Maryland Goes Big Time: Hiring Our First Football Coach

In 1902, Maryland Agricultural College did something it had failed to do in ten years of playing collegiate football: it hired a coach.  Up until then, teams were coached and managed exclusively by the students, with entirely mixed results.  D. John Markey (pictured below) was a Frederick, Maryland businessman who had played football at Western Maryland College and was recruited to coach for the princely sum of $300 (approximately $8,000 today).  Once he accepted, Markey brought about changes that had an immediate impact, if not entirely on the scoreboard.

According to several published sources, Markey brought an emphasis on physical fitness and fundamentals that had been lacking in previous years.  According to Kings of American Football, a 1952 history of the Maryland football program, Markey “installed the first tackling dummy every seen there, and insisted his squad learn the fundamentals of tackling and blocking.”  Newspapers during the season remarked on the team’s improvement from previous years, and the student yearbook remarked on the improved student interest in the team, as well as its “first-class” management.

The 1903 M.A.C. football squad.  Coach Markey is at the far left in the black coat.
The 1903 M.A.C. football squad. Coach Markey is at the far left in the black coat and hat.

In addition to his coaching improvements, Kings also mentions a “policy” regarding Coach Markey that “would look queer today.”  It was decided at some point that Coach Markey would be allowed to play against teams in games that took place outside of Maryland, and numerous newspaper accounts confirm that he played against Georgetown in the season opener in Washington, D.C., which M.A.C. lost 27-0.  Kings author Morris A. Bealle contends that this began due to threats by Georgetown fans against a M.A.C. player, and continued through a game at Delaware late in the season.  Whatever the reason, Bealle states that M.A.C. covered themselves by having Coach Markey take “special courses” at the college.  This kind of arrangement was not unique to M.A.C.; in fact, Delaware did not protest Markey’s involvement.  In the pre-NCAA era many such events occurred that would look very curious, if not be completely forbidden, in today’s game.  For example, Markey refereed several of his team’s games, including a violent clash with the Olympia Athletic Club that resulted in multiple ejections and a forfeit win for M.A.C.

Markey stayed for two more seasons, leaving after 1904.  In addition to his place in football lore, the Markey name became another with a long relationship to Maryland.  In 2006, Markey’s grandson Neil received his undergraduate degree from Maryland, and after two tours in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army Rangers founded, a metal-working business he runs with brother Luke.  In 2014, the brothers were granted a license by Maryland to make a beautiful piece that Terp fans could buy and display on their walls:

Fear The Turtle, style.
Fear The Turtle, style.

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