I'm guessing you've heard by now: Mike Locksley, barring any huge surprises, is going to be Maryland's next offensive coordinator. I'm surprised there was no announcement today, actually and I'd guess it'll happen tomorrow, at which point we can officially begin speculating wildly about finishing the 2012 recruiting class with a bushel of local four-stars.
Most of you know the basics about Locksley: he became famous for his rough tenure at New Mexico and has been around the College Park block once already, as a running backs coach in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
But what if you want to know more about him than he failed as a head coach and supposed to be a good recruiter, well, you came to the right place. Below, you'll fine copious write-up of everything about Locksley, from his recruiting ability to his coaching acumen and offensive philosophy to, yes, his very public failings at New Mexico.
(And for the record, I tried to keep this relatively opinion-free. Most know my viewpoint on this already, but I'm working on another piece that explains that more in full.)
With that out of the way: read on.
Here's where a good measure (almost all, in fact) of the doubt comes from, and not without reason. Locksley's background as an offensive coordinator is mixed at best, and of course there are his personality concerns.
He did do a good job at Maryland as a running backs coach, and Lamont Jordan credited Locksley for his development. But he'll likely handle the quarterbacks in College Park, not the running backs, and what most people are concerned about is really his play-calling prowess.
He got his first shot as an offensive coordinator at Illinois, after impressing Ron Zook as a running backs coach at Florida. He was certainly a recruiting-motivated hire - and we'll get to that in a bit - and his first few years showed that, though he did improve drastically each year.
Before we get to the numbers, though, let's clear something up. There are a lot of questions surrounding the type of offense that Locksley will run in College Park. And my answer: well, I'm not really sure.
I've described Locksley as being more pro-style than Gary Crowton, which is true but misleading: while Locksley lacks Crowton's spread pedigree, he's been a spread adherent himself for the past several years. It started when he adopted a spread-option not dissimilar to what Crowton installed in College Park over the last season - in fact, one later variant of Locksley's O was said to be similar in some respects to Oregon's scheme, which of course was Crowton's brainchild.
However, Locksley consistently said that the scheme wasn't actually his: Zook (a former defensive coordinator, weirdly) wanted to go with that style, and so Locksley did. He called plays and handled player development, but to say he's married to it schematically really isn't true. He did take it with him to New Mexico, but I get the feeling that was more of a "that's what I'm most familiar with" decision instead of a "this is the only offense I'm going to run" decision.
He also claims heritage from Ralph Friedgen's pro-style, which he was in fact a part of, and I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see Randy Edsall want revert back to his UConn days of a run-based pro-style, with Locksley accommodating. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Edsall say "The base is here for a spread-option, so go ahead and stick with what you've done before."
In other words, there's still a question mark, at least for me, over the type of offense Locksley will run. If I had to guess I'd say it's a toned-down version of the spread, but we'll have to wait and see.
Regardless of what scheme he ends up running, the other big concern is always going to be how good of a coordinator he really is. Luckily, you can sort-of quantify that. Here's how he did in his four years at Illinois in the big four offensive stats (national ranking):
|Scoring Offense||Total Offense||Rushing Offense||Passing Offense|
And, in case you're more of a visual type, in chart format (higher = better):
So things started off really rough, but scoring and total offense improved rather dramatically each of his four years in Champaign. He took advantage of a killer ground game when it was available to him - he had Pierre Thomas and Rashard Mendenhall his first two years at Illinois - and made good use of mobile quarterback Juice Williams to help along the ground game in the first three years.
The passing game will likely scare people, and it scares me a bit, but remember that he wasn't working with a lot at quarterback. Williams was notoriously erratic until Locksley helped him to mature in his junior year, where he made huge strides and helped lead a very solid, balanced attack.
I have a few theories about the poor start but subsequent improvement. There's the possibility that he simply wasn't ready to be an offensive coordinator - it was his first time calling plays - and needed those two years to get up to speed, after which he was fine. Then there's the possibility that it wasn't until 2007 that the high-level talent he and Ron Zook recruited - like Arrelious Benn and Juice Williams, among others - weren't in the program or ready to go.
The third possibility is also the least attractive: maybe he's just not a very good offensive coordinator and/or takes forever to install a scheme? If that's the case, Maryland probably shouldn't be expecting an immediate uptick in offensive production right away, although moderate improvement may be possible based solely on individual progress from the quarterbacks and receivers.
Of course, then there's the awful, awful performance he had at New Mexico, where he handled the offensive schemes - a sign of hubris, perhaps. His offenses were among the worst in the country each of his two (and then some) seasons: 113rd in scoring offense in 2009, then 116th, and then 120th - yes, dead last - in 2011, though he only coached four of those games.
Oh, and his record at UNM was a cringe-worthy 2-26.
It's not an uncommon reaction to be scared by that. You should be. But, in fairness, you should also remember that even some of the best offensive coordinators struggle when asked to call plays and be a head coach, as we saw first-hand with Ralph Friedgen here in College Park. Given the disparity in talent, responsibility, and surrounding cast I think his time at Illinois will probably be a better indication of his playcalling ability. It's still a little unsettling, for sure.
I'm saving more of my opinion for a different piece - this is more facts - but my initial interpretation is that Locksley isn't a great coordinator, certainly not in the Xs and Os sense of it, but he's almost certainly good enough. He'll have a decent surrounding cast (guys like Hull and Brattan have successful resumés) and will be in a situation sort of similar to Illinois. And it wasn't just a case of him living off superior talent - aside from that being an absurd thought anyway, his best year came after he lost his best player, Rashard Mendenhall, to the NFL Draft. That's promising.
Thing is, it's a little disingenuous to say he's an Xs and Os guy at all. Remember, he said at Illinois that he didn't even come up with the scheme and seemed significantly more focused on development and recruiting than he was in out-smarting the other's team defense. When he had more talent than most other teams, like he did at Illinois in 2008, it seems to have worked. When he didn't, it ended up being a little problematic.
But for many, his coaching ability will always be second to his personality. He had a pattern of ... erratic, let's say, behavior in his time at New Mexico. Things started off when he was accused of sexual harassment, an issue that was resolved with the claim being withdrawn.
So yeah, there's some concerns, first on Locksley's ability to coexist with the staff and secondly on Locksley's ability to stay out of trouble.
On the first mark, it's questionable. He certainly doesn't seem like what we've come to know as an Edsall hire, but perhaps Rockin' Randy believed he needed to adapt after suffering through a 2-10 season. That wouldn't surprise me, in all honesty. I don't know enough about Locksley to know if the personalities will butt heads, but it'll either work out or be really interesting to watch.
I'm a slightly more confident on the second mark. Locksley had no problems before New Mexico, so this type of behavior isn't a career-long thing. Perhaps the pressure of running his own program got to him. He'll be in a much more controlled environment at Maryland, and most of all will know that this might be his last shot at this type of job should he mess up. I wouldn't expect big issues off the field (though I've been wrong before).
Make no mistake, it's a puzzling choice given that Mike Leach was supposedly considered too far out just a year ago. Locksley has baggage, without a doubt. And that much alone, even I think he should probably be able to keep things under control, makes him a questionable hire.
But now, onto why this hire was really made:
Simply, Locksley is the best D.C. recruiter in the game. He's Dalonte Hill. (Probably better than Dalonte, which I might get into in a later post.) He's the type of guy who makes Maryland an instant player for every highly-regarded local still on the board, and probably some that aren't, too.
Let's start at the beginning: remember the whole "Friedgen won with Vanderlinden's players" meme that started to circulate in the mid-2000s? Well, it would've been more accurate to say "Friedgen won with Mike Locksley's players." It was Locks - a running back and recruiting coordinator at Maryland from 1997 to 2003 - who landed the majority of the base of that 2001 Orange Bowl team, for instance. (And Lamont Jordan, which is a different point.) He was also the point man on the recruitment of Shawne Merriman and Vernon Davis, two of the most purely-talented players to come through Maryland in the past decade.
He left for Florida in 2003, where he landed five-star, top-10 defensive end Derrick Harvey, a native of Greenbelt. And lest you say "Oh, it's so easy to recruit to Florida": Harvey was the Gators' only five-star that year. It is easy to recruit to Florida, but it was a lot tougher with Ron Zook in 2004 instead of Urban Meyer in 2009.
He left for Illinois with Zook in 2005, but his recruiting successes didn't stop; in fact, they took off. His most publicized conquests were Arrelious Benn and Reggie Ellis in back-to-back years; Benn a five-star wide receiver, Ellis a four-star defensive end, both arguably the best player to come out of DC in their respective classes. Both chose to go to Illinois over a host of high-profile programs, including Florida State, Notre Dame, Miami, Michigan, Penn State, and, yes, Maryland.
Added to those two is a litany of high-profile recruits on which he was the point man: Juice Williams (a top-100 QB from Chicago) and DC locals Vontae Davis (yes, Vernon's brother and a future first-round draft pick), Travon Bellamy, and Nate Bussey, among others.
After that he packed up and headed for New Mexico, followed by many of the recruits who followed him to Champaign. His recruiting successes were more mild there, but for obvious reasons: it's one thing to convince a DC kid to go to a Big Ten school within a 90 minute drive of Chicago; it's another to convince them to go to an MWC school in New Mexico.
So the well of high-profile commitments dried up a bit, as should've been expected, but he kept pulling D.C. kids out to Albuquerque with some measure of consistency: guys like Derrell Person and Emmanuel Yeager picked UNM over other bigger and better offers, and many like Larry Mazyck and Javarie Johnson ended up transferring out there. Just as impressive was his ability to keep UNM on recruits' list - he got an official visit from Cyrus Kouandjio, and ended up on Wes Brown's final five, too.
What makes him so effective? For one, he's a D.C. lifer. He went to Ballou HS, then played football at Towson (Baltimore, but still local). For another, like many effective recruiters, he's just plain personable. He relates well to people, knows everybody, and is liked by most. Make no mistake, hiring one of D.C.'s own will pay dividends in recruiting.
And, if Jamie Newberg is to be believed, they could fairly immediate and far-reaching.
A similar effect is likely with Wes Brown, who is listing Maryland in his top five, and possible with D.C.-area natives like Stefon Diggs and Ronald Darby. It might also help the Terrapins with guys like Albert Reid and Tennessee commitment Kenny Crawley. Of course, you don't want to get too greedy: Goldman is the nation's top lineman and #2 overall player on Rivals.
I'll again keep quiet on my opinion for now, but it's inarguable that Locksley is an elite recruiter, probably as good as it gets for the D.C. area, and will drastically improve Maryland's current and future classes.
So, sound off. Are you happy that Edsall was willing to change? Psyched about the potential the recruiting future holds? Uneasy about Locksley's past? Go.