Af­ter rocky ten­ure as New Mex­ico head coach, Lock­sley back at Mary­land with long road ahead

Cecil Whig - - REGIONAL SPORTS -

— 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 offfield 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 were 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, firstyear 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-yearold 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 dif­fer­ent coaches, said Lock­ley’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 were 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 Univer­sity 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 Lock­ley’s ten­ure at New Mex­ico was a mis­take from the start.

“He was a hard-work­ing 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.

“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 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 Mar yland 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 well­rounded in­di­vid­ual now. He’s what they need to get peo­ple be­hind the pro­gram right now.”

Tom McMillen, a for­mer U.S. con­gress­man and Mary­land alum 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.”

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