Just over a month since the University of Maryland fired DJ Durkin, dismissing the football coach amid a months-long controversy over a player’s death, the school has named the man set to replace him: Alabama Offensive Coordinator Michael Locksley.
“As we narrowed the search for the individual best suited to lead our program, Michael not only stood out for his talent as a coach,” Maryland’s director of athletics, Damon Evans, said in Tuesday’s announcement, “but most importantly for the role he has played as a mentor to student-athletes throughout his career and his deep commitment to helping them grow into leaders on and off the field.”
It will not be Locksley’s first stop on campus in College Park, Md. Locksley, whose work with Alabama just earned him the 2018 Broyles Award as college football’s top assistant coach, has already served two stints as an assistant at Maryland. After then-coach Randy Edsall was fired, Locksley also acted as the Terrapins’ interim head coach for part of the 2015 season — before leaving to join the Crimson Tide the next year.
This time around, however, Locksley can expect to find a significantly more difficult situation awaiting his return.
The University of Maryland’s football program has been wracked by tumult since Jordan McNair’s death in June. The 19-year-old offensive lineman collapsed from heat stroke after an offseason workout and died two weeks later.
The blame for the deadly incident spread widely in the months that followed. First laid with medical personnel, which “misdiagnosed” McNair’s ailments — according to university President Wallace Loh — the blame soon also fell on Durkin for allegedly fostering a toxic culture of intimidation and verbal abuse.
But the buck did not stop with Durkin.
The controversy reached as high as the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents, which briefly decided to keep the head coach after concluding its investigation — only to promptly do an about-face and fire him one day later, after a groundswell of outrage at the decision. Just another day after that, the board’s chairman, James Brady announced he was stepping down.
President Loh, too, has announced plans to retire next year.
On Tuesday evening, Locksley acknowledged the turmoil that awaits him at Maryland — but expressed his excitement at returning to the Terrapins, nevertheless.
“I have been tremendously impressed at how the team came together through a difficult season and honored their fallen teammate, Jordan,” he said in a statement issued by the school. “We are all in this together, and I look forward to rejoining the Maryland family.”
That said, he arrives in Maryland without a spotless record. Before returning for his second stint at Maryland, Locksley was fired from his head coaching job at the University of New Mexico, where he amassed a putrid total record of 2-26 and found himself dogged by controversy — including allegations of creating a toxic environment of his own.
As The Washington Post notes, his tenure there was marred by an age and sex discrimination complaint against him, which was later withdrawn, and a lawsuit alleging that he choked and punched an assistant coach, which was later settled.
In its announcement Tuesday, the University of Maryland largely kept to the warmer, more recent memories of Locksley’s time with the Terrapins and Crimson Tide.
“On the field, Michael orchestrated one of the country’s most prolific offenses at the University of Alabama and has long been regarded for his recruiting prowess,” Evans said. “Today he was recognized as the nation’s top assistant coach in the country, and I’m excited for him to be leading our program.”