When offensive coordinator Mike Locksley was passed over for Maryland’s football head coaching position after serving as interim coach for the last six games of the 2015 season, much of it had to do with how impressive a candidate DJ Durkin appeared to be.
Still, one of the reasons Durkin, the then-relatively unknown Michigan defensive coordinator, emerged as the favorite and was hired also had to do with what happened during Locksley’s three seasons as head coach at New Mexico.
It was not just Locksley’s coaching record there — back-to-back 1-11 seasons followed by an 0-4 start in 2011. There was also some trepidation about Locksley’s off-field problems that led to his abrupt departure from Albuquerque, N.M.
Locksley had been named in a complaint, which was later settled out of court, alleging sexual harassment and age discrimination against a female athletic department aide. He also had been suspended 10 days without pay for a physical altercation with an assistant coach.
According to a report in the Albuquerque Journal in August 2009, the attorney for Sylvia Lopez alleged that Locksley fired her client because she was not a “young gal” in order to help entice recruits to select the Lobos.
"Coach Locksley asked Ms. Lopez how old she was and when she told him she was 54, he said, 'You're old enough to be my mother,' " attorney Whitney Warner said then. "It's pretty clear he's not happy with her because of her age.”
Former New Mexico athletic director Paul Krebs told the newspaper that Lopez retired. Krebs, who was forced to resign in 2017 amid allegations of misusing university funds, could not be reached for comment. Neither Warner nor Lopez was available for comment.
The assistant coach, J.B. Gerald, alleged in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in 2010 that Locksley choked and punched him in the face during a coaches’ meeting in September 2009. Gerald’s attorney wrote that Locksley’s punishment “was insufficient to deter further acts of violence.” According to the Albuquerque Journal, Locksley admitted the altercation happened, but denied punching or choking Gerald. Locksley returned to the job after serving his suspension.
Gerald, who now works for the Syracuse football program, could not be reached for comment.
According to those familiar with the last head coaching hiring process at Maryland, former athletic director Kevin Anderson was wary of promoting Locksley, who had been 1-5 as Randy Edsall’s midseason replacement, because of what happened at New Mexico.
Despite being part of the decision-making process as Anderson’s top senior associate in 2015, first-year athletic director Damon Evans didn’t have the same trepidation about hiring Locksley now, three years later.
On Tuesday night, Evans announced the hiring of the 48-year-old Locksley, who is finishing his third season on Nick Saban’s staff at top-ranked Alabama and his first as the team’s offensive coordinator.
“As we narrowed the search for the individual best suited to lead our program, Michael not only stood out for his talent as a coach, but most importantly for the role he has played as a mentor to student-athletes throughout his career and his deep commitment to helping them grow into leaders on and off the field,” Evans said in a statement Tuesday.
Locksley, who was named the Frank Broyles Award winner Tuesday as the top assistant coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision, will be introduced Thursday at a news conference in College Park.
Those familiar with the decision to bring Locksley back to Maryland, where he had spent 10 years under three coaches, said Locksley’s career and personal growth while at Alabama played a major factor in his hiring.
“I think the people involved in the search process heard what they needed to hear to feel confident that he has grown,” a source familiar with the process said Wednesday.
Neither Evans nor Locksley was available for comment Wednesday.
Those who have known Locksley for a long time said that is the case.
“He’s as different as a high school senior to the guy that’s getting ready to get drafted into the pros,” longtime local high school coach and former Michigan assistant coach Biff Poggi said Wednesday. “I think he’s as far away from New Mexico, and for taking over for Randy, as you can imagine.”
Gordy Combs, who coached Locksley in his college career as a defensive back at Towson State and later gave Locksley his first coaching job shortly after graduating in 1992, said “you have to go through those pains of growing up and Mike has gone through that as a head coach.”
Poggi, who has had several players at both Gilman and St. Frances recruited by Locksley — most recently four-star linebacker and Alabama commit Shane Lee — said Locksley’s tenure at New Mexico was a mistake from the start.
“He was a hardworking guy, started in the business, worked his way up, became a good recruiter, got a coordinator’s job. But nobody every mentored Michael,” Poggi said. “The worst thing that happened to Mike was that he got the head coaching job at New Mexico. He was not prepared, he wasn’t ready. He didn’t have any mentoring. He had no idea what it was like to be in that position.”
Poggi said the coach who will take the reins at Maryland has undergone a significant transformation, largely through working under Saban, who some consider the best college football coach ever.
“He has been under the Leonardo da Vinci of mentoring coaches,” Poggi said. “It has nothing to do with X’s and O’s. What Mike learned the last three years is discipline, process, how an organization functions.
Here’s what they're saying about Maryland hiring Mike Locksley as its new football coach.
By Baltimore Sun staff
Dec 04, 2018 | 10:00 PM
“Mike got like a three-year management degree from the Harvard of football. And that is why Mike is ready to go. Had Mike been anyplace else, he might not be ready to go. He would never have survived at Alabama had he not become an acolyte to that teaching.”
Poggi said Locksley’s growth goes beyond the football field.
“He understands how a corporate suite works, how management works. He understands how there’s an organizational chart and a chain of command,” Poggi said. “He understands that you can’t do that job all by yourself.
“He understands that you have to hire really good people — like a CEO hires a CFO — and you trust those people to do their job. It’s a completely different experience he had at Alabama, and he’s one of the very few guys who had that.”
Former Division I coach and longtime Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo said Wednesday that his interactions over the years with Saban’s assistants at Alabama have shown a level of mentoring that others don't receive.
“They use the term — and this is not unusual when you’re working for a great coach — ‘It’s a clinic every day,’ ” DiNardo said. “If you want to learn, all you have to do is pay attention. Mike has had that experience … that can change a coach quite significantly.”
DiNardo said Locksley offers a lot to help the Terps find success in the Big Ten East, considered to be among the toughest divisions in college football.
“All the other things are obvious — he’s a recruiter, he’s a spread [offense] coach, all things you can make a very good case for are very good fits for a Maryland team that is in the East division with Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan,” DiNardo said.
Combs said Locksley’s ties to the Baltimore-Washington corridor will help answer the question of whether Maryland will be able to recruit in the aftermath of offensive lineman Jordan McNair’s death in June.
“He’ll be able to go into those homes and recruit,” Combs said. “I’m sure that was one of the things they were concerned about. ‘How can DJ Durkin go into a home after what happened on his watch?’
“I’m sure Michael will take the proper steps of having the right guy as his strength and conditioning [coach]. He can’t have a fire-and-brimstone guy come in like they had before [in Rick Court, who resigned after being put on leave]. That’s what got them in trouble.”
Those familiar with Locksley’s hiring at Maryland said his relationship with McNair's parents was also taken into consideration. Locksley’s daughter, Kori, a sophomore soccer player at Auburn, was a classmate of Jordan McNair’s at McDonogh.
A source said Locksley and his wife, Kia, reached out to the McNairs after their son died, having gone through a similar tragedy when their then-25-year-old son, Meiko, was shot to death in Howard County in September 2017. Meiko’s death remains unsolved.
“Something like that has to change you and your perspective,” Combs said.
DiNardo said Wednesday that whatever transgressions Locksley committed and failures he had coaching at New Mexico were not likely given serious consideration by Maryland officials.
“I don’t think there's any broad brush that you can paint, whether things off the field are looked at more or less than in the past,” DiNardo said. “I am of the belief that it is strictly specifically universal sensitivity to those type of issues.
“Through the interview process, obviously Mike was asked about these type of things and he answered them to Maryland’s satisfaction. Football-wise, you make a ton of mistakes your first two years and it gets less and less as you go. That’s part of the New Mexico piece.”
One factor not being discussed is the financial commitment Maryland is making to football, and to Locksley. His salary of $2.5 million a year for five seasons — with an option for a sixth — makes Locksley one of the lowest-paid coaches in the Big Ten.
DiNardo recalled that the day Maryland announced in November 2012 that it was joining the Big Ten, university president Wallace Loh said it was being done for financial reasons.
“He said it was a financial decision, not necessarily a financial decision for the good of the athletic department but for the good of the university,” DiNardo said. “To hire someone, a sitting head coach making $3 million or $4 million, and pay them $5 million to $7 million, and offer it to an assistant, it’s less expensive.”
Attorney and longtime Maryland athletic booster Rick Jaklitsch, who has been critical of Evans and Loh in the handling of the situation with Durkin, said the hiring of Locksley is “the perfect addition to their needs right now.”
“He’s rehabilitated himself with the job he’s done at Alabama in the eyes of many Maryland supporters,” Jaklitsch said. “He knows the area and his recruiting ability is probably the No. 1 need at Maryland right now.”
The Terps, who had recruiting classes ranked 18th and 28th the past two years under Durkin, are currently ranked 85th, one spot below Louisiana Tech and one spot above Harvard, according to the 247 Sports Composite rankings.
Jaklitsch said he believes Locksley has learned from his first head coaching job at New Mexico.
“I don’t have any personal knowledge of any of the issues at New Mexico, but certainly Mike’s matured significantly since the time that he was there,” Jaklitsch said. “He’s a better coach now, a better recruiter now. he’s a more well-rounded individual now. He’s what they need to get people behind the program right now.”
Tom McMillen, a former U.S. congressman and Maryland alumnus who served on the external commission looking into allegations of a “toxic” culture surrounding the football team during Durkin’s tenure, said he spoke with several athletic directors at a conference in New York on Wednesday about Maryland’s hiring of Locksley.
“The reaction was mixed,” said McMillen, now the CEO of Lead1 Association, which represents athletic directors and athletic programs. “Some were positive. Some said there was risk and no room for error.”