For Durkin, Meyer, matchup brings back old memories
Coaches’ bond took root in 2001 at Bowling Green
COLLEGE PARK — The 2001 Bowling Green football season played an important role in the careers of two young coaches: first-time head coach Urban Meyer and a 23-year-old graduate assistant he hired named DJ Durkin.
It was there, during a season that began with a win at Missouri and ended with the Falcons’ having the biggest turnaround in Division I — from 2-9 to 8-3 — that a bond was formed between the two Ohio natives. That bond has grown stronger over the past 15 years.
The friendship that has developed between Meyer, now in his fifth year at Ohio State, and Durkin, in the first season of his first head coaching job, will be part of the backstory going into Saturday’s game between the No. 5 Buckeyes and the Terps at Maryland Stadium.
The influence Meyer had on Durkin goes back to that first season together.
“The relationship you build with the kids, that’s what stuck out to me,” Durkin said Tuesday. “The reason why I do what I do and the reason why our coaching staff and the guys I hire are doing it for the right reasons, too, is to have a positive influence on young men. Football is a great way — there are so many lessons they can learn from, and it’s a great way to convey a lot of those messages.”
Durkin, 38, recalled thinking quickly what the rest of the country would soon discover about Meyer, who went 17-6 in two seasons at Bowling Green before moving up the coaching ladder to Utah and eventually to Florida, where he won the first two of his three national championships.
entertaining offseason intrigue.
If anyone was hoping this baseball winter — which began in earnest with Monday’s qualifying offers — would be any different, Duquette made it fairly clear during his team’s end-of-season news conference that what you saw at the end of this past season is pretty much what you’re going to get until the Orioles report to spring training in February.
The Orioles certainly could use another solid on-base threat, which seems to be the case every year. But they might not be in a position to make up for the opportunity missed when freeagent outfielder Dexter Fowler pulled back from a reported $33 million deal in February to return to the eventual World Series champion Chicago Cubs for far less money.
“I think a lot of the payroll flexibility will be absorbed by these good players that had really good years,” Duquette said in early October. “Zach Britton had a historically good year — the top ERA among major league relievers — and [Manny] Machado, he had over 30 home runs, almost 100 RBIs. These guys are going to be getting big raises.”
He left out Chris Tillman, but you get the idea.
The payroll inflation that results from salary arbitration is a fact of front-office life in every organization, and it will hit the Orioles pretty hard this winter. They just declined to make a qualifying offer to catcher Matt Wieters, which means that his 2016 salary likely will be subtracted from next year’s payroll and will offset much of that organic increase.
But the Orioles have other potential obligations that could leave them above last season’s record payroll without any big new expenditures.
They did make a qualifying offer to home run champion Mark Trumbo, who would make $17.2 million next year if he accepts, and they’ll almost certainly have to add a veteran catcher if they don’t re-sign Wieters.
None of that, however, makes the team better than it was at the end of this past season, when the offense sputtered and scored three runs or fewer in 12 of the club’s last 16 games, including the bitter American League wild-card loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. The inability to produce a cohesive attack begs for one more quality hitter who can get on base consistently and play at least part time in right field.
Here’s what’s likely to happen instead: The Orioles are going to turn inward and convince themselves that a healthy Joey Rickard and a fully acclimated Hyun Soo Kim will share left field and provide some of that offensive continuity. They’ll also try to hold on to late-season pickup Michael Bourn to give them some speed and on-base potential from the left side of the plate.
In a perfect, injury-free world, that might be enough if Trumbo decides to return. But the Orioles still need another impact hitter to offset the likely departure of Wieters and ensure that they don’t come back with another entertaining regularseason lineup that isn’t built to take them deep into the playoffs.
There are some decent freeagent options if the Orioles are willing to spend the kind of money they offered Fowler last spring. They are rumored to be interested in Ian Desmond, who has proved he can play just about anywhere, and they could be a fit for a free-agent outfielder such as Michael Saunders or Josh Reddick.
Though Duquette probably would like to add pitching, he might have to move in the opposite direction and find a way to deal a veteran starter now that it appears Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are set behind Tillman. Moving any of the others would cut a significant chunk out of the payroll and perhaps allow the Orioles to acquire that additional on-base potential.
If history is our guide, we’ll have to wait only a few months to find out.