Introductory news conferences for just-hired coaches often set the tone for the months — or even years — ahead.
When Randy Edsall was introduced as Maryland’s football coach in 2011, he came off as stiff and somewhat defensive about the way he left his players at Connecticut. It didn’t help that then-athletic director Kevin Anderson looked worse, especially with his line about hiring a coach that was going to take the Terps “from good to great.”
When DJ Durkin was introduced as Edsall’s successor, the relatively unknown Michigan defensive coordinator seemed honest and wore his emotions on his sleeve. Because of that, even Anderson didn’t seem as awkward in a public setting as he had with Edsall and at other events during a 7½-year tenure that ended earlier this year.
So when Michael Locksley was introduced Thursday at the new Cole Field House indoor practice facility, everything he said appeared to come from the heart.
As for athletic director Damon Evans, who was announcing the first major hire since officially taking over for Anderson in late June, he appeared just as he did at his own introductory news conference — smooth. You couldn’t tell how much Evans has been criticized the past few months.
Locksley certainly won the news conference, too. Now it will be up to the 48-year-old coach with close ties to the football program and to the area to win some games on the field.
Here are three takeaways from Thursday’s event:
1. Locksley can’t publicly thank Durkin for leaving him some talent, but he is obviously thankful for it.
Unlike Edsall, who was left some pretty good talent by Ralph Friedgen in quarterback Danny O’Brien and linebacker Kenny Tate and proceeded to screw up both of their careers with the way he used them, Locksley probably won’t do the same with the talented players Durkin left behind.
Locksley made a point to say, “I’m not coming into a bare cupboard.” And that is certainly true, especially on offense with the expected return of star running back Anthony McFarland Jr. for his redshirt sophomore year and a group of promising wide receivers.
Recalling how he watched the Terps open the season with an emotional win over then-No. 23 Texas, Locksley said, “I’m coming into a team that has fight in ’em, that has the toughness and characteristics that I feel like we can build on.”
2. Honoring the memory of offensive lineman Jordan McNair might become an even greater part of the program.
Given Locksley’s relationship with McNair’s parents, going back to when their son and Locksley’s daughter, Kori, were classmates and fellow Division I-caliber athletes at McDonogh, the Terps’ connection to the family and their tragedy became even stronger.
Consider, too, that Locksley and his wife, Kia, lost one of their four children, then 25-year-old son Meiko, who was killed in Howard County in September 2017 in what is still an unsolved homicide.
Though it might not change the financial ramifications of the McNair case when it comes to a possible settlement, especially since university president Wallace Loh has already taken “legal and moral responsibility” on behalf of the university, it will likely soften some of the rhetoric coming from the family’s attorneys in Baltimore.
“Just like any family, as the leader of it, every decision I make with these kids will be made as if they’re my own child,” Locksley said. “And that’s not anything I take lightly. I’m proud of the way they came together after losing a brother in Jordan. I know what it’s like to lose someone that you love.”
Locksley added that “it’s not something that just goes away. It’s a day-to-day fight. I am looking forward to fighting this battle with our team, with Marty and Tonya and with my family and with this football family to continue honoring our loved ones by continuing to put out a great product on the field that our feels and these supporters can be really, realy proud of.”
3. The job Matt Canada did was publicly appreciated, but that doesn’t mean he will be retained or even wants to stay.
Both Evans and Locksley did the right thing by mentioning the team’s former interim coach and current offensive coordinator by name and acknowledging the job he did in keeping the Terps competitive for most of their games in 2018.
Canada, who many thought might have been hired on a full-time basis had Maryland upset then-No. 10 Ohio State on Nov. 17 instead of losing on a failed 2-point conversion pass in overtime, had also tweeted his own congratulations when Locksley beat him out for the job.
That said, it seems unlikely that the well-traveled 46-year-old assistant will put down roots at Maryland.
It seemed for a while that Canada might get a shot at another head coaching gig elsewhere — and that still might happen — but the two openings he had been mentioned for, at Purdue and Louisville, closed up with Jeff Brohm remaining with the Boilermakers and Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield headed to coach the Cardinals.
With less than two weeks remaining before the early signing period begins, Locksley is going to have to figure out who he’s going to retain from Durkin’s staff — if anyone.
The likelihood, given the circumstances, is that it won’t be many past first-year running backs coach and Maryland grad Jafar Williams and possibly cornerbacks coach and top local recruiter Aazaar Abdul-Rahim.