Maryland hires Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley as football coach

A little more than 20 years after getting his first assistant coaching job at Maryland — and three years after being a finalist for the head coaching job that went to DJ DurkinMike Locksley will return to College Park as the school’s new football coach, athletic director Damon Evans announced Tuesday night.

The announcement came hours after Locksley was named as the winner of the Frank Broyles Award, named after the former Arkansas coach and college football analyst and given annually to the nation’s top assistant in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The 48-year-old Locksley, a 1992 Towson State graduate who grew up in Washington, will be asked to help the Terps recover from the aftermath of offensive lineman Jordan McNair’s death from heatstroke last June and rebuild following a fourth straight losing season.

“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.

“On the field, Michael orchestrated one of the country’s most prolific offenses at the University of Alabama and has long been regarded for his recruiting prowess. Today he was recognized as the nation’s top assistant coach in the country, and I’m excited for him to be leading our program.”

In a statement, Locksley expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to return to College Park.

“I am thrilled to be returning home and to have the opportunity to lead the Maryland Football program,” Locksley said. “This has always been a special place for me and my family, and I am honored to take on this role at the state’s flagship institution.

“Our goal is to create an atmosphere and environment focused on the total development of our student-athletes. Our focus will always be to help them become more successful in all areas of their life through their association with our program.”

Locksley’s deal with Maryland is five years with an option for a sixth and worth $2.5 million annually, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

Locksley was offensive coordinator this season for top-ranked Alabama, where he arrived three years ago as a quality control assistant under Nick Saban after his six-game tenure as Maryland’s interim coach ended with his lone victory, a 46-41 shootout win over Rutgers.

It was only the third win for Locksley in a head coaching career that began with a 2-26 record in a little over two years at New Mexico. Locksley’s overall record of 3-31 was one reason why he didn’t get the job permanently in 2015 after Randy Edsall was fired midseason, a source familiar with the decision said this week.

Locksley was fired at New Mexico four games — all of them losses — into the 2011 season amid off-the-field controversies that included a sexual and age discrimination complaint that was later dropped and a physical altercation with an assistant coach that resulted in Locksley being placed on 10 days’ unpaid leave.

First-year athletic director Evans, himself the beneficiary of being given a second chance in his own career that was derailed by off-the-field issues eight years before at Georgia, hired Locksley over interim coach and offensive coordinator Matt Canada and Michigan assistant head coach Pep Hamilton.

A news conference has been scheduled for Thursday in College Park after university officials decided to wait because Wednesday is a national day of mourning following the death of former President George H.W. Bush.

Terms of Locksley’s deal aren’t known. Locksley becomes the first African-American football coach in Maryland history and only the sixth all time in the Big Ten, joining current coaches James Franklin at Penn State and Lovie Smith at Illinois.

It isn’t known whether Canada will remain on the staff after helping the Terps get through the tragedy surrounding McNair’s death and the turmoil surrounding Durkin being placed on administrative leave in August, reinstated for a day in late October and fired Oct. 31.

Maryland finished 5-7 under Canada, including an emotional 34-29 win over then-No. 23 Texas at FedEx Field to open the season and an exhilarating, then draining, 52-51 overtime loss to then-No. 10 Ohio State in the team’s last home game on senior day Nov. 17.

The hiring of the popular Locksley, who as a recruiter helped persuade former Good Counsel star Stefon Diggs to pass up a chance to go to Ohio State in 2012 and stay close to home, should give a much-needed boost to Maryland’s recruiting after McNair’s death.

After two straight strong classes brought in by Durkin — ranked 18th and 28th overall, according to 247 Sports— the 2019 recruiting class is currently ranked No. 87, one spot ahead of Harvard, with only eight prospects committed.

Given Locksley’s close ties to several high school coaches at high-profile programs such as Biff Poggi at St. Frances, Elijah Brooks at DeMatha Catholic and Andy Stefanelli at Good Counsel, the Terps might be able to make up for recruiting coming to a virtual standstill the past few months.

“He has the links to the University of Maryland and the program — recently — so he is a familiar face and he knows the area well,” Stefanelli said Monday night as word began to spread that Locksley would likely get the job.

“But he’s not associated with any of the issues that occurred this past season. To me he’s a guy who can bridge the gap and actually be a long-term solution as well. He’s certainly a very good football coach.”

Stefanelli, whose son Drew played three years under the Edsall-Locksley regime and finished his career under Durkin, said he hoped that the three seasons Locksley spent in Tuscaloosa under Saban would help in the way Locksley puts his staff together.

“I hope he will bring some of that structure, you would think he would say, this is a pretty good way to do things,” Stefanelli said. “That also goes back to the support he’s going to get from Maryland in having the budget to hire the guys that he’s going to need.”

Though Locksley has been part of winning programs for much of his career, his tenure at Maryland was not flush with success. Still, Locksley was able to help develop talent.

It started when Locksley was a young running backs coach under Ron Vanderlinden and helped develop LaMont Jordan into the school’s leading all-time rusher and a future NFL player.

Under Locksley’s tutelage as offensive coordinator, then-freshmen running back Ty Johnson and wide receiver DJ Moore showed promise as freshmen. Johnson recently finished his career with 2,129 yards — 13th all time — and Moore, now a rookie with the Carolina Panthers, finished last season as the fifth all-time receiver with 146 catches, including a school single-season record 80 in 2017.

The less-than-amicable departure by Locksley from Maryland three years ago — when many believed he could have delivered four-star quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. to the Terps rather than the Buckeyes, as he did with Diggs — caused some initial hesitation by both Locksley and Evans that they eventually worked through.

According to sources, Locksley also has widespread support among the school’s biggest athletic donors, including Under Armour CEO and founder Kevin Plank, a former Maryland football player.

Harry Geller, a member of the Champions Club, a group of about a dozen donors who give in excess of $25,000 annually to the football program, said he is looking forward to Locksley’s arrival in helping the Terps move on from the turmoil that enveloped the team after McNair’s death.

“I fully support Mike. He’s been at Alabama, one of the most successful programs in recent memory,” Geller said Monday. “He’s been the No. 2 there. He will beef up the recruiting class, he’ll build community and get a lot of support from the boosters.”

Asked about Locksley’s failure as a head coach at New Mexico, Geller said: “He took that job when he was younger in a faraway place that he wasn’t familiar with that doesn’t have a history of winning. [Bill] Belichick was 35-46 with the Cleveland Browns. He certainly deserves another chance.”

Locksley seems to understand the challenge ahead, and appears to have followed what has transpired over the past six months on and off the field at Maryland closely.

“I have been tremendously impressed at how the team came together through a difficult season and honored their fallen teammate, Jordan,” Locksley said. “We are all in this together, and I look forward to rejoining the Maryland family. Thank you to Damon Evans, President Loh and the entire Terrapin community for this opportunity.”

don.markus@baltsun.com

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