Among the many things often said regarding the problems Black coaches face trying to get jobs at big white schools is the only one shot syndrome. Simply put, if a Black coach doesn’t become an immediate success at his first job, he’ll never get another chance at being a head coach. While there are certainly examples where this didn’t prove the case, it has happened enough times to make many people suspicious regarding whether there are double standards in place regarding Black coaches.
That’s why last week’s news about the hiring of Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley as Maryland’s new head football coach was hailed in so many places. It was the second bit of great fortune that week for Locksley, who earlier was notified he’d won the Broyles Award, an honor given to the man voted the nation’s top assistant coach.
Locksley coached at Maryland before, and returns to a school that’s endured a year of controversy. Last June offensive lineman Jordan McNair died of heatstroke suffered during an offseason workout. Ugly allegations followed of bullying and intimidation incidents involving former head coach DJ Durkin and his assistants. After a two month leave, during which there was an investigation, Durkin was temporarily reinstated to widespread disbelief, followed by intense criticism.
It only took one day for University president Wallace Loh to reverse that decision and can Durkin. Now enter Locksley, who previously helped assemble the Maryland roster that won 31 games between 2001 and 2003. He also served as Florida’s recruiting coordinator in 2003-04 and Illinois’ offensive coordinator from 2005-2008. He spent the last three years at Alabama, where he was co-offensive coordinator two years ago and sole offensive coordinator this past season, when the Tide steamrolled through the SEC regular season.
“I am thrilled to be returning home and to have the opportunity to lead the Maryland football program,” Locksley said in a statement. “This has always been a special place for me and my family, and I am honored to take on this role at the state’s flagship institution. Our goal is to create an atmosphere and environment focused on the total development of our student-athletes.”
Two things stand out about this decision. First, unless you knew who he was, you would not know Locksley was Black. There was no mention of it anywhere in the announcement. It was just the school hiring a former coach who was returning. Second and most important, Locksley had previously had a turbulent stretch as head coach at New Mexico. He coached there from 2009-2011, and had a dismal 2-26 mark. He also went 1-5 as interim coach at Maryland in the final six games of 2015, taking over from fired Randy Edsall after Edsall lost five of his first six games.
That Locksley is getting another chance is gratifying. It shows that Black coaches can rebuild and retool their reputation if given the second and third chances routinely given white ones. Locksley also was hired despite allegations at New Mexico during his time there of sexual harassment by an administrative assistant, a claim that was later resolved.
The bottom line is all coaches and/or managers in any team sport know their tenure is results-based. Coaches who win keep their jobs and those who don’t lose them. But too often Black coaches have only gotten jobs with limited resources and little chance for even short-term, let alone long term success.Then when they get fired, they rarely get additional head coaching opportunities..
Mike Locksley has beaten those odds. Now we’ll see if he can build a program and make Maryland a factor in the Big 10.