questions Locksley was asked and a portion of his answers.
What kind of offense do you expect to run this season?
I think first my philosophy comes from my time that I spent [at Maryland] with Ralph, Coach Friedgen, in how to build an offense. I was here when Ralph came in and I was able to see how we built it. Basically what my philosophy has become is we’re going to be balanced on offense. Balance doesn’t mean throwing it 50 percent of the time and running it 50 percent, but being able to do both really well. That way if teams want to stop the run, the numbers in the box increase and you’ve got to be able to throw the ball to get them out of the box. If they want to play coverage and have Cover 2 and try to stop the pass, you’ve got to be able to run the ball. It’s a numbers game from that standpoint. ... I think the philosophy of how we play our players begins first and foremost with what your quarterback is capable of doing. … How much we run the ball, how much we throw the ball, how much we run the quarterback and how much we don’t run the quarterback starts with who that guy is first. You have core concepts and your offense should be broad enough and broad-based enough to cover both the run game and passing game.
Even you have said this was your “dream job.” Would you have taken the job if you didn’t think there was enough talent to be competitive?
To me, the more important factor is that the administration understands where this team is when you come in, to know that it will take some time to build it to what I envision it to become. Our goal right now is just to improve every day with us coming in and starting. I do believe there was some talent here, because I recruited quite a few of these guys before I left [after the 2015 season]. The Lo-Lo’s [Lorenzo Harrison III], the DJ Turners of the world, I was involved with Anthony McFarland’s recruiting initially. … I knew the talent that was here but the more major attraction to me is the talent I know is in this area and the ability to attract it and the commitment that’s been made with the facilities. The first time I saw the indoor [practice field] was when I got the job and I was just blown away, the beauty of it. That’s coming from a place like Alabama, which I felt had really, really good facilities.
Because of the circumstances that led to the job opening up, is this a normal spring football and does it feel like it did when you left?
It feels like what I just came from. Obviously some of the things that we’re doing and that we’re implementing in terms of our offseason training regimen, how we prepare our players off the field, getting bigger, stronger, faster in preparation for spring practice, this is all what I’m used to. This is what I’ve done the last three years at Alabama and some of the things that I’ve done in my previous stops at places that I felt did things the way they should be done. We’ve incorporated those processes. Nothing based off of what happened last year is coming into mind and how we’re going about it. I had a plan for how I wanted to develop and prepare our guys for spring practice. It’s been an easy transition for us and our players have picked up on it pretty quickly.
One of the key components of what the team went through last season was the resilience of the players and how it might have been underappreciated. What’s your impression of this group?
To me, that was one of the characteristics that jumped out to me when I looked at this job. Obviously being a fan of Maryland while I was at Alabama, there were opportunities for me to see this team play. I told the team that I had an opportunity to watch the Texas game because we played later that evening. Knowing what they had just gone through and seeing the energy, the passion, the toughness they played with in that game, I found myself rooting for this team. I [also] got to see the last four or five minutes of the Ohio State game [that Maryland lost in overtime]. It doesn’t surprise me because when you think of kids from this area, and that’s one of the things that really attracts me to recruiting this area. These kids are very tough-minded kids that come out of this area, and we have players from all over the country, but I think the core of what the team’s character is stems from being a very tough-minded program. To me, Maryland has always been that way.
Things happen for a reason. You didn’t get the job in 2015. Do you feel you would have been just as successful coming in then as you would now, or did the three years you spent at Alabama completely change you as a person?
Obviously you get better with experience. It’s something you can’t take for granted or benefit from. I think who I am is who I’ve been and obviously people have gotten to know me. I’ve been in a coordinator’s role and when you’re working for someone, being here under Randy [Edsall], he was the voice of the program. How I represented myself or how I felt or my opinions didn’t matter because my opinions had to be in line with the boss. I’ve always had my philosophy about how I wanted to be as a coach. I’ve benefited by not getting the job [in 2015]. I told [athletic director] Damon Evans when I met with him about the job, ‘I probably owe you a thank you.’ I didn’t get the job the last time and it enabled me to add and build my toolbox to see what it looks like, how it should present itself. When you get behind the curtains at Alabama and see all the people and the processes, it’s not just coach [Nick] Saban. It’s how he develops and put in place the culture of a team. That’s the thing you can’t see in interviews.
The quarterback position has always been a position of struggle for Maryland. If things work out the way you hope they might, you’ll have more talent and experience than you’ve had in your previous stints with the Terps.
Here’s another Sabanism: 'Comparison is the kiss of death.’ To compare the quarterbacks here to the quarterbacks coming in, I will never get into that. For us to be the team we want to be on offense, it starts with the quarterback. … I don’t have any preconceived ideas about the quarterback room here. I do know that I’m a much better play-caller when I have a quarterback that’s able to be efficient, take care of the football, distribute the ball to the weapons we have. So we’re going to give ourselves the best chance to do that with bringing in the right kind of talent and having them compete with the talent we already have in place.