In early 2016, Alabama head football coach Nick Saban called former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen for a job reference.
Saban asked what Friedgen thought of Mike Locksley, a former assistant coach under Friedgen from 2001-2003 whom Saban was considering hiring as an offensive analyst.
"I told him he did a very good job for me and I told him he was a very good recruiter," Friedgen said on
Glenn Clark Radio
Aug. 1. "The question Nick asked me was, 'How does he relate to the kids?' I said, 'You won't find anyone better than that.'"
Locksley called Friedgen a day later and asked for his help.
"Coach, I need your help," Friedgen remembered Locksley saying. "Nick Saban is going to call you."
Friedgen stopped him and said, "He already called me and I lied a lot. You're going to be fine."
Locksley was hired as an offensive analyst in March 2016, helping Alabama to a 14-1 record and a win in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against Washington. The Crimson Tide later lost the national title game to Clemson.
The night before the Peach Bowl, Friedgen saw Saban and asked him how his former assistant had done in his first season with Alabama.
"I love him," Friedgen remembered Saban saying. "I'm going to have trouble hiring him because other guys want to hire him."
Locksley would stay for two more seasons at Alabama, becoming the team's sole offensive coordinator in 2018 and winning the Broyles Award, given to the nation's top assistant coach. In December, he was hired as Maryland's head coach, a job he had coveted for decades.
"I think it's a great opportunity. I think there's a lot of similarities with Mike and myself," said Friedgen, who was hired in 2001 to rebuild a Maryland program that had two winning seasons since 1985.
Locksley faces a similar situation at Maryland as the program searches for its first winning season since 2014. He had two previous stints as an assistant coach at Maryland. The first was from 1997-2002 under Ron Vanderlinden and then Friedgen, and the second was from 2012-2015 as offensive coordinator under Randy Edsall.
"I think it's important that Maryland hired someone that had been a coach at Maryland and knows that the job at Maryland is different than other jobs," Friedgen said. "And most of the guys they hire never understand that and when they do understand that, it's too late. But Mike has a good idea."
The key to Locksley's success as a coach is his communication skills, Friedgen said, and he saw firsthand Locksley's ability to connect with recruits, players, parents and coaches and build lasting bonds long after a player graduated from Maryland.
"When you go into a home recruiting, it's kind of like these debates you see on TV. The parents are going to ask you tough questions, and I was very impressed with Mike in how he always had a very quick reply and he put it in a certain way that the parents could understand," Friedgen said. "And I think that's one of his greatest attributes in recruiting that he can relate to people, all types of people and that he can communicate. And he gets very close to the kids.
"When the kids come on campus there, he keeps the relationship open. When they leave and they graduate and they come back, they still associate with Mike because they have so much trust in him. I think he's done that wherever he's gone."
Locksley has also made inroads with local media, a rarity for a high-profile college coach but for a few exceptions, according to Maryland football and basketball radio announcer Johnny Holliday.
In late July, Locksley hosted a barbeque at his home in Ashton, Md., for local media members to attend.
"The only other coach I can remember doing that in my 40 years would have been Ralph and [former Maryland coach] Bobby Ross where he will invite all the guys who will be covering the team all season long," Holliday said as he co-hosted Glenn Clark Radio Aug. 1. "A lot of guys don't want to deal with the media except on that one day of the week when they have that press conference at Maryland and Mike does.
"There's no holds barred; nothing is held back. He connects not only with the media, but he certainly connects with the fan base. And probably the most excitement I've seen is right now compared to when Ralph came as the head coach. Since that time there has been no excitement for Maryland football. Everybody is looking to basketball already up until Mike Locksley was hired."
With the Terps' season set to begin Aug. 31 against Howard, many Maryland greats like Hall of Fame head coach Gary Williams are excited to see how Locksley performs.
"I'm looking forward to the start of football season [with] Mike Locksley coming in there," Williams said on Glenn Clark Radio Aug. 1. "The one thing that he's done -- you haven't played any games yet, obviously -- but he has really gotten people excited around here. He's got a lot of local kids that are going to play for him. I think Johnny and myself, we're both looking forward to seeing the product when they start."
For more from Friedgen, listen to the full interview here:
For more from Williams, listen to the full interview here:
And for more from Holliday, listen to the full show here:
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