COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- In a crowded Cole Field House swarming with former Maryland football players, band members, cheerleaders and a who's who of university officials and coaches -- easily one of the largest media gatherings for Maryland athletics in recent history -- Mike Locksley looked out from the stage at his introductory news conference and spotted his good friend Marty McNair.
There might not have been anyone in the room whose support for Maryland's new head football coach carries more weight in this state than the father of 19-year-old Jordan McNair, who died on June 13 from heatstroke he suffered during a May 29 Maryland workout.
"We support Mike one thousand percent," Marty McNair said.
Maryland football brought Locksley together with McNair and Tonya Wilson, Jordan's mom, but the unimaginable pain of losing a son has kept them united. Locksley's daughter, Kori, who sat in the front row of her father's news conference on Thursday, graduated from the same high school as Jordan McNair. The two of them signed their national letters of intent at the same time -- Jordan a football scholarship at Maryland, Kori to play soccer at Auburn. Locksley, a native of Washington, D.C., had already started the recruiting process on McNair during his last stint as an assistant coach with the Terps.
Their friendship lasted when Locksley was hired as Alabama's offensive coordinator. They were all blindsided when, at around 10 p.m. on Sept. 3, 2017, in Columbia, Locksley's son Meiko was shot and killed. He was 25.
As much as Maryland's press conference was about moving forward on Thursday, it was also about Locksley's and McNair's intertwined pasts, and a promise to remember them.
"We have a common bond in that, when you lose a child, the circle of life isn't built for parents to bury kids," Locksley said. "I've been a sounding board for Marty, he's been an ear for me. Our relationship has continued to grow, and for him to be here today means the world to me and my family.
"I know what it's like to lose someone you love, having lost my son Meiko here. And just like Marty, Tonya and this Maryland football team, support staff, it's not something that just goes away. It's a day-to-day fight. I'm looking forward to fighting this battle with my team, with Marty and Tonya, with my family and with this football family to continue to honor our loved ones by putting out a great product on the field that these fans and our supporters can be really, really proud of. I want to create the right culture and environment, and winning will follow."
Locksley, 48, just finished his second season as a full-time assistant on Nick Saban's staff at Alabama and his first season as the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator. The Tide head into the College Football Playoff ranked second nationally in scoring offense (47.9 points per game), and they broke school records this season for points scored (623), total offense (6,859 yards), offensive touchdowns (77) and passing yards (4,231).
In spite of Maryland's tumultuous season, which included the decision not to retain former coach DJ Durkin just a day after announcing he would return, two separate investigations into the death of McNair, and the departure of several other staff members, including the head strength and conditioning coach, Locksley called it a dream job numerous times.
"There was nothing that could stop me from wanting to take this job, other than confirming that all of the pieces were in place for this program, this family to be successful," he said. "After meeting with Dr. [Wallace] Loh, meeting with [athletic director] Damon [Evans], meeting with the search committee, I really felt comfortable that everyone was pulling in the right direction, pulling together to see this thing through the tough times."
Evans said he is committed to providing Locksley the resources he needs to be successful, including facilities and staffing. Locksley said he is going to take his time hiring assistants and coordinators, and Evans seemed confident he would pay for them.
"Staffing is key," Evans said. "In taking a look at our salary pool and making sure that we have a competitive salary pool for him to go out and get the assistant coaches that he needs, that's going to be significant and pay dividends. We will do that."
This is Locksley's third stint at Maryland.
He oversaw the running backs there from 1997 to 2002. He then was the Terps' offensive coordinator for four years (2012 to 2015) and was named the team's interim head coach for the last six games of 2015 after Randy Edsall was fired. He went 1-5 as Maryland's interim head coach.
Locksley said that as he was sitting in his hotel room in his Alabama gear, waiting to play Louisville in the season opener, he was watching the Terps beat Texas at FedEx Field.
"I'm not coming into a bare cupboard," he said, "I'm coming into a team that has fight in 'em, that has toughness and the characteristics I feel like we can build on. I can tell you this: My No. 1 priority and focus will be in the health and development and safety as the head of this family. Just like in any family, as the leader of it, every decision I make with these kids will be made as if they are my own child, and that's not anything I take lightly."
Locksley, who was named the Broyles Award winner on Tuesday as the nation's top assistant coach, said he has seen "good, bad and ugly" at Maryland.
"I've had an opportunity to win a conference championship here. I was part of winning 30 games in three years. I have a vision and picture in my mind of what it felt like and what it looked like when we accomplished those goals as a team. I know it can be done again. I know it will take some hard work and some great effort. It will take this community getting behind the program, and the players in this area staying home and developing a sense of pride back in wearing a Terp jersey. I'm a builder by nature. This was a great opportunity and the timing is perfect for me now. "
Locksley's only other head coaching experience was at New Mexico, where he was 1-15 for parts of three seasons (2009 to 2011) as the Lobos' head coach before being fired.
While at New Mexico in 2009, Locksley was served with a one-game suspension for punching one of his assistant coaches. He also was sued for sexual harassment by a former administrative assistant, though he resolved all legal claims in that matter.
"I'm so far removed from that New Mexico experience," Locksley said, noting it was 10 years and two days since he was introduced there. "Who I've become as a coach and who I've become as a person, as everyone else you mature, you grow. I just spent three years saturated in winning under coach Nick Saban and the Alabama football program. It's my goal to basically take the experiences I've had as a coach not just at New Mexico but every stop along the way, take what I've learned from being under Coach Saban and his process, and find a way to create that environment here with our football family."
Evans said he and Locksley "did have an extended conversation" about his tenure at New Mexico, but he was convinced that Locksley has grown since then.
"I alluded to mistakes I've made because I have made mistakes," said Evans, who has his own embattled past at Georgia. "When you make mistakes the most important thing is to learn from those things, and Mike and I did have those conversations. He's learned from his mistakes. I could see that. I think everyone saw that here today. I believe in giving people another opportunity and this is a great opportunity for him and a well-deserved opportunity."
Locksley now has to balance two jobs: preparing No. 1 Alabama for a College Football Playoff semifinal game against No. 4 Oklahoma, and recruiting as the head coach of Maryland. Locksley said he and Saban have agreed to a schedule, and Locksley plans on staying here in Maryland through next Wednesday or Thursday.
Locksley said Alabama will start practice for Oklahoma next Friday.
"This isn't his first rodeo in dealing with a coach having to prepare for a playoff game and working for another institution," Locksley said. "I'll work on Oklahoma during the day and when we practice, and at night I'll go in my office and put my Terp hat on and start recruiting for the Terps and get the Terps ready for our season."