The most important thing, Michael Locksley, said Thursday when he was introduced as a new Maryland football coach, could have sounded like pure speech, exactly the kind of thing you're supposed to say when a press conference where the fanfare announces your arrival. whether you think it or not.
"Like any family, as a leader, every decision I make with these kids will be taken as it's about my own child," Locksley said. "And it's not something I take lightly."
At the center of a large crowd at Cole Field House was the most important person who conveyed this message, a man who knows it is not possible and who does not say it: Martin McNair.
Michael Locksley coaches Maryland because his son, Jordan, Jordan, collapsed in the College Park practice field and died later. The Terrapin program is rooted in this fact in the present and the future. It is unavoidable.
So, even as he pursued what he repeatedly called his "dream job," Locksley did not need the approval of Wallace Loh, chairman of the board. school, nor Damon Evans, the athletic director for whom he now works. No, Locksley needed the approval of Martin McNair and Tonya Wilson, the two people who matter most in what has become a mess.
"The McNairs were among the first people he talked to to make that decision," said Locksley's wife, Kia. "It was important for him to know that they were on board and support him, and to know that Jordan would be honored and not be forgotten."
Michael Locksley will not forget Jordan McNair because Michael Locksley can not forget his own son, Meiko, who died in September 2017, shot dead in Columbia, Maryland at age 25. The case has not been resolved. It affects the locks everyday.
"The circle of life," said Michael Locksley, "is not designed for parents to bury their children."
These two families knew each other when life was normal, because Jordan McNair and Kori Locksley were classmates at McDonogh High in Charles County. Jordan played football. Kori played football. On the same day, they signed their letter of intent – Jordan to play an offensive line at Maryland, Kori to play ahead at Auburn.
"We had a connection," said Kia Locksley. "They had been friends for years."
And then, a year ago, in September, Meiko Locksley was shot. And then, last May, McNair became ill during a training session, suffered heat stroke and died two weeks later.
After all these tragedies and upheavals, Maryland's football program needs someone who understands what the players who will carry out this program have lived through. To this end, Matt Canada, the acting coach who has been a wonderful and skillful guide for the Terps in a 2018 season that resulted in the dismissal of former coach DJ Durkin, was the choice I approved. He knew the children. He understood their pain. He managed a situation that is not his own and was created humbly and nobly.
Locksley had been working in Maryland for 10 years, but he was gone. He knows the recruiting base and the high school coaches here as well as everyone else, but how could he understand the rubble left behind by McNair's death?
It turns out that he has a deep understanding that he would never have desired.
"It's not something that simply disappears," Locksley said. "It's a day-to-day fight."
College Park Thursday about this hiring – with what appeared to be dozens of old Terps rallies, with the community of high school coaches invigorated by the mere presence of Locksley, Locksley clearly describing Maryland no not as a stepping stone but as a destination – there are reasons to proceed with caution. Locksley's only term as head coach was in New Mexico, where he was fired four times in his third season. His record: 2-26. Participate in an altercation with an assistant coach and a DUI-driven arrest involving a minor who was driving a car registered to Locksley's son, and he was not a resume builder.
Please explain, Coach.
"Like everyone else," Locksley said, "you grow up, you grow up."
"We talked about his past," said sports director Damon Evans. "He grew up as an individual. I saw that. He indicated what he had learned. You can see where he was now, eight or ten years ago, where he is now. He had a lot of life lessons – like all of us. "
Including the hardest. Over the past three seasons, Locksley has been Alabama's offensive assistant. In 2017, he was the coordinator who helped orchestrate the game plan that opened the season with a decisive win over Florida State. That night, Locksley spoke to Meiko over the phone. The second of Locksley's four children was struggling with mental health issues. But when they hung up, how could the father know that he had spoken to his son for the last time?
"You can not believe it," said Kia Locksley. At best, you can hope, "You get to the point of being able to talk about it without crying, which I can do now."
So, with respect to the Terrapins football program, it was important for Martin McNair to join the party on Thursday, in a place that is going to hurt him so much. It was important that Tonya Wilson, who could not get to the Locksley introduction, sent her support.
But remove the fanfare, the cheerleaders, the podium and the television cameras. Remove the football coaching post from Michael Locksley. It is important that the Locksleys and the McNairs have teamed up with each other.
"It means so much," said Kia Locksley. "Unfortunately, we are part of this club together. And it's not that it makes you happy to know someone who can understand. But I think it makes it easy for you, you know, to know that you can call someone and say, "I do not have a good day."
What Michael Locksley is doing in Maryland, football has not been determined yet. But these Terrapins, they faced the loss. They need someone who can look after them like men who are not yet adults, who understand them as people and who can understand their situation. They need someone who can stand behind a lectern at a press conference, proclaiming that "every decision I will make with these kids will be taken as if it's something that's going on." of my own child, "and that these words are not forgotten at the whistle to open the first practice.
They need someone who will not escape the memory of Jordan McNair, but who will accept it.
Once her husband finishes answering the questions and the Maryland staff has had her taken along with other coaches and dignitaries for a never-ending suite of photos, Kia Locksley is set to side of the crowd with his family. She grew up in Fort Washington, not far from where her future husband was raised in Southwest DC. She met Locksley the first day of her first year at Towson, and she has helped him realize that coaching dream ever since, at Pacific and Army. Florida and Illinois, Alabama and now, again, back home.
"A rock star," said Michael Locksley.
While her husband was performing his duties, Kia Locksley mingled with her own parents and greeted old friends with a glaring absence. Meiko, of course, never saw the light of day when his father got the only job he said he had always wanted.
"But he's with us every day," said Kia Locksley. "Every day he is with us. He is with us right now.
Just as Jordan McNair is also still with the Maryland football program.