He didn’t want to disclose who he talked to about handling the job, but he did make multiple calls to coaches he respected and admired. The Florida defensive coordinator’s name has been brought up for head coaching positions across the country in recent years, and taking over the Florida program for a few weeks could only help his future as a coach.
But above all else, the advice was for him to not change his personality or go away from who he is as a coach.
“Don’t try to be someone else or do something differently,” Durkin said. “Do it the way you see fit, be yourself and players respond to it.”
Durkin’s time as an assistant coach has come under some of the most respected minds in coaching. He was the defensive ends and special teams coach under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford before Urban Meyer hired him in Gainesville. Many other coaches from those staffs have gone on to become head coaches, widening the base of coaches Durkin knows.
“I’ve been very, very blessed and fortunate in my career to be around some great coaches, guys I can reach out to on a lot of things, not just in this circumstance,” Durkin said. “But I have in this one, too, and have received really good advice. Again, it’s a unique thing and presents some different challenges, but every job does. So you go figure it out, put your head down and go to work.”
This situation became even more unique last week when new Florida coach Jim McElwain announced the hiring of Geoff Collins as the defensive coordinator. With a background coaching linebackers, Collins could fill both of the spots that Durkin served on last year’s staff.
That likely eliminates any chance for Durkin to remain in Gainesville next season. However, he remains the interim coach and leads the Gators through their berth in the Birmingham Bowl on January 3 against East Carolina.
“I think any situation you work through you learn from good and bad,” Durkin said. “You learn a lot from when things go wrong and you learn a lot when things go right, if you look at it the right way. I think it’s always good to sit back and learn from it. So absolutely, I’m now in a position to see things differently than I have had in my career, make decisions I haven’t had to make before, so absolutely it’ll help.”
"I have not accepted any sort of job anywhere, here or anywhere else other than the job as interim coach for the bowl game,” Durkin said. “It's a great opportunity. I'm really excited about it.”
The move does come with adjustments. He’s now more focused on the offense than he has been at any time in his career. He’s letting Kurt Roper and the offensive staff prepare the team for the bowl game, but as the head coach, Durkin still needs to know what’s going on there.
It becomes even more important during the bowl game. When the Florida offense does has the ball, Durkin hasn’t been watching throughout the season. He has spent that time working with his defense on adjustments and any changes they needed to make. When the offense is on the field in January, he’ll have to keep an eye on it and make sure he’s doing the best he can to lead the program as the head coach.
“We’re talking through how that’s going to work out,” Durkin said. “It will be a little different. In terms of when the defense is on the field, it won’t be any different on how we function.”