Special Inside The Shell: DJ Durkin Analysis

The Maryland coaching-search saga has finally come to an end almost two months after former head coach Randy Edsall’s dismissal, and now it’s time to look forward to the D.J. Durkin era.

The Maryland coaching-search saga has finally come to an end almost two months after former head coach Randy Edsall’s dismissal, and now it’s time to look forward to the D.J. Durkin era. The UMD administration narrowed its extensive list of candidates to Durkin and interim head coach Mike Locksley in the last 24 hours, opting for the ex-Michigan defensive coordinator over the in-house candidate.

We’ll obviously have to address some of the recruits we’ve been forecasting to College Park, Md., should Locksley have ascended to the lead gig. But we want to start with some thoughts on Durkin and his recruiting prowess.

Durkin The Coach

The Youngstown, Ohio, native and former Bowling Green linebacker has served under Urban Meyer at BGSU and Florida, first as a graduate assistant (2001-2002) at the former and as linebackers coach and defensive coordinator at the latter (2010-2014). Durkin also was a GA under Tyrone Willingham at Notre Dame (2003-2004) before heading back to his alma mater as a defensive assistant in 2006. The next year, Durkin headed to Stanford as a linebackers/defensive ends coach under Jim Harbaugh before hopping to Florida three years later when Meyer came calling again. Durkin was promoted to Florida’s defensive coordinator in 2014 when Will Muschamp stepped in for the departed Meyer, and a season after that he reunited with Harbaugh at Michigan.

The 37-year-old led the Wolverines’ linebacker unit in 2015 before ascending to defensive coordinator during this last campaign. Under his watch, Michigan had the No. 4-ranked defense in yards per game, including No. 3 against the pass and No. 19 against the run.

The Wolverines employed a variable 3-4 scheme with plenty of wrinkles. UM actively morphed into a 3-3-5 and a 4-3 throughout any given game, giving offenses a variety of looks.

On top of that, Durkin loved to blitz, implementing a potpourri of packages designed to disguise rushers, who close in from all angles. Even when the Wolverines didn’t reach the quarterback, they generated pressure, forcing quick throws and, ultimately, incompletions and turnovers.

Durkin The Recruiter

As for Durkin the recruiter, he was named the 2012 Recruiter of the Year, according to Rivals.com. He has done some of his best work in the Midwest and Florida, while he began establishing ties in Texas as well. In fact, per team media, he has strong connections in major hotbeds in the Lone Star State, Sunshine State and Michigan.

In that fruitful ’12 class, the then-Florida linebackers coach ended up pulling in two five-star recruits, a pair of four-stars an signing six total commitments. A year later, Durkin, now Florida’s defensive coordinator, snagged another five-star and two four-star recruits; and in the ’15 class he secured a commitment from four-star quarterback Will Grier out of North Carolina.

When Durkin joined Jim Harbaugh at Michigan he didn’t have quite the same success he did in Gainesville, Fla., but his fingers have been all over the Wolverines’ last two classes. Specifically, on the defensive side of the ball. He might not have been the “lead recruiter” per se, but Durkin has played a role in about a dozen or so of the Wolverines’ foremost defensive commits the last two seasons.

Per the Michigan beat writers, recruits have had naught but positive feedback when asked about Durkin. They typically mention his resume, well aware of what he accomplished at Florida and the last two seasons at Michigan. The fact he’s consistently guided top-ranked defenses and developed players into NFL-ready prospects resonates with many elite defenders.

Moreover, recruits seem to appreciate his level-headed, straight-shooting approach. He’s not a “snake-oil” type; rather, he tells it like it is, lets prospects exactly where they stand, and thoroughly explains their potential role in the program.

“From a personality standpoint, he can have a light attitude and relates well to kids,” Scout’s Michigan beat writer, Josh Newkirk, said. “But he’s also straight to the point and all business. He keeps an even keel. It’s the same way with [the current Michigan players]. He holds players accountable and is business like. He’s a next-man-up guy; move on to the next play and keep pushing forward.”

As far as which recruits might traverse over to College Park along with Durkin, the Michigan writers didn’t specifically identify anyone who would immediately abandon the Wolverines’ ship. While Durkin was well tied to some of the ’16 crop’s defensive pledges, the feeling is Harbaugh will be able to keep the class intact. Moreover, the elites who are rumored to be looking around would likely head to some of UM’s leading rivals such as Ohio State or Michigan State or a southern school (Texas, Oklahoma, TAMU, etc.). (That includes linebacker David Reese, who expressed interest in Maryland after visiting June 27. Evidently Reese would be more apt to flip to Texas or Florida than Maryland).

However, the reporter did speculate a couple of the New Jersey commits Durkin is involved with, namely four-star defensive end Ron Johnson (Camden, N.J.), might take a look at UMD since its closer to his home.

“The thing is, many of [the 2016 Michigan] commits weren’t really looking at Maryland or being recruited by both schools,” Newkirk said. “Durkin is a very good recruiter, but I’m not really sure [prospects] would actually decommit and follow him to Maryland.”

In the future, though, Newkirk believes Durkin will have success -- on both the recruiting trail and running a program.

“Michigan honestly didn’t believe he’d be here for more than a year,” he said. “They expected him to move on and get a head coaching job sooner rather than later. They’re losing a great coach and he should do well at Maryland.”

The 2016 DMV Commits

It remains to be seen how Durkin will fill the Terps’ 2016 class. But first thing’s first: This weekend, Dec. 4, when Maryland is set to host double-digit official visitors, including many of the current DMV commits.

We personally reached out to many of Maryland’s pledges and targets to gauge their thoughts on a prospective Durkin hire. Their initial reaction, quite honestly, was dismay over Mike Locksley’s probable departure. The core DMV recruits -- Dwayne Haskins (Bullis/Potomac, Md.), LoLo Harrison (DeMatha/Hyattsville, Md.), Tino Ellis (DeMatha), D.J. Turner (DeMatha), KeAndre Jones (Good Counsel/Olney, Md.) and Parnell Motley (Woodson/Washington, D.C.) -- all wanted Locksley to stay, not surprising considering the former interim spurred the hometown movement and was their primary recruiter.

But each of the above recruits will at least give Durkin a chance to make his pitch. They’ll vet the new headman, listen to his plans, monitor which assistants are retained and who is brought in.

Indeed, we do not expect any rash decommitments following the Durkin hire. In fact, we believe the ex-Michigan man will be able to retain the majority of the 2016 class after they hear his pitch. (Historically, most coaches are able to keep classes together following a coaching change. Recall, when Billy O’Brien left Penn State for Houston, many thought the Nittany Lions’ crop would fall apart and Maryland would have a shot to reap the benefits. But only a couple recruits ended up leaving as James Franklin was able to win the troops over).

Already, the likes of the tackle commit Michael Clark (Downingtown East/Exton, Pa.), the tackle pledge Brian Plummer (South Carroll/Sykesville, Md.), the safety commit Silas Kelly (South Carroll), the defensive line commit Joey Fisher (Clear Spring, Md.) and the running back commit Jake Funk (Damascus, Md.) have expressed their support. Which was expected considering all but Clark do not have other prominent suitors besides UMD, although it was still refreshing to hear. Clark, for his part, does have a couple options, but has been steadfast in his commitment.

That said, the Terps could take a hit to the class’ upper tier. Of Maryland’s 17 pledges, the two who have been hearing the most from other programs are the quarterback Haskins and the linebacker Jones.

Haskins remained mum post-Durkin announcement, but we’re told he was taken back after learning the news. The feeling is he will begin to look around in earnest with the knowledge Locksley likely won’t be on staff.

Haskins just visited Florida in late November and readily took to head coach Jim McElwain and his offense. (Of course, the Gators didn’t generate much offense at all Nov. 28, falling 27-2 to Florida State).  Haskins also loved the atmosphere and fan environment at the game.

But while the Bullis quarterback enjoyed his time on campus, he’s not flipping to the Gators. Truth be told, he probably can’t after the Gators landed five-star quarterback Felipe Franks (Wakulla/Crawfordville, Fla.) a day after Haskins was in town. On top of that, Florida is after another highly-rated quarterback, seemingly placing Haskins on the backburner.

But Alabama has also been heavily involved with assistant Lane Kiffin pursuing the quarterback in earnest. Haskins is likely to at least consider taking an official visit to Tuscaloosa, Ala., in addition to other locales.

With Jones, he is listening to pitches from Ohio State; USC; and others. The sense is Jones may readily take to Durkin since the new headman’s a defensive guy, but that’s questionable. Jones did not provide immediate feedback in the wake of the Durkin news.

In addition to those two four-star studs, three-star cornerback Parnell Motley is wavering and may not even visit Dec. 4 (he's still mulling it over). Wisconsin’s staff has been on Motley hard, and there’s a solid chance he visits Madison, Wis. Michigan State has also been in pursuit, and some have suggested the Spartans could lead for his services. Florida is involved as well, and Motley's considering visiting Gainesville too.

Another commit who suggested he could venture out is the safety Butler, although he doesn’t have a better option than Maryland at this point. We’re inclined to believe he’ll stay put unless some highly-intriguing option opens up.

The DeMatha pledge Tino Ellis, meanwhile, reiterated his pro-UMD affinity, repeating that he “committed to the school” as opposed to the coach. We’ll see if Ellis is singing the same tune of Va Tech’s new coach, Justin Fuente, or some other program hits him up, but for now it sounds like the DeMatha wideout’s sticking.

Ellis’ teammate, LoLo Harrison, also expressed support, although he’s currently weighing his options. He’ll likely listen to what Durkin has to say, but could begin gauging other suitors as well to see how much he’d be coveted on the open market.

Another receiver commit, Evan Fairs (Foster/Richmond, Texas), is going to wait until he meets Durkin in person, and knows UMD-area recruiter Keenan McCardell’s status, before announcing his intentions. Fairs won’t be able to make it to Maryland until January, however, so he could remain in limbo a bit longer than the rest. Either way, Fairs’ Maryland commitment is directly tied to McCardell’s. If Durkin elects not to keep McCardell (or the receivers’ coach leaves voluntarily), Fairs may not visit UMD at all. He could cancel his official and hop to a smaller in-state school like North Texas or UTSA. Fairs might also begin sending his film around to other nearby FBS programs in hopes of landing a late scholarship.

The cornerback Tyrone Hill (Don Boson/Ramsey, N.J.), meanwhile, also isn’t visiting until January due to Bosco’s playoff run. The Jersey defender said he’s putting recruiting out of his mind until December’s over. But Hill did mention that he supports the direction Maryland’s heading, regardless of the head coach or UMD-area recruiter Keith Dudzinski’s future tenure in College Park. Hill said Maryland’s academics, the campus vibe and its location were the primary reasons he committed in the first place, and since none of that has changed, he’ll remain a Terp.

With the Pennsylvania safety Mike Viti (Camp Hill, Pa.), he said he’s “excited” about UMD’s new hire and can’t wait to meet Durkin Dec. 11. Viti likes the fact Durkin’s a defensive-minded coach and believes he’ll help him develop as a safety. The Camp Hill product would prefer his UMD-area recruiter, John Dunn, remains, but hinted if the latter left it wouldn’t be a definite deal-breaker. (Note that Viti does not have any other major suitors, so he’ll probably stay committed even if he does have reservations following a possible Dunn departure).

Ohio tackle Alex Hall (Louisville, Ohio), meanwhile, said he remains committed and is excited about signing with the Terps. He's eager to visit College Park in the coming weeks to meet the new headman and his staff.

A second Ohio tackle Terek Zingale (Nordonia/Macedonia, Ohio) hadn't been responding to media inquiries recently, but he finally opened up. He said he's 100 percent committed to Maryland, regardless of the status of UMD-area recruiter, Greg Studrawa. He had been hearing from other FBS programs and MAC schools, but hasn’t received any other prominent offers. Zingale is excited to meet Durkin and the new staff during his official visit Dec. 11.

The 2016 Targets

With news still fresh, the likes of four-star defensive end Rahshaun Smith (IMG Academy/Bradenton, Fla.) and three-star cornerback Khalil Ladler (IMG Academy) have not indicated whether or not they’ll still be visiting College Park Dec. 4. The sense is, though, both could end up trekking up if Director of Player Personnel Cory Robinson remains on staff. Robinson, a former coach and trainer at IMG, knows both well and could be the lynchpin in each of their recruitments.

That said, the likelihood of either signing with the Terps is diminished with Locksley’s probable departure. Both had been in contact with Locksley and the rest of the current DMV-to-UMD pledges, but with both the coach and Movement teetering, Smith and Ladler could look elsewhere. Smith has been forecast to Clemson, the school he originally committed to and will be officially visiting Dec. 11, while Ladler will likely stick with his Virginia Tech pledge.

As for the three-star Woodson running back Abdul Adams and three-star Wise (Upper Marlboro, Md.) cornerback Myles Wolfolk, both will probably stay with their current commitments. Adams popped to Oklahoma last week, but told us afterwards he would flip to Maryland if Locksley was head coach. If not, he hinted he wouldn’t be visiting College Park and would simply stick with the Sooners.

Wolfolk committed to North Carolina a few days ago, but considered taking an official to UMD this weekend since he’d been in close communication with Locksley. But with Locksley probably out, Wolfolk said he isn’t coming to College Park and will likely sign with UNC.

Other Maryland targets who will probably fall by the wayside include: four-star tackle Ellison Jordan (Gilman/Baltimore, Md.), four-star end Terrell Hall (St. John’s/Washington, D.C.), four-star guard Terrance Davis (DeMatha), two-star tackle Grayson Stover (Hudson, Fla.), four-star tight end Naseir Upshur (Imhotep/Philadelphia, Pa.) and four-star receiver Trevon Diggs (Avalon/Gaithersburg, Md.). Barring something unforeseen, Jordan will stick with Penn State, Hall could end up at Florida State,  Davis will matriculate to frontrunner Michigan, Stover will end up at Vanderbilt or Illinois, and Upshur will stick with FSU.

Now, could Durkin work some magic with some of these prospects? It’s possible, and especially so if he hires a couple ace coordinators/recruiters. But for now, this is the state of affairs at Maryland.

Note: Linebacker target Keith Simms (Landon/Bethesda, Md.) remains on Maryland's board and could consider the Terps provided UMD-area recruiter Chad Wilt is on staff. If not, he will almost assuredly head to North Carolina (if headman Larry Fedora remains) or maybe Duke. He'll give Durkin and Co. a chance to win him over, but he is no longer favoring UMD as he once was.

The Future Of The DMV

At first blush, a Durkin hire could be viewed as a setback for Maryland’s chances at locking down the DMV. Local coaches and players were in Mike Locksley’s corner, expressing palpable excitement over his prospective ascension to headman. There was a wave of disappointment when Locksley did not secure the job.

And now, with Locksley probably recruiting against UMD, and along with other prominent DMV recruiters James Franklin (Penn State) and Larry Johnson (Ohio State), it will be difficult to establish inroads … at least initially.

The feeling here is Durkin could struggle recruiting the area the rest of this year and maybe a year or two into the future. But if he, along with his assistants, continue to work, selling the hometown movement, the new facilities and more, the Terps could at least have a presence locally. The chances of “locking down the DMV” are diminished without Locksley, but it’s not out of the question UMD could pull in its share of local talents.


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