CHICAGO (AP) – When Mike Locksley was hired as Maryland's head coach in December – the first black head coach in programming history – he knew the timing was perfect.
Locksley, a resident of Washington D.C., was Maryland offensive coordinator and then interim coach for the second half of the 2015 season after the school fired Randy Edsall.
While searching for Edsall's replacement, Maryland passed on Locksley and hired DJ Durkin to become the new leader of the program.
Three years later, Maryland needed another head coach and Locksley, who became one of the best assistants in the country under Nick Saban in Alabama, said yes.
"This is a dream come true for my family and I am coming home and coaching the university where I grew up as a child," said Locksley on Thursday during Big Ten football media days.
Locksley replaced Durkin, who fired the university under pressure from the public. Durkin had been on administrative leave for the first eight games of the 2018 season, while a college committee investigated the culture of his program after the death of 19-year-old attacker Jordan McNair after an off-season training.
Those researchers found that the Durkin program had a culture "where problems threatened to fail because too many players feared speaking out." The school recovered Durkin briefly but eventually dismissed the controversial coach.
When Locksley arrived in College Park, he soon realized that the football program needed him to be much more than just the head coach.
"It shows how timing everything is," he said. "My acquaintance with Jordan, with Marty and Tonya, the mom and dad, there was a relationship."
Locksley has recruited McNair. He knew him. He knew his parents. He was familiar with the McNair family. But more than that, he was familiar with losing a son.
Locksley's son, Meiko, was shot dead on September 3, 2017 in Columbia, Maryland, about nine months before McNair's death. Meiko was 25. The murder remains unsolved.
"Because of my relationship with Marty prior to passing Jordan, I was able to guide Marty through it," Locksley said. "When I heard the news, I called Marty. The circle of life is not meant for parents to bury their child. It's a kind of itch that you can't scratch. So when I spoke to Marty, I talked to him about it "It's hard for people who don't know. If they say, & # 39; Hey, I feel your pain. & # 39; You really don't. I think that's the bond and organic relationship between Marty and me, as well as Tonya, has really cemented.
"I think that made the transition easier. It allowed me to have empathy for our team because they lost a brother. My children have had to lose a brother, so I had a unique perspective on what to do to heal while you try to help the program progress in the right way. "
Locksley & # 39; s first priority as head coach was to spend meaningful time with his players. Not to get to know them. He had already done that. Locksley recruited most of the sophomore students, juniors and seniors. Many of them participated in Maryland because of him. He wanted to build a real family culture instead. Locksley has & # 39; Sunday Fundays & # 39; installed, where players come to his house and just relax, enjoy life and be a child.
"Just having fun, just chilling out, swimming in the pool, playing basketball, enjoying a delicious barbecue. It's a great family atmosphere," said senior defender Tino Ellis of Sunday afternoons at the Locksley house.
And then Locksley wanted his players to start building and displaying the championship-level habits he had seen in Alabama.
"We want to honor Jordan in how we compete, practice and prepare," he said. "Our players have embraced it. Our hearts still go out to Marty and Tonya, but we are definitely trying to advance the program and do it the right way.
"The most important thing for me is that we play with the habits and behavior to be the best version of Maryland we can be and the results usually take care of themselves."
Anthony McFarland Jr. the Maryland freshman rush record broke with 1,034 yards last season as a freshman with a red shirt. McFarland said everyone in the Maryland district of Columbia-Virginia knows Locksley. He called the 49-year-old head coach a & # 39; godfather of DMV & # 39 ;.
"I don't try to show up last year, but it's different if you have a coach and you feel like you're just going out to play," he said. "You don't play for something or you don't play for him. But this year coach Locks has experienced everything. He lost his son, had endured many setbacks. I want to play for that man. It's a different feeling when you want to play for someone "
The marsh turtles, who finished 5-7 (3-6 in the Big Ten) last year, open the season on August 31 at home against backyard foe Howard University. Senior defender Antoine Brooks Jr., who led the team with 9.5 tackles for loss a year ago, said a different feeling this year with Locksley taking the lead.
"I can't wait to run out with him as my head coach," Brooks said. & # 39; If he runs away from there, I know he will feel it. I hope he leaves a tear frankly. I hope he leaves a tear. Just one. I don't need three. I only need one tear. I just want you to shoot one, coach. I can't wait to get out of the tunnel together. "