“The standard” is a phrase that often comes from coaches, players and executives across all levels of sports when discussing an expectation of the level of play a team should be at when competing.
At a press conference, Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach and father of Maryland wide receiver Dino Tomlin once infamously said “The standard is the standard,” to which everyone was baffled. What in the world does that mean? Does it even make sense? Tomlin, the king of puzzling catchphrases, had football fans in a frenzy attempting to decipher what exactly he meant.
For many programs and many teams, it’s coach jargon: a meaningless phrase that doesn't result in concrete results either because it doesn't register with the players or it is something the coach uses as a front to look good to the media and fans.
But for head coach Mike Locksley and Maryland football, “The standard,” is something that has meaning, a phrase that has been drilled into every coach and player from top to bottom that has allowed Maryland football to excel through four games en route to its best start since 2016.
Anyone who has spent any time around the Maryland football program has heard about the standard. Whether it’s in media availabilities from Locksley and the players or in Locksley’s postgame locker room speeches, “the standard” has been echoed all across the walls of the Jones-Hill House at Maryland Stadium.
Following last Saturday's 37-16 victory over Kent State, Locksley, and certain players, were displeased with how Maryland performed despite the win.
“I was visibly disappointed that we haven’t played to the standard,” Locksley said following the win.
Running back Tayon Fleet-Davis expressed a similar sentiment after Saturday’s win.
“Of course we want to win,” Fleet-Davis said. “But that’s not what we are looking for, we’re looking to play to our standard.”
This past Tuesday, as Locksley wrapped up his thoughts on the Kent State game and looked ahead to Iowa this Friday, he mentioned “the standard” three times in the first minute of his press conference.
Maryland football’s team account even posted two different hype videos surrounding the term, with one actually captioned “The Standard is The Standard.”
The Standard is The Standard.— Maryland Football (@TerpsFootball) September 29, 2021
It doesn't change. pic.twitter.com/zyS6qxySjd
Set The Standard.— Maryland Football (@TerpsFootball) September 30, 2021
Is it Friday yet? pic.twitter.com/CMM6O1mFvv
Of course, everyone has their own definition of what the word standard means to them. The actual definition is “a level of quality or attainment,” according to Google. But what is the standard for Maryland football that the entire program has seemingly bought into and how has it propelled them to its best start since Locksley took over?
“It’s a philosophy of what it takes and how we want to play offensively, defensively, special teams as a team,” Locksley said.
But the standard set goes beyond the football field and it doesn't ever change.
“To me, the standard is a way of life,” Locksley said.
Maryland football has a multitude of characteristics that define if they are living up to the standard, including not scoreboard watching or riding the ebbs and flows of the game, staying present in the moment and a team that plays together. But more than anything, the standard isn't set on game day.
It’s how a team practices Monday through Friday, or in this week's case Sunday through Thursday, and prepares so everything comes easy on game day. For Maryland, the process is what sets the standard, not the results.
“We don’t even talk a lot about winning around here, we focus more on Monday through Friday, making sure that we have a winning routine,” Locksley said. “And then what happens on game day, we’ll live with those results.”
This philosophical approach instilled in the minds working at the Jones-Hill House at Maryland Stadium isn't a saying only the coaches preach. The players have bought into the mantra and take it upon themselves to live up to the standard day in and day out.
Senior wide receiver Brian Cobbs is a well-respected leader in the Terps locker room and to him, the standard is simple.
“Giving all out effort, whatever that may be across the board in every aspect of the game,” Cobbs said about what the standard is to him. “Even if you’re not the most talented guy and you give all your effort, you can make an impact on the game.”
Whatever the technicalities of the standard mean to each person associated with the program, it is clear everyone is aligned with a common goal to continue to get better each and every day. This has led to a shift in the way Maryland football is perceived, now as a team that has arrived and can compete with anybody.
While they may have not played up to the standard last weekend, even in a win, Maryland will have a huge opportunity to this weekend in its toughest test yet when No. 5 Iowa travels to College Park for a Friday night lights showdown in front of what is sure to be an electric crowd.
While there may be a buzz around College Park about playing a top-five team and potentially securing the best win the team has seen in quite some time, Locksley isn't treating this one like any other game, because when a standard is in place, the opponent doesn't matter, only the standard.
“The intensity level and how we prepare shouldn't change based on our opponent,” Locksley said. “And I think our players understand that philosophy.”