Today, the Terps will face the coach they didn’t hire
UCF’s Frost was rumored as favorite for job Durkin holds
As the rumors swirled early last season about the uncertain future of Maryland football coach Randy Edsall, the name of one possible successor seemed to be mentioned as much as any other. It wasn’t DJ Durkin, then in his first year as defensive coordinator at Michigan.
It was Scott Frost, the third-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Oregon.
Even after Edsall was fired at midseason, Frost was believed to be high on the list of those thought to have a chance of coming to College Park. And Durkin? Despite a 28-0 shutout by the Wolverines at Maryland Stadium, he didn’t even seem to be an afterthought.
As Maryland and Central Florida meet tonight at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando, Durkin is 2-0 as head coach of
the Terps, and Frost is 1-1 as head coach of the Knights.
They are among the 28 new head coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision, more than half of them first-timers on the college level who previously served as coordinators or position coaches on the college level or in the NFL.
ESPN college football analyst Mike Bellotti, who hired Frost on his staff at Oregon after the 2008 season as he was turning the head coaching job over to Chip Kelly, said this week that athletic directors shouldn’t always look at hiring a new coach fans might know or one with previous head-coaching experience.
“I never worried about national profile; I worried about results on the field — can they motivate people and [put together] a coaching staff?” Bellotti said. “The question I would have [is]: If you have a coordinator who’s only been on one side of the ball … can he be the voice of your program?”
Durkin, 38, has never tried to make Maryland fans believe he was more than a coach whose background was in coaching defense and special teams, or that he was going to use the blueprint that worked when he was on Urban Meyer’s staff at Florida and Jim Harbaugh’s at Stanford and Michigan.
“You can’t just take the road map of Program A and apply it to Program B and just say ‘It worked there, it’s going to work here,’ ” Durkin said at Maryland’s Media Day. “It doesn’t work that way. There’s unique and dynamic circumstances to every place, and that’s what we’re figuring out and working through here at Maryland, and what I do know about our place, we do have everything there and do have the capability to make our program a consistent and big winner.”
Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said Durkin’s history in coaching only defense and special teams didn’t concern him then — and doesn’t now.
“All I can say is that we’ve scored 93 points the first two games, we haven’t turned the ball over, we’ve put [quarterback Perry Hills] in a good position,” Anderson said Thursday. “All I can say is that since DJ’s been here, I’ve been very impressed with our player development.”
Anderson said Durkin stressed during his interviews that he knew exactly how he wanted his team to play offensively.
“The philosophy he talked to me about was that we were going to play fast, we were going to play downhill, we’re going to put people in the best position and we’re going to hire a good offensive coordinator, and he’s done all that,” Anderson said.
Durkin said before the season started that he would “definitely have more of a fingerprint on the defense because that’s obviously my background — that’s what I know. Not to say I won’t be involved in the offense. I’ve done special teams and defense for a long time, and those two areas I have more direct involvement with.”
Central Florida athletic director Danny White knew that Frost, a quarterback at Nebraska and a defensive back in a short career in the NFL, had served as codefensive coordinator at Northern Iowa before going to Oregon as wide receivers coach.
“He’s got a really unique background in football. I don’t think there’s another coach in the country who’s been a defensive coordinator and an offensive coordinator,” White said Thursday.
“The way he talked about his story really made me understand how much of a benefit that is.”
But Frost’s biggest plus was what he had done as offensive coordinator at Oregon, where he took over when current Ducks coach Mark Helfrich was promoted to head coach after Kelly’s departure to the NFL.
Using a search firm in Atlanta, White started looking a day after he was hired in mid-November.
Frost was the only assistant coach White interviewed for the job vacated when George O’Leary resigned — first as athletic director, then as coach — as the Knights were in the midst of an 0-12 season.
Frost, 41, was hired Dec. 1, the day before Durkin was introduced in College Park.
“Head coaching is really important, but for us, I think we got the best offensive mind — at least the last few years — in the game and someone who can bring a prolific, exciting offense to the state of Florida, where we have so much talent at the prep level,” White said. “We’re excited to see what this system can do the next few years in the state of Florida.”
Bellotti said picking the right job can make a difference to a first-time head coach.
“You want to go somewhere where you can change the landscape in a positive way. Hopefully, the sky’s the limit, we’re only going to go up from here,” Bellotti said. “You don’t want to go where it’s a struggle to win, where you don’t have the resources or the recruiting advantages.”
Bellotti said that when he saw Frost during a visit to ESPN headquarters this summer, the coach seemed excited about the possibilities of building Central Florida into a burgeoning power, as the Knights were briefly when they rose to No. 10 in the country in 2013 after beating Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.
Bellotti said he doesn’t know much about Durkin but recalled talking to Edsall the day before the game against Bowling Green in College Park last fall. Bellotti was in the broadcast booth as the Terps gave up four fourth-quarter touchdowns and lost, 48-27.
“They were having quarterback issues, and they were talking about, ‘When we build the facilities, we’ll be able to recruit anybody,’ ” Bellotti said.
“I think that was a big plan, but they never had that chance.”
Within a month, Anderson began his coaching search in earnest.
While Georgia’s Mark Richt (who went to Miami) and former Maryland quarterback Frank Reich, then the offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers, were both floated, Anderson kept going back to the relatively unknown assistant at Michigan.
“Everything I discussed, I researched, and in sharing with people that I respected in the business, it pointed and directed me to Durkin,” Anderson said. “He was high on my list from the very beginning. When I sat down with him and talked with him on a number of occasions, he became clearly the front-runner.”
Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson says he remains unconcerned that new Terps head coach DJ Durkin, above, had coached only defense and special teams.
Scott Frost was in his third year as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Oregon when Central Florida came calling. He was hired as head coach there Dec. 1.