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Maryland football’s coaching search has produced 2 clear frontrunners

As the Terps begin to interview candidates, it seems like some familiar names are rising above the rest.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship Game-Alabama vs Georgia Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With the season over, Maryland football’s coaching search is officially its No. 1 priority.

Matt Canada, who guided the Terps to a 5-7 record as interim head coach, interviewed for the permanent job Tuesday, as reported by The Washington Post. But the widely reported leading candidate is Alabama offensive coordinator and two-time Maryland assistant Mike Locksley. He’s expected to interview for the position shortly after the Crimson Tide play Georgia in the SEC championship game Saturday (which could mean the interview takes place as early as Sunday).

Interviews for the position have been conducted by Atlanta-based Parker Executive Search, the firm contracted by Maryland for this process. The Post reported that athletic director Damon Evans was present for Canada’s interview and will be present for any others.

Maryland’s unique situation has allowed two candidates to stand out.

Coaching searches can lead programs in plenty of different directions. Young and old candidates, offensive-minded and defensive-minded coaches, recruiters and tactitions all come with their own merits. Connections to a school or geographic region always help, and in the case of Maryland—which put its dysfunctional athletic department in public view over the last several months—those connections will be especially valuable in the first step of the process, which is to gain the trust of as many key parties as possible in short order.

Locksley already has that trust. He was involved in the recruitment of several current Maryland players, although most of those who actually played for him were seniors in 2018. He’s got positive relationships with high-level boosters, and his DMV recruiting history speaks for itself. Canada has built support from players, parents and other stakeholders throughout the season, as he took the interim job amid chaos and kept the squad of over 100 players together.

Neither of these two are perfect candidates, of course. Canada has never been a head coach before, and Locksley’s only permanent head coaching stint was a full-blown mess. There’s also a reasonable argument that the best solution to Maryland’s well-documented internal turmoil would be to bring in a complete outsider (Ryan supported this notion earlier this month). But for now, it seems like Maryland is prioritizing familiarity with the rebuilding program.

Other names are floating around, but none have seriously entered the conversation.

Some coaches who have been publicly linked to the position...

  • Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was first linked to Maryland by The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman in August, and his name has been thrown around more than any non-Canada, non-Locksley candidate since Durkin’s firing. He’s a former Wisconsin defensive back who has been an assistant at Ohio State, Alabama and the Jacksonville Jaguars (he served as their interim coach in 2011). Tucker’s recruiting credentials are also strong, although his focus hasn’t been DMV-centric. As is the case with Locksley, Maryland won’t be able to interview Tucker until after Saturday’s SEC title game, and it’s unclear how much contact the two sides have had so far.
  • Troy coach Neal Brown is at the top of most “Group of 5 coaches on their way to high-major jobs” lists. The Trojans are 30-8 in his last three seasons, and the 38-year-old was named Sun Belt Coach of the Year in 2017. He’s the kind of name that gets thrown out there for every Power 5 opening, but with relatively few of those open, Maryland has a more realistic shot with him than it usually might.
  • Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell went 10-2 in his second season with the Bearcats. He was previously an Ohio State assistant who served as interim head coach in 2011 after Jim Tressel resigned and stayed at his alma mater for five more years under Urban Meyer. His Ohio recruiting connections could prove especially strong if coupled with assistants specializing in DMV prospects.
  • Charlie Strong was Texas’ coach from 2014-16, but went 16-21 and was fired before he could play a home-and-home against Marylandy a home-. He moved on to South Florida and has gone 17-7 in two seasons. This year, though, the Bulls lost their last five games after starting 7-0. Strong’s head coaching resume also includes a 37-15 stint at Louisville, but this would be his fourth job in the last six seasons, and he certainly isn’t the marquee hire he was for Texas five years ago.
  • Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason was mentioned by The Post, but more rumors seem to connect him with the Colorado job (he’s from the West Coast and is a former Stanford assistant). Mason is just 24-37 in five seasons at Vanderbilt, but will appear in his second bowl game in three years.
  • Baylor coach Matt Rhule inherited a program in a similar version of fallout and uncertainty when he was hired in the the 2016-17 offseason, and after a 1-11 debut campaign, the Bears bounced back to 6-6 this year. Rhule has reportedly expressed interest in the Maryland job, but his reported $3.5 million salary (hard to confirm with Baylor being a private school; other sources have it much lower) makes him an incredibly unlikely hire.
  • Geoff Collins succeeded Rhule at Temple, and his Owls dismantled Maryland 35-14 in College Park this year. He’s 15-10 in two years thus far, and has been one of the nation’s best defensive coaches for a while, but it’s unclear how appealing his short head coaching resume is right now.
  • Michigan offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton swirled in some rumors during Maryland’s last search. He’s bounced around quite a bit, working for five NFL teams as well as Stanford and Michigan all since 2003, but he’s never been a head coach.

While Tucker seems like the most likely of this group to firmly enter the mix, there’s still at least some time for the process to play out. It’s in Maryland’s best interests to hire a coach within the next week, which gives that coach as much time as possible to improve the nation’s No. 85 recruiting class before the early signing period starting Dec. 19. At the moment, all signs point to someone Terps fans already know.