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Terps: Arrival Caused Departure

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

Dave Glenn and Staff, ACC Sports Journal
March 24, 2003 COLLEGE PARK — It wasn't surprising that other college football programs would pursue Maryland assistant coach Mike Locksley. After all, Locksley's reputation as a recruiting coordinator had been enhanced greatly by the Terrapins' recent success. It also wasn't surprising that Locksley might be interested in changing jobs. After all, the Washington, D.C., native had been at Maryland for seven seasons in the same position and, like most in the business, was looking to climb the ladder.

Yet those factors alone did not explain why Locksley abruptly left Maryland in favor of Florida in late February. In fact, the catalyst for his departure was the hiring of former Georgia Tech offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien one week before.

According to sources, Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen lured O'Brien away from Tech in part by promising his protÈgÈ that he would have the inside track to become the next offensive coordinator in College Park. Locksley, retained by Friedgen from Ron Vanderlinden's staff after the 2000 season, had his eyes on the same position and had told other staff members as much.

It's no secret that current offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe, who will turn 53 in April, is seeking to become a collegiate head coach again. Taaffe, who directed The Citadel before moving on to the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, interviewed with Georgia Tech last season and with Wyoming this year. He withdrew from consideration for the Cowboys job, even turning down an offer according to some reports. He's still hoping a top job will become available in one of the BCS conferences, but he realizes his window of opportunity is closing quickly.

Friedgen has to figure he won't be able to retain Taaffe for another year if Maryland enjoys continued success in 2003. That Friedgen went out of his way to bring O'Brien into the fold — prior to Locksley's departure, it appeared that O'Brien, a 33-year-old offensive whiz, would have to spend a season as a defensive assistant — wasn't good news for any assistant who considered himself a strong candidate for the position. O'Brien will coach running backs for the Terps this year.

“I just feel very fortunate that we were able to hire an outstanding football coach,” Friedgen said in announcing the addition of O'Brien. “Anybody who has risen — at such an early age — to the position of offensive coordinator and assistant head coach, truly recognizes what it takes to be a successful football coach. That we were able to get him to come to Maryland as a position coach really says a lot for our program, and I know we will benefit from his presence on our staff.”

Soon after the hiring of O'Brien, Locksley told friends and colleagues he considered the developments a professional slap in the face. The 33-year-old obviously felt he'd proven his coaching ability by doing a top-notch job as the team's backfield coach, overseeing a stable of outstanding tailbacks and fullbacks.

Locksley developed LaMont Jordan into the school's all-time leading rusher and transformed Bruce Perry and Chris Downs from backups to All-ACC performers. He produced a pair of standout fullbacks in Matt Kalapinski and James Lynch. He had communicated to Friedgen his goal of becoming an offensive coordinator, but he failed to see any signs that it would become a reality with the Terps.

Fair or not, Locksley saw the arrival and probable elevation of O'Brien as an example of good-ol'-boy networking at its worst. Friedgen probably would have been wise to make O'Brien prove himself on the field and the recruiting trail before letting it slip that he likely would assume one of the highest-paid positions on the staff.

So when Florida contacted Locksley about its recruiting coordinator position, the disgruntled assistant was willing to listen. He will replace Tyke Tolbert, who took a job with the Arizona Cardinals. Certainly, Florida's position among the elite of college football was attractive. Yet it was the possibility for advancement, either with the Gators or elsewhere, that was most appealing to Locksley.

“I had to look at where I wanted to be five years from now. My goals are to become an offensive coordinator and then ultimately a head coach,” Locksley told the Terrapin Times. “I just felt this was a move I had to make in order to reach my goals.”

Losing Locksley could deal a significant blow to Maryland's recruiting efforts. He personally had rebuilt relationships with high school coaches in the Maryland-D.C. area and was largely responsible for the program's dramatic improvement in regard to landing local prospects. While the Terps have improved just about every aspect of the program under Friedgen, including recruiting, that remains one area that needs further improvement if the team is going to become a consistent power.

Friedgen quickly offered the recruiting coordinator position to wide receivers coach James Franklin, who (temporarily) was the only African-American assistant on staff after the termination (for his role in the Victor Abiamiri scandal) of inside linebackers coach Rod Sharpless and the departure of Locksley. Franklin and Locksley, the youngest coaches at Maryland last year by a full decade, were the only two assistants retained by Friedgen from the Vanderlinden regime.

Franklin, 31, has successfully recruited three of the Terps' high-priority areas during his three seasons in the program — Maryland, Pennsylvania and South Florida — but has never been a recruiting coordinator. Prior to his tenure in College Park, Franklin's coaching career included five consecutive one-year stops, at Kutztown, East Stroudsburg (where he was a star quarterback), James Madison, Washington State and Idaho State.

As expected, Friedgen hired a young African-American assistant to fill the final spot on his 2003 staff, and he leaned on his veteran assistants and some deep pockets to help with his search. Memphis assistant Tim Banks, 31, coached running backs and defensive backs during his three years (1998-2000) at Bowling Green under current Maryland defensive coordinator Gary Blackney. Banks got an enormous raise from his salary with the Tigers, who play in Conference USA, when he joined the Terps.

“I think (Banks) is maturing as a coach now, and somebody recognized that,” Memphis coach Tommy West said. “Any time one of my guys can almost double his salary, it's hard for me to argue with him going.”

A Michigan native and 1994 graduate of Central Michigan, Banks also previously coached at Ferris State (1995-97) in Michigan, where he handled defensive backs and some aspects of special teams. After directing the outside linebackers and cornerbacks during his two seasons at Memphis, he will coach inside linebackers for the Terps.