When Mike Locksley was hired in December, I had a thought that I’m sure many Maryland fans had.
He NEEDS to strike while the iron is hot.
The Terps, coming off an embarrassing national scandal, were not the thing that was hot. Even during a time when the coaching carousel wasn’t overflowing with top-flight jobs, there were plenty of more attractive landing spots than College Park.
Ironically enough, it was Locksley who made the iron hot. Locksley was the coordinator who led Alabama to its most prolific offense in school history. He was the guy who helped Tua Tagovailoa become the Heisman Trophy runner-up playing in an offense that was all but unstoppable in its first 14 games of the season. If Locksley didn’t play that up to the nth degree in his return to Maryland, it would’ve been a major opportunity missed.
To his credit, though, it appears that Locksley has indeed been benefitting from the “what have you done for me lately” recruiting strategy.
That was evident on Monday night when Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson announced that he was coming to Maryland as a graduate transfer:
— Josh Jackson (@joshiejack17) February 19, 2019
Jackson’s commitment certainly clears up Kasim Hill’s decision to enter the transfer portal. Locksley now has the quarterback he wants in Jackson.
Well, to be clear, Locksley actually wanted Jalen Hurts. The Alabama quarterback was as coveted as any transfer in recent memory and Locksley was fortunate enough to get him on an official visit to Maryland after spending the last 3 seasons with him in Tuscaloosa. The Terps appeared to be a finalist for someone that they, let’s be honest, wouldn’t have had ANY chance to land if not for Locksley.
But Locksley’s early promise isn’t just moral victories. It’s that he’s making major moves at the game’s most important position, where Maryland has been a mix of unlucky and awful since joining the B1G.
The commitment from 4-star quarterback Lance LeGendre was the real early victory for Locksley. LeGendre was expected to sign with Florida State, but the last-minute push from the new staff in College Park made all the difference.
You could tell how important that was for them:
— Maryland Football (@TerpsFootball) February 6, 2019
Locksley basically just dunked on Florida State in this cycle. After National Signing Day, Locksley flipped 4-star safety Nick Cross, who was committed to the Seminoles. Keeping the DeMatha Catholic recruit in state moved Maryland’s 2019 class all the way up to No. 46 nationally. Considering at one point it looked like Maryland might not crack the top 70, that wasn’t a bad close at all.
But while Locksley obviously wanted to maximize this post-Tagovailoa window, it would’ve been ridiculous to call it a failure if he didn’t finish as well as he did in the 2019 cycle. The hay was already in the barn with the vast majority of the 2019 class. Much of Maryland’s incoming class was decimated in the wake of the DJ Durkin firing.
The Terps are still in the midst of undergoing a massive personnel facelift, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Maryland ranks No. 92 in FBS in percentage of returning defensive production, which probably made it an attractive place to play immediately for guys like Cross and even Ohio State transfer linebacker KeAndre Jones, who could potentially be eligible to play in 2019 if he finishes his undergraduate coursework in Columbus (Jones was actually committed to Maryland while Locksley was the interim head coach back in 2015).
It’s clear that Locksley is selling the right things. He’s been able to overcome Maryland’s public relations nightmare in 2018 by landing coveted recruits and transfers who had plenty of other options. That’s not easy for a program that’s 13-30 in conference play since joining the B1G (with a 8-22 divisional record).
Nobody knows the Maryland struggle better than Locksley, who was the team’s running backs coach (1997-2002) and offensive coordinator/interim coach (2012-15). He’s an elite recruiter, which was the primary reason Nick Saban promoted him to offensive coordinator in 2018.
His first, albeit brief, recruiting cycle provided good reminders of those things. The next question of course is whether Locksley can put it all together on the field as a head coach. It’s one thing to win the Broyles Award with a ridiculously-talented roster. He still deserves credit for the job he did to maximize all of Alabama’s weapons.
I have no idea if Locksley is in for an Ed Orgeron-like revival as a head coach, to be honest. Everyone knows how poorly his New Mexico stint went on and off the field. Obviously a 1-5 mark as interim head coach at Maryland in 2015 didn’t exactly put those concerns to bed.
It’s understandable if Maryland fans are still in wait-and-see mode with Locksley. Eventually, he’ll have to stop selling and start winning. After all, Durkin recruited elite DMV talents and he signed highly-touted quarterback recruits in his 2-plus years leading the Terps. He also created a mess that left a stench so potent that plenty of other coaching candidates didn’t want to get near it.
Locksley did. Maryland is banking on his redemption story.
So far, he’s done everything in his power to show why that was the right investment.