Durkin out to make mark as first sea­son opens

Coach ex­udes en­thu­si­asm, in­ten­sity, cares for play­ers

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Don Markus

COL­LEGE PARK — Twice in 15 years as an as­sis­tant coach, DJ Durkin watched close-up as a first-time head coach tried putting his stamp on a pro­gram.

Durkin was fresh out of Bowl­ing Green when Ur­ban Meyer was hired in 2001 to turn around a 2-9 Fal­cons team that the 23-year-old grad­u­ate as­sis­tant had just cap­tained. Meyer, 37 at the time, went 8-3 the first sea­son and 9-3 the sec­ond year be­fore leav­ing for Utah.

A decade later, Durkin was on Meyer’s staff at Florida when Meyer de­cided to take a one-year hia­tus be­fore mov­ing on to Ohio State. Florida’s new coach, 39-year-old Will Muschamp, who had been an up-and-com­ing de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor at Texas, kept Durkin. Af­ter four sea­sons and a 28-21 record, Muschamp re­signed.

When Durkin makes his de­but as Mary­land’s head coach to­day against Howard, the mem­o­ries of what he saw in wit­ness­ing the rise of Meyer and the fall of Muschamp will have been wiped clean. Durkin, 38, will be draw­ing up a new play — his own.

As much as he has taken from all the coaches he has played for and worked un­der — from his high school days in Youngstown, Ohio, to his col­lege years at Bowl­ing Green to his pro­fes­sional coach­ing ca­reer that landed him with Meyer and later with Jim Har­baugh at Stan­ford and Michi­gan — Durkin is chart­ing his own course.

Durkin doesn’t want to be com­pared to Sea­son opener To­day, noon TV: Big Ten Net­work Ra­dio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM IN­SIDE: Game pre­views for D-I state teams

Meyer, Har­baugh or even Muschamp, who is get­ting a sec­ond chance as a head coach at South Carolina.

“I think you are who you are. I think guys that take that step and try to be some­one they’re not and change their per­son­al­ity, those are the ones you see lead to fail­ure,” Durkin said this week. “At the end of the day, you’re go­ing to come back to who you are, what you be­lieve in, what your per­son­al­ity is and just be true to that.

“There’s def­i­nitely more than one way to be suc­cess­ful. That’s been proven. There’ve been so many dif­fer­ent types of per­son­al­i­ties and dif­fer­ent types of head coaches that have been suc­cess­ful. The bot­tom line is, be your­self. Your play­ers, your coach­ing staff, they’ll em­brace that, and they’ll un­der­stand it’s real. Peo­ple re­spond to gen­uine­ness. I be­lieve that in gen­eral, in life.”

Since Durkin was hired away from Michi­gan, where he had turned the Wolver­ines de­fense into one of the best in the na­tion in his only year in Ann Ar­bor, his play­ers have ap­peared to re­spond to their new coach’s ap­proach.

It seems to be a com­bi­na­tion of be­ing in their faces while show­ing them that he has their backs. Based on the lack of at­tri­tion — par­tic­u­larly com­pared with the tu­mul­tuous first year of for­mer Terps coach Randy Ed­sall — it also ap­pears that most play­ers be­lieve in Durkin’s meth­ods.

Fifth-year se­nior quar­ter­back Perry Hills, who will start the sea­son opener for the third time in his ca­reer and play for his third head coach af­ter fin­ish­ing last sea­son un­der in­terim coach Mike Lock­sley, said the play­ers took to Durkin from the first day of win­ter meet­ings.

“We knew we needed a cul­ture change and we saw the drive in him, and that’s some­thing we re­ally looked for­ward to,” Hills said. “Wew­eren’t win­ning games and once you see one style to an­other style, you can tell the dif­fer­ence. Coach Durkin has just done an un­be­liev­able job. You can see the pas­sion in him. Ev­ery­thing he does is en­er­getic. Ev­ery­thing. Ev­ery speech he gives us, ev­ery drill he walks us through.”

All-Big Ten Con­fer­ence cor­ner­back and re­turner Will Likely, whom Durkin plans to use in an ex­panded role on of­fense this sea­son, said there is more of a “com­pet­i­tive cul­ture” around the Gos­sett Team House than at any point in his first three sea­sons.

“Ev­ery­thing we do is com­pe­ti­tion,” said Likely, who could start at cor­ner­back and wide re­ceiver. “You’ve got to com­pete. At the end of the day, it’s all about wins and losses. You want to win ev­ery rep, so he’s do­ing a good job of that. It’s a good feel­ing around [here].”

De­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Andy Buh, who was part of the staff with Durkin for three sea­sons un­der Har­baugh at Stan­ford, said Durkin’s hy­per-Type A per­son­al­ity is only part of what has made him suc­cess­ful.

“When I came here, a lot of the sto­ries that I heard were about his en­thu­si­asm, his pas­sion for the game. I see that as prob­a­bly about 30 per­cent of who DJ is,” Buh said. “He’s got a lot of in­tegrity. He’s a peo­ple per­son. He cares about the play­ers, the coaches and ev­ery­body in­volved in the or­ga­ni­za­tion. That’s one of his strengths as a leader. He’s good at or­ga­niz­ing his time and check­ing off ev­ery de­tail.”

Har­baugh said at the Big Ten Foot­ball Me­dia Days in Chicago in July that he hired Durkin, then the lineback­ers and spe­cial teams coach at Bowl­ing Green, in 2007 on the rec­om­men­da­tion of for­mer Ravens de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Greg Mat­ti­son, now the de­fen­sive line coach at Michi­gan.

“At Stan­ford from day one, [I] re­al­ized that he was a fab­u­lous coach,” Har­baugh said. “Greg Mat­ti­son, who I knew well at the time when I was coach­ing at Stan­ford, said to hire DJ, he’ll be the best coach on your staff. And I hate com­par­ing peo­ple, but he was def­i­nitely one of the best. He is some­body that pours his heart and soul into the team be­ing good, and I have the ut­most re­spect for him.”

Durkin will have the chal­lenge of go­ing up against both of his for­mer men­tors ev­ery sea­son in the Big Ten East, which can make a le­git­i­mate claim to be­ing the tough­est divi­sion in the coun­try with Ohio State, Michi­gan and Michi­gan State.

The Terps, 3-9 over­all and 1-7 in the Big Ten last sea­son, have been picked to fin­ish to­ward the bot­tom.

Asked this week what will make his first sea­son a suc­cess, Durkin hedged.

“We have to go through this first year be­fore I can look back on it,” he said. “I know it’s coach-speak, but it truly is how you have to be. We’re try­ing to have the best Tues­day it can pos­si­bly be. We’re go­ing to have a bet­ter day to­day than we did yes­ter­day.

“We’re a young team; we’re cer­tainly learn­ing new schemes and all that other stuff. No one cares about how you got to where you are. I re­ally feel we have a tal­ented enough team to go play and play well this year. Fans and me­dia equate more of the game to wins and losses. We know the game is win­ning. We’re try­ing to win ev­ery game we play.”

Durkin is also try­ing to play down the sig­nif­i­cance of his first game at Mary­land and — with the ex­cep­tion of the one bowl game he won as Florida’s in­terim head coach af­ter Muschamp stepped down — his first game in charge of his own pro­gram.

“I don’t have any great state­ment on that other than as a coach you just kind of get in­volved in your rou­tine,” he said at his Tues­day news con­fer­ence. “To­day’s a Tues­day, and I’ve had a thou­sand Tues­days of game week be­fore and that’s what we’re fo­cused on. I haven’t re­ally thought about it. I’m go­ing to do my best job as a head coach now as op­posed to a co­or­di­na­tor to pre­pare our team in all facets to go play.”


“There’s def­i­nitely more than one way to be suc­cess­ful,” first-year Mary­land coach DJ Durkin says. “The bot­tom line is, be your­self. ... Peo­ple re­spond to gen­uine­ness.”

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