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Recovering a Fumble in Hiring Practices

Locksley Leads Nationwide Effort to Promote More Minority Coaches

By Liam Farrell

UMD head football coach Michael Locksley at a practice

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Terps head football coach Michael Locksley has founded a new organization to promote diverse hiring practices in his sport’s coaching ranks.

When he was a kid playing football in Washington, D.C., Terps head football coach Michael Locksley didn’t have to look past the sidelines to see a leader who looked like him. But as he moved up the sport’s ladder—first playing at Towson and then coaching at more than a half-dozen colleges around the country—the coaching box never mirrored the diversity on the field.

Now that he’s one of only about a dozen Black head coaches among the 130 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams annually competing for the College Football Playoff, Locksley is trying to rectify one of its ongoing institutional problems. As president and founder of the nonprofit National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches (NCMFC), he’ll be creating new networking, professional development and advocacy opportunities for diversifying the coaching ranks.

“We really didn’t have an organization that truly champions the next generation of coaches,” he said.

The numbers of minority coaches have largely been static throughout the FBS and Football Championship Subdivision of Division I since 2012, according to NCAA data. While Black and other non-white players have made up a significant part of the football student-athlete population each year, white men have comprised about 80% of head coaches, more than 70% of defensive coordinators and above 80% of offensive coordinators. Even the graduate assistant ranks, where most football coaches get their start, are consistently more than 60% white.

Locksley has used that as a motivating factor, making sure to cross-pollinate his knowledge across position groups to become an expert all over the field. But as he enters what he terms “the back nine” of his career, the lack of minority successors has bothered him. In 2018, Locksley and Pep Hamilton, who was quarterback coach for the Los Angeles Chargers last season, put together a symposium for minority quarterback coaches and offensive coordinators at Morehouse College, planting the seed for NCMFC.

Locksley plans to have the NCMFC hold yearly conventions and provide training for each level of football coaching, so attendees can get “the tools they’ll need to get the job they aspire to.” He also wants to put together a shareable database of candidates for open positions and analyze where aspiring coaches need to improve.

That doesn’t just mean X’s and O’s, however. When you interview for a head coaching position, Locksley said, your depth in off-the-field skills such as media relations, office management and budgeting can matter far more than the size of your playbook.

“Very few of my interviews involved asking me what I do on third and one,” he said.

Maintaining a strong pipeline of candidates is crucial, said Cyrus Mehri, cofounder of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing diversity in the NFL, during an October event on the topic sponsored by UMD’s Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism. While progress was being made after the NFL’s 2003 “Rooney Rule” mandated minority interviews for head coaching and general manager jobs, the number of those candidates actually hired has started declining again.

“Like any movement, you have moments of up and down. We got pushed backwards in a big way the last few years,” Mehri said. “The question is, are we at a turning point where we can create a cultural change?”

But Locksley doesn’t want to overemphasize obstacles to success, either. As someone who has “zero regrets” about entering the football coaching business, he also wants to rally people to one of the ways they can give back to their own communities.

“We’ve got to do a great job of selling the benefits of coaching at every level,” he said. “We have a responsibility to keep the pipeline going.”

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