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Is Mike Locksley Right Man For Maryland's Next Football Coach?

November 28, 2018
Perhaps you might have noticed former Maryland wide receiver (and two-time Super Bowl champion) Torrey Smith recently campaigning for Alabama offensive coordinator (and former Maryland offensive coordinator and interim head coach) Mike Locksley to become Maryland's next head football coach. 

When you saw it, you might have said something to yourself like, "Well, that makes sense. Of course one of Locksley's former players would step up to the plate for his coach." 

The thing is, that's not actually what he was doing. Smith's career at Maryland was from 2007-2010. Locksley's stints at Maryland were from 1997-2002 and 2012-2015. Smith and Locksley actually never crossed paths in College Park, Md. The Carolina Panthers wideout says that doesn't remotely change the reverence he feels for the coach. 

"First of all, you can't even go past him being a players' coach, you gotta talk about why he's a great coach," Smith said. "He knows what he's doing, especially on that offensive side of the ball. I think he's a great leader, and you gotta remember this is a guy I didn't even play for. This is all from looking on the outside in."

Smith isn't alone in his support. His tweet alone was shared by his Panthers teammate and former Terps linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. and other former Maryland players like receiver Levern Jacobs, running back Davin Meggett and linebacker/quarterback Shawn Petty. 

Maryland passed on hiring Locksley after the 2015 season, instead choosing DJ Durkin as Randy Edsall's replacement. Locksley has since helped turn Alabama from more of a plotting, determined offense to one of the most explosive units in college football. He's a finalist for the Art Broyles Award, which recognizes the nation's top assistant coach. Maryland has since … well, it hasn't been great. 

I don't know if Maryland will hire Locksley this time around. I don't know if Locksley will choose to leave Alabama even if he's offered, or if there won't be better opportunities for him elsewhere. But I know that in the local football community, there's an almost immeasurable groundswell of support for Locksley to finally become Maryland football coach. 

And again, it's not really just "support." It's more "reverence." There's a respect, a love for Locksley that is almost Godfather-like, though critics will point out Locksley carries a 3-31 career record as a head coach between New Mexico and his brief interim stint at Maryland.

Listeners and readers have asked me why Locksley is held in such regard and why he's able to recruit high-level players from the area to just about any school where he's employed. So I posed the same questions to four people who have very different relationships with him. 

While Smith never played for Locksley, he still counts the man as a mentor. 

"He's authentic, he genuinely cares about his guys," Smith said. "I haven't even played for him and he's a guy I communicate with like he was my coach. I think he's a great man. Speaking from a player's perspective, when you know someone cares about you it means a lot more. And if you're gonna send your kid there you wanna believe that's an individual that cares about your kid's well-being."

Former Maryland defensive tackle and five-year NFL veteran A.J. Francis wasn't recruited to the school by Locksley. In fact, he only spent one season with him in 2012 -- on the opposite side of the ball. Yet he's very much a believer. 

"He's just real," Francis said. "He talks to the kids like they're adults and simultaneously can relate to them because he understands their point of view and where they're coming from more than a lot of coaches. He understands that yeah, he's the coach but he needs the players just as bad as the players need him. He makes that very well known. And he makes sure that you know that you're appreciated when you're doing a good job.

"Him and my dad [Old Mill basketball coach Mike Francis] have a relationship. I played defense. He doesn't have to be cool with my dad. For real. But he is."

Francis says there's something even more significant about Locksley that helps him in recruiting. 

"He's just got swag," Francis said. "Most coaches are corny. A vast majority of coaches in college and the NFL are super corny. That's also what happens to make them a good coach because they're analytical and they can do all of these other things, but they're cornballs. And Locks is cool."

Gordy Combs was Locksley's defensive coordinator during Locksley's playing career as a defensive back at then-Towson State (now of course Towson University) in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He also gave Locksley his first coaching gig, hiring him as an assistant in 1992 (Combs' first of 17 seasons as the Tigers' head coach) while Locksley finished school. He knew how special his former player could be. 

"He had an 'it' factor," Combs said. "You knew he was going to succeed in whatever he did. There was no doubt. You see it in certain players. He was one of those players that had 'it.'

"It's genuine. Maybe that's the best way to put it. He's genuine. He has a passion. And the guys believe in him, that's the big thing." 

Combs saw examples of the personal leadership even while Locksley was still a player. 

"I remember a situation when we were at Liberty and we had a young corner that played for us named Marcellus Campbell," Combs said. "Mike had to straighten him out. I didn't have to."

Musician Citizen Cope is best known for hit songs like "Bullet and a Target," "Sideways" and "Healing Hands." Cope, a Washington, D.C., native, went to a different high school (Wilson) than Locksley (Ballou), but the two both worked together at the former Capital Centre and were part of a group of friends. 

That friendship blossomed throughout the years, as Cope (born Clarence Greenwood) shared a love of sports and Locksley a love of music. He recently traveled to Baton Rouge, La., to support his friend at this year's Alabama-LSU game.  

Greenwood admits his friend also sometimes serves as … his coach. 

"I've had some decisions that I had to make recently -- some tough decisions -- and I'll call him," Greenwood said. "And I'm a year older than him! 

"I think that dynamic … I feel it. I think it's stronger than that. It's an element of wisdom and kind of, somebody that you're going to get the truth from. Recently I had a situation about management and had a few options, some very big managers were trying to pick me up. 

"And he just kinda broke down what my decision-making process should be. It was very helpful. It wasn't about, 'Oh, you should do this,' or, 'oh, you should do that.' He kinda went to what the decision was about and what the process of that decision should really entail."

Greenwood, who grew up rooting for Maryland football, also believes that part of Locksley's appeal comes from his own path. Locksley grew up in a rough part of D.C., got an opportunity to succeed in sports and is now helping other kids from the area get their own major opportunities. 

"I think he has that persona where also the players he recruits end up making an impact at a professional level," Greenwood said. "I think that speaks volumes for a coach. Because when a coach can see somebody has the potential and be able to coach them up and be able to not just be a great player coming in but be able to leave and take it to the next level and not just make the NFL but be a dominant player in the NFL and actually make a lot of money doing it, it kinda parallels to me what [former Georgetown basketball coach] John Thompson did with Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning and Allen Iverson. 

"I think there's a reverence for him because I think that people that know the area and the area football programs kinda would like to see him back there."

But Greenwood set up a bit of a "record scratch moment" while discussing the possibility of his friend returning to the area.

"I personally think that he should stay at Alabama," Greenwood said.

Greenwood said that somewhat tongue in cheek, noting how Maryland had previously left his friend at the altar, the quality of the Alabama job and even better head coaching opportunities that could come Locksley's way in the future. 

Combs believes a reunion with Locksley is exactly what Maryland should try to do. 

"I think it's a no-brainer," Combs said. "His roots are in that area. He has firm ties in this area, whether it's in the D.C. metro area, the Maryland area, the Montgomery and the PG County area, where he's always recruited. He was special in that regard, y'know?"

Francis concurs. 

"Considering that he can recruit as well as he does and always has in D.C. -- he got Stefon Diggs to come to Maryland. What more do you need to know? Has Stefon proven that he could have gone to Alabama yet? All of the players that played for him loved him. Even when Edsall was at Maryland, Locksley was like the anti-Edsall and that's what kept a lot of the guys that didn't leave there that played on that offense. It was Locks."

And Smith says there's no other candidate that could be as prepared as Locksley for the job. 

"Understanding the dynamic of the University of Maryland, it's not your typical college job," Smith said. "You're competing with a lot in that area and you have to find someone who's gonna be able to keep the local kids home. He's a great offensive-minded coach and he knows how to keep people home, just because of his relationships. The relationships he has are invaluable. 

"Maryland's a unique place. He knows Maryland, he has experience there and he's a great coach so it makes sense."

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox