For Durkin, Meyer, matchup brings back old mem­o­ries

Coaches’ bond took root in 2001 at Bowl­ing Green

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Don Markus

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.

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