COLLEGE PARK, Md.—Two decades ago, Maryland entrusted its moribund football program to a coach with a sterling offensive pedigree who will never be called svelte.
Ralph Friedgen immediately justified that decision by leading the Terrapins to the 2001 Atlantic Coast Conference title in his first season in charge and a decade of relative success.
Mike Lockley’s current challenge is a bit more daunting and obviously will take a lot more time.
Saturday’s 38–7 drubbing by 17th-ranked Michigan all but guaranteed the Terrapins (3–6) will not play in a bowl in Locksley’s first season as coach. That was almost a foregone conclusion when he took over a troubled program that hasn’t won more than seven games in a season since 2000.
But things are bleaker than expected—and it will take all of Locksley’s charisma and acumen to improve them.
“We’ve got a lot of things that need to be fixed,” Locksley said.
He’s not kidding.
Since steamrolling Howard and Syracuse by a combined 142–20 in their first two games, the Terps are 1–6. Toss out a 48–7 rout of Rutgers—arguably the nation’s worst Power Five conference team—and they’ve been outscored 223–59 in Big Ten play. Their only points Saturday came on a
97-yard kickoff return by Javon Leake.
It’s a far cry from what Locksley was accustomed to in his two seasons as an assistant at Alabama, including offensive coordinator duties in 2018, when the Crimson Tide averaged 47.9 points and 528 yards per game.
The same play calls that work for Tua Tagovailoa and a bevy of NFL draft picks in waiting may not be as successful with Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson at quarterback playing behind a shaky offensive line. Sophomore Anthony McFarland is a promising running back, but he has few running lanes. And the defense, which entered play Saturday ranked last in the Big Ten against the pass, starts seven seniors.
In taking the job at Maryland—where he twice previously worked as an assistant—Locksley inherited not only a significant talent deficit but the stigma of a program that fired DJ Durkin after offensive lineman Jordan McNair died of heat trauma under his watch during the summer of 2018.
As troubling as the statistics are, they don’t tell the whole story of the challenge for Locksley, who now has a 6–37 record as a head coach at Maryland and New Mexico.
Fan apathy is also an issue. On a beautiful Saturday, the student section was nearly empty for a noon kickoff, and there was more maize and blue than red and white in the announced crowd of 40,701—especially in the second half, when many of the Maryland faithful had headed for the exits.
“We’re definitely a work in progress,” Locksley said.
Which brings us to Locksley’s other challenge.
As an assistant, the D.C. native was known as an ace recruiter. He’ll need to mine the vast reservoir of inside-the-Beltway talent to give Maryland any shot of competing in the rugged Big Ten East Division, which features annual games against perennial powers Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State.
It’ll take time for Locksley to assemble and coach enough talent to be competitive. Maryland’s administration has vowed patience in the wake of the team’s on-field struggles and off-field tragedy. Until then, they’re having to satisfy themselves with incremental progress.
That’s why Locksley has adopted the motto “So what, now what?” when things go wrong—like Michigan’s Giles Jackson returned Saturday’s opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. He praised his team’s effort, which he hasn’t always done.
“Today, the scoreboard didn’t show how much we’ve improved,” sophomore linebacker Ayinde Eley said.
Added Jackson: “We’re not satisfied with moral victories. That’s not what we’re about. But you can see progress.”
Maybe, but you have to look really hard.