Returning to Terps as Head Coach, Michael Locksley Preps a Team With Toughness, Passion and Pride
Michael Locksley, who became head coach of the Terps in December, will lead UMD vs. Howard in tomorrow's season opener.
Since joining the Terps in December, Head Coach Michael Locksley has been striving to live up to his reputation as a savvy recruiter while getting to know his student-athletes, bolstering his coaching staff, and helping the program continue to heal in the aftermath of tragedy.
A Washington, D.C., native, Locksley grew up watching the likes of future NFL heroes Boomer Esiason ’84 and Frank Reich ’84 lead the Terps, and he held assistant roles during two previous stints at UMD and was head coach at New Mexico from 2009–11. Most recently, he was offensive coordinator at Alabama, where he won the 2018 Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant coach and helped the team reach last season’s national championship game.
As the Terps prepare to open at home tomorrow against the Howard University Bison, Locksley spoke with Maryland Today about his experiences, coaching philosophies and expectations for the team:
What are you doing differently this time around as a head coach?
I don't really know if it's differently as much as better. The first time I had an opportunity to be a head coach, obviously, it was not to be desired in terms of the success. But as I've learned, you can take a lot from losing or from failure. And when you have two guys like (former East Carolina Head Coach) Scottie Montgomery and (former Kentucky Head Coach) Joker Phillips … I have another layer of experience that can maybe help with the inner workings of the youngest guys on our staff.
How will your experience at a powerhouse like Alabama impact your coaching at Maryland?
I'm a big believer that success leaves clues. One of the reasons I went to Alabama when I had the opportunity in ’16 was to get behind the wall and see how that thing operates, how that place is able to sustain success the way it has.
I was able to take away the organization of things, the structure, the process, how things fit, how (Head Coach Nick Saban) is able to get this new generation of kids to come in and play together as a team and motivate them and develop them. A lot of the things that I liked about Alabama, I've brought to College Park to try to emulate or implement. And the things I didn't like or the things that didn't fit who I am as a leader or as a person, I left behind.
Who’s impressed you or stood out the most at camp?
I think our running back group is probably the strength of our team. We have players like Anthony McFarland, Javon Leake, Tayon Fleet-Davis, Jake Funk, LoLo (Lorenzo) Harrison—five really, really strong, talented individuals. Some other guys are consistent on defense, guys like Antoine Brooks, who’s kind of become the leader over on that side of the ball. Ayinde Eley has been a really good player for us. Both of our corners are veteran guys, Marcus Lewis and Tino Ellis. We have an experienced group of guys that have played some football here for the last three or four years. I like the way that those guys have kind of taken on the role of the leaders on the field.
How do you balance the chemistry of new players with current veterans?
Some of these transfers are guys from here, that were pretty well known before they got here. Keandre Jones played against a lot of these guys, having played at Good Counsel (Olney, Md.). He played against the McFarlands and LoLo Harrisons in high school, so there's some natural relationships and familiarity there.
Keandre comes from an Ohio State program that went to a Rose Bowl, so he was able to see what success looks like. We constantly talk about developing the right kind of habits and behaviors, and the success will follow. He's a guy that understands what those habits and behaviors look like. The same with Shaq Smith coming from Clemson—he’s been to two or three national championships, has won a couple. The more peer-to-peer leadership you get, the better you are.
What challenges have both the players and you faced, coming off such a difficult year following the death of Jordan McNair?
The challenge that they deal with is the fact that they lost a brother. As I've learned, you never get over it. You learn to get through it. And that's because of my experience in losing my own son, Meiko, almost two years ago. I try to help them move forward the right way.
I'm very fortunate because the seniors and the juniors on the team are guys that I've actively recruited to Maryland. Even some of the sophomores like Anthony, I recruited early on or recruited at the other place I was at. So I came in with some built-in relationships with these guys to where they knew who I was and what I was about. That made this transition easy for them. But I think the challenge has been with my 10 assistants, the new coaches that I brought in, them having to develop very meaningful relationships really fast because these kids, they've been through a lot and they don't just need coaches. They need mentors and people that are going to take a genuine interest in them outside of just football.
What’s your mindset going into the opener? What about tough Big Ten opponents later in the schedule?
We need to establish a standard for who we are as a team and how we're going to play the game. The opponent doesn’t matter to us. We won't talk a lot about winning. We don't talk a lot about going to a bowl game or doing all of these things. We're talking about having the right kind of habits and behaviors that allow you to accomplish those things. We want to be a mentally and physically tough team that plays with tremendous effort, that has relentless passion for the game and takes great pride in representing this university.
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