Help from some­one who has been there

Lock­sley’s per­sonal grief eases Terps’ chal­lenge af­ter team­mate’s death

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - RUNNING | COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Shannon Ryan

Mike Lock­sley’s hope is never again to add to his kitchen decor.

For years, he has hung a plaque in chrono­log­i­cal or­der for each of his football coach­ing stops. Like most in the pro­fes­sion, mov­ing vans have been a big part of his ca­reer. The list in­cludes his first of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor job at Illi­nois (2005-08), his first head coach­ing job at New Mex­ico (2009-11) and most re­cently a three-year stint at Alabama, the last two as of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor.

He added his third Mary­land plaque in De­cem­ber when he was hired as head coach. He coached the Ter­rap­ins run­ning backs from 1997 to 2002 and re­turned as of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor from 2012 to ’15.

“It says, ‘Home is wher­ever football takes us,’ ” Lock­sley said Thurs­day at Big Ten me­dia days. “I hope it’s the last plaque that I add to my home.”

The 49-year-old Wash­ing­ton, D.C., na­tive called Mary­land his “dream job.”

“I grew up in the mid-‘70s when Mary­land was a gi­ant in col­lege ath­let­ics, and they had an un­de­feated team in ‘76 when I was 7 years old and had a three- or four-year run there,” he re­called. “(In) the mid-‘80s … hav­ing an op­por­tu­nity to see Boomer Esi­a­son, Frank Re­ich, Neil O’Don­nell, Stan Gel­baugh, all th­ese great quar­ter­backs and play­ers.”

He worked there un­der Ralph Fried­gen in 2001 and ’02 and helped the Ter­rap­ins win the ACC cham­pi­onship in ’01.

“We won 10 games a year for three straight years (in­clud­ing 2003, when Lock­sley was at Florida) and pro­duced great play­ers like Ver­non Davis, Shawne Mer­ri­man, La­Mont Jor­dan, E.J. Hen­der­son — a bunch of great play­ers,” Lock­sley said. “So that’s the Mary­land that I know. A lot of peo­ple out­side of that (D.C./ Mary­land/Vir­ginia) area don’t un­der­stand, but we have a his­tory and tra­di­tion of great suc­cess.”

While he sa­vors those glory days, Mary­land is far from them. Lock­sley takes over a pro­gram go­ing through its most tur­bu­lent time.

It started with the death in June 2018 from heat­stroke of of­fen­sive line­man Jor­dan McNair, 19, who had shown signs of ex­treme heat ex­haus­tion dur­ing a con­di­tion­ing work­out but re­ceived de­layed med­i­cal at­ten­tion.

An ESPN in­ves­ti­ga­tion found ev­i­dence of in­ap­pro­pri­ate coach­ing tac­tics and fos­ter­ing a toxic cul­ture by coach DJ Durkin, who was placed on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave in Au­gust. The univer­sity’s board of re­gents rec­om­mended in late Oc­to­ber that Durkin be re­in­stated, over the ob­jec­tions of Pres­i­dent Wallace Loh, be­fore Loh re­versed course the next day and fired Durkin af­ter back­lash, in­clud­ing from cur­rent play­ers who walked out of Durkin’s first team meet­ing.

Two train­ers also were fired, and Loh an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion.

Mary­land wasn’t just look­ing for a coach with cre­ative schemes or strong re­cruit­ing ties. The Ter­rap­ins needed some­one who could help the pro­gram move for­ward and cre­ate a sta­ble en­vi­ron­ment.

Lock­sley said he could un­der­stand the trauma en­velop­ing the school and the play­ers. His son Meiko was fa­tally shot in Septem­ber 2017 in a case that re­mains un­solved.

“Los­ing my son and Jor­dan dy­ing 8 months later, I was able to sort of men­tor (McNair’s fa­ther) Marty through it,” Lock­sley said. “The cir­cle of life isn’t built for par­ents to lose their child. It’s like an itch you can’t scratch. It’s hard for peo­ple who don’t know. When they say, ‘I feel your pain,’ you re­ally don’t. That’s what ce­mented our bond, as well as Tonya (Wil­son, McNair’s mother).

“It al­lowed me to have em­pa­thy for the (Mary­land) team. They lost a brother. My kids dealt with los­ing their brother. I had a unique perspectiv­e on what to do to heal as well as how to move the pro­gram along the right way.”

Lock­sley had re­cruited McNair and be­came friends with his par­ents. His daugh­ter, Kori, who plays soc­cer for Auburn, at­tended the same high school as McNair, and they signed their let­ters of in­tent at the same time.

Marty McNair ap­peared at Lock­sley’s in­tro­duc­tory news con­fer­ence as a sign of sup­port.

“We talk about mov­ing for­ward the right way,” Lock­sley said. “We want to honor Jor­dan with the way we play, prac­tice and pre­pare.”

He said he has fos­tered a fa­mil­ial at­mos­phere with an open-of­fice-doors pol­icy, coaches serv­ing as men­tors and “Sun­day Fun Days,” when play­ers come to his home to ride go-karts, swim and eat din­ner.

“Make sure we spend re­ally mean­ing­ful time with our play­ers out­side of coach­ing,” he said. “(We’re) mak­ing sure we are there to sup­port them.”

Mary­land is com­ing off a 5-7 sea­son but returns some key of­fen­sive com­po­nents. Run­ning back An­thony Mc­Far­land Jr. set a school fresh­man rush­ing record with 1,034 yards. The Terps also wel­come Vir­ginia Tech quar­ter­back trans­fer Josh Jack­son.

The de­fense returns only three starters from a unit that strug­gled last sea­son, giv­ing up 390.4 yards per game.

The hope for the Ter­rap­ins lies in Lock­sley’s re­cruit­ing record. At Illi­nois, he brought in D.C. na­tives Ar­re­lious Benn, Von­tae Davis, Ed­die McGee and Tavon Wil­son. The 2007 Illini of­fense be­came the only third in school his­tory to sur­pass the 5,000-yard mark.

Lock­sley was listed as a top-25 re­cruiter in the na­tion three times (2003, ’05 and ’06) and was a fi­nal­ist for Ri­vals.com’s 2007 re­cruiter of the year award.

He said he ab­sorbed lessons the last three sea­sons un­der Nick Sa­ban.

“We’d need a whole other two-hour ses­sion for me to talk about the things I learned from Nick,” he said. “But if I learned any­thing from Coach Sa­ban, it’s con­sis­tency in your mes­sag­ing. He talks about the process. I call it be­hav­iors and habits.

“I know he of­ten­times says, ‘Hey, don’t waste a fail­ure.’ But when we had suc­cess, we still went back and looked at why it was suc­cess­ful and we asked the tough ques­tions of how we can make it bet­ter.”

Lock­sley doesn’t come to Mary­land with­out his own bag­gage. He went 2-26 at New Mex­ico be­fore he was fired four games into his third sea­son.

In 2009, he was sus­pended for one game af­ter punch­ing an as­sis­tant coach. He was sued ear­lier that year for age and sex dis­crim­i­na­tion by a former ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant, though she later with­drew the claim. A friend of his son’s was ar­rested for DWI while driv­ing a car reg­is­tered to the Lock­sley fam­ily.

Lock­sley said he has grown emo­tion­ally over the years.

“With those plaques that I de­scribed, each one of my ex­pe­ri­ences has given me an op­por­tu­nity to learn, grow and move for­ward as a head coach,” he said.

For Mary­land to be­come a sta­ble pro­gram, a safe en­vi­ron­ment and a suc­cess­ful team, Lock­sley must call on all of the lessons he has learned.

“I see Mary­land be­ing able to reach the suc­cess that we all want,” he said.

“I had a unique perspectiv­e on what to do to heal as well as how to move the pro­gram along the right way.” — Mary­land coach Mike Lock­sley

PA­TRICK SEMANSKY/AP

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