Posted: 9:00 a.m. Friday, Aug. 9, 2013
By Pete Volk
The last time Maryland football had a winning season was 2010. It was also the last time Maryland did not replace both of their coordinators. This year, with Mike Locksley and Brian Stewart's systems entering a second year in College Park, the Terps look to get back to a bowl game.
In 2010, it was offensive coordinator James Franklin and defensive coordinator Don Brown. Franklin left for a head coaching job at Vanderbilt, and Brown surprised most everyone by leaving for the same position at Connecticut, the old school of Maryland's (at the time) new head coaching hire, Randy Edsall. Brought in to replace the two of them were former BYU head coach and LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton and former Southern Mississippi defensive coordinator Todd Bradford. The two of them had terrible first years, and were gone after one year - Crowton to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Canada, and Bradford off the face of the planet.
In 2012, Edsall hired former Maryland running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Mike Locksley, fresh off a failed stint as the New Mexico head coach, to be the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. On the defensive end of things, Brian Stewart, the former defensive coordinator of the Cowboys and the University of Houston, was brought in to install his 3-4.
Last year did not exactly go to plan for the Terrapins - while Stewart's defense was one of the best in the country, Locksley's offense suffered an historic amount of injuries at the quarterback position and ended up fizzling out with an unprepared true freshman linebacker behind center. But this year, both coordinators are back. Locksley may have summed it up best at Media Day, saying this allows the focus to change from "what to do" to "how to do it".
"Our players are very familiar with the expectation now," he said. "So I think those relationships that you see, not just with the receivers and across the board, there's a trust factor there – player-to-player, coach-to-player, and I think you'll see a more tight knit team than you've seen the last couple of years because of the consistency that we've had."
Senior guard De'Onte Arnett, who was recruited by Franklin in his first year as a Terrapin coordinator, said the consistency in coaching allows for additional chemistry on the field.
"No matter where we have to play, everybody's used to being next to the guy to the left and the right of them," he said. "I think that's really important, to be comfortable with the guys you're playing with, because at the end of the day you may see something that the guy next to you doesn't see and you have to be able to trust them and they trust you to feed off of one another in the heat of battle, in the heat of the game, in the heat of the moment, you have to be able to communicate and just feel comfortable with the guy next to you."
Redshirt sophomore Evan Mulrooney, who played in Crowton's system as well as Locksley's, says the consistency has changed how the players communicate with each other off the field as well.
"it's something we can talk about now," he said. "Last season was like 'Oh, what's this play called again?' and stuff like that but now it's 'We're running 31, let's do this, this and this' and it's really nice. It's just comfortable, it's a real pleasure, a luxury."
It's not just the coordinators, either. Every single position coach is back for the Terrapins, one of the multitude of reasons they're a popular sleeper pick in the conference. Zero staff turnover leads to consistency, comfortability, and an increase in detail-oriented coaching.
Offensive line coach Tom Brattan is in his 13th year as a Terrapin coach - by far the longest of any staff member. Brought in with Ralph Friedgen in 2001, he has seen five different offensive coordinators with the Terps (including Friedgen himself for two years), and knows the smaller things can be forgotten when changing systems every year.
"They're little tweaks," he said. "'You're running off-tackle'. Well, it is off-tackle, and there's this and there's that, there's 'we're doing this, it's a no-huddle set' 'this is how we fall'. Those are little things that people take for granted, and hopefully some of that stuff is second nature for us."'
Second-longest in tenure is wide receivers coach Lee Hull, who was brought in to the program in 2008 (Franklin's first year as a coordinator). Hull said that one of the main benefits of the returning system is to the coaches, who can now coach technique instead of going over plays.
"I don't have to be coaching scheme, I can really get into the details," he said. "The fundamentals of how to run a route, how to block, how to catch, and not worry about 'do they know their assignments?' - so it's more about fine-tuning the offense now."
That offense needs some fine-tuning - ranking dead last in yardage among eligible FBS teams last season. But if past seasons show any indication, and if the team remains healthy, Maryland is set for what could be a surprising year.