The University of Maryland football program reached a new low last summer following the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who died of a heat stroke following a practice last May. When reports surfaced of the toxic culture being spread throughout the program by head coach D.J. Durkin, it was clear that something needed to change. Durkin was rightfully fired and the team went 5-7 under interim coach Matt Canada last season. While that record is not great, the team actually showed a lot of resiliency in the face of tragedy and program uncertainty, and the potential to turn things around.
Luckily for the Terps, they have the right guy at the helm to change this program. Hiring Mike Locksley, who previously served as the offensive coordinator at the University of Alabama, could be the best move this program has ever made. The team is not going to contend for a National Championship any time soon, but there are a few things Locksley has the potential to do which could make the Terrapins competitive in the Big Ten in the next few years.
The biggest thing Mike Locksley should be able to bring to the table is the ability to improve the Terps recruiting, especially in the DMV. At the start of D.J. Durkin’s tenure, a social media campaign began following the commitment of star local quarterback Dwayne Haskins from the Bullis School in Potomac. #TheMovement was supposed to be a mass wave of talented football stars in the DMV committing to play at Maryland. However in classic Maryland fashion, Haskins flipped his commitment to The Ohio State University and #TheMovement ended before it ever began.
Locksley must be able to utilize all the talent the DMV has to offer because it is one of the most unknown recruiting hotspots in the country. Dematha High School lies only two miles away from UMD’s campus and consistently produces numerous Division I athletes. The College Park campus is also only six miles from Washington, D.C., which boasts plentiful elite programs such as Gonzaga College High School and St. John’s College High School. UMD is lucky to be in an area with so much talent and if Locksley can pounce on that, he can quickly turn this program around. The fact that he is coming from a DI powerhouse like Alabama should certainly help him appeal to recruits.
After the horrors that went on during Durkin’s time as head coach, the program needs to do a complete 180 and change the culture surrounding it. This is going to be the most difficult task Locksley will face and it is something that will not happen overnight. A program overhaul is going to take discipline and a great coaching staff to help out. Most importantly, Locksley must analyze the character of the guys he is recruiting.
This is something that so many similar programs do a bad job of. Some programs such as Florida State University under head coach Jimbo Fisher were known for having many troubled players and this partly led to his downfall in Tallahassee. On the other hand, head coach Charlie Strong’s disastrous tenure at UT Austin started off with him dismissing almost any player who had done anything wrong. There has to be a healthy balance where bad behavior is not tolerated, but players who have screwed up are given a chance to redeem themselves.
There will be a long and slow process to get Maryland to the top. They play in one of college football’s most competitive conferences and they are very far from competing with teams like Ohio State and Michigan. However, if they can be consistent and slowly improve their record each year, we could see Maryland contending for Big Ten championships in the near future. The school is luckier than most struggling teams in that they are in an area with loads of recruiting talent. If Locksley can utilize this, Maryland could become a top tier college football program sooner than expected.