COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- With so much speculation over exactly what Maryland was looking for in its next football coach, the answer was really quite simple and it turns out 37-year-old Dan Durkin had it all along.
In a press conference at Gossett Team House Dec. 3, Durkin, who has worked for Jim Harbaugh, Urban Meyer and Tyrone Willingham, explained. “I’ve been very fortunate to be around some of the best there is. As coaches you always take bits and pieces from people you worked for or with. You’re always learning and evolving. The most important thing as a coach is you put your own stamp on it, your own personality. Don’t try to be someone else and do it just the way they did it because. Do it the way you want to do it.”
The way Durkin wants to do it is “high energy,” and that was on full display during the press conference, a large Gossett gathering seeing the kind of enthusiasm and passion that swayed Maryland Director of Athletics Kevin Anderson, his assistant Damon Evans and the search committee in tabbing the young coach.
Word broke that Michigan defensive coordinator Durkin had been hired Wednesday, not long after he had interviewed, and he was already on the go Dec. 3. He met with his new players at 9 a.m., and had a full day in College Park, including meeting with the coaching staff Dec. 3 to talk primarily about recruiting.
Durkin stressed to the media that he wasn’t in a hurry to hire his staff, that he would be “deliberate as the right guys come forward.” In the midst of a recruiting period currently underway, Durkin will rely on existing staff through this weekend as he assembles his staff.
“Any good organization has proper alignment, from the top down,” he said. “If you have alignment and culture where everyone is pushing in the same direction, the sky is the limit and you can accomplish anything. This entire building will be filled with high-energy people that will be excited about coming to work and go do it, from the top on down.”
Anderson, in his introduction of Durkin, ran down the qualities he and the search committee had targeted in starting the process after Randy Edsall was fired on Oct. 11. Those qualities were “a strong and dynamic leader with a great energy for our program”; a great football mind; an “engaging personality” that would attract fans, donors and alumni; a winning “pedigree”; someone who could recruit on a national level, and “somebody who was going to build these young men to be strong role models and achieve academically in the class room.”
Anderson, who also interviewed Maryland alumnus Frank Reich and the interim coach he named in October, Mike Locksley, said Durkin checked all the boxes. His track record as a defensive coordinator – three straight Top 15 finishes nationally – and that lineage of coaches he has worked under, also including current Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn, set Durkin apart.
As did that contagious enthusiasm. When asked what made Maryland an attractive job, Durkin didn’t hesitate. “I think there’s already good talent in the building and I think right in our backyard is one of the richest talent areas in the country. I think we have to do a great job of recruiting and keeping those guys at home.”
He listed the talent-rich DelMarVa/D.C., region as a “huge advantage. There aren’t a lot of these places in the country.”
As for the tough road in the Big Ten East Division, Durkin sees that as a positive, too. “We want guys that want to go play in those games, guys that embrace those type of challenges and play in those kind of atmospheres. And that’s what we get to do week in and week out.”
One thing Durkin won’t do is coach Michigan as it readies for a bowl game. “I told the guys this morning in a team meeting, I’m an all-in type of guy and if I’m in, I’m in. I’m here and I think splitting between would have been really hard to do.”
Recruiting is his first mission, and the new Maryland coach has an impressive pedigree there, too. He boils his success down to being relentless, and tireless. Recruiting is something you have to do every single day.”
His greatest tool in that aspect is the same he used to rise so rapidly in the game. “Just be yourself,” he said. “Some guys are fast-talkers and salesmen, and everyone has their own way. I’m very straightforward and honest with people. I’m genuine with my dealings.”
Durkin said a big thing was “getting on the phone with guys we’re actively recruiting, as well as getting new guys on board.” He said the key was finding guys that are competitive, guys that will “fight and scrap to get to the top.”
And the topic of recruiting brought questions about the popular Locksley, credited with much of Maryland’s recent recruiting success, including the possibility of a very solid incoming class this fall.
“I’m in the process now of getting with our entire staff, Mike as well as everyone else to kind of go through where we are at, to update them,” said Durkin. “I want the staff to keep working right now and keep doing what they’re doing. They’ve obviously done a great job of putting together a really good recruiting class and built relationships. I don’t want that to be cut off and stopped. Mike, as well as everyone else, will be evaluated and we will go through that process as we go along.”
Getting to Know Durkin
For the record, it’s Daniel John, born Jan. 15, 1978, and raised in Boardman, Ohio, the heart of Big Ten country. His parents Dan and Marianne were in attendance on the front row Dec. 3, along with his wife, Sarah, and children, 5-year-old Abigail and 2-year-old Luke.
Durkin was asked about growing up in the Heartland, and how that affected his persona. “I’m not sure where the energy comes from, I just kind of think I’ve always been that way as a player and a coach. I truly believe in being yourself, and that’s who I am every day. I believe in being positive and being comfortable in what you’re doing. Where I come from, what a great area to learn what blue-collar mentality is all about and what hard work is. You have to earn your keep.”
He credited his parents, his coaches and working construction when he was younger with instilling the values that have made him successful.
“Don’t talk about it, just be about it,” he said.
“D.J. is one of the bright young minds in the coaching profession,” said Florida Director of Athletics Jeremy Foley, who tabbed Durkin to be head coach in the Birmingham Bowl last January as the Gators went through a coaching change. “He is a great teacher, recruiter and has a deep passion for the game and helping young men develop both on and off the field. He did a wonderful job while here at the University of Florida. Everyone here loved working with D.J. He is a winner.”
Durkin admitted that experience helped him better see “the big picture,” and reinforced a lot of the things he already believed. “I don’t see myself as being just the defensive coordinator,” he said of his new full-time role. “I’ll be involved with it all and hire capable people and have them involved and their fingerprints on it.”
Some other luminaries weighed in on the new Terrapin coach. “It’s a smart hire, he’s a great coach,” said ESPN analyst Todd McShay. “He has been around some of the greats. He has been around Urban Meyer. He has been around Jim Harbaugh twice now. Just meeting with him and getting to know him a little bit, very bright mind. Players respect him a heck of a lot at Michigan. I think he was one of the underrated coaches in college football this year.”
Gary Williams, who knows a passionate coach when he sees one, said, “D.J. comes from a great coaching tree. He has worked and been successful with some upper echelon college football programs. He has the passion and energy that you need to make Maryland a great football program.”
John Harbaugh, the Ravens coach who may have more insider-trader information about Durkin, was more succinct. “I think it’s a great hire by Maryland. He’s tough. He’s hard-nosed.”
A Winning Pedigree
Durkin’s impressive football resume’ and track record was a major factor in his ascent to FBS head coach. He coached under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan this past season, guiding a defensive unit that ranked fourth nationally, limiting opponents to 17.2 points per game. A 28-0 shutout of Maryland was among three consecutive blankings by his aggressive, 3-4 polymorphous, blitzing unit. It was the longest streak of shutouts in 35 years for the Wolverines.
Previously, he was hired by Urban Meyer at Florida, where he earned a reputation as one of the top recruiters in the country. In 2012, a national recruiting service named him Recruiter of the Year. As defensive coordinator at Florida from 2013-14, Durkin’s defense finished in the top-15 in total defense both years, including eighth (314.2 yards allowed) in 2013.
The 2014 Gator defense had Top 10 finishes in yards allowed per play (4.45), yards allowed per rush (3.16) and yards allowed per pass attempt (5.9). Durkin had All-SEC first team selections Dante Fowler, Jr., and defensive back Vernon Hargreaves, along with second team selection Antonio Morrison. Fowler was the third overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, continuing a stretch when Gator defenders went in the first round three consecutive years, including defensive tackle Dominique Easley in 2014.
His 2013 defense led the SEC in pass defense (171.8 yards per game), a figure that ranked seventh in the country, and quickly addressing a particular problem for Maryland this past season. They were 15th in scoring defense (21.1 points allowed) and the 27 touchdowns yielded that season were the sixth fewest nationally.
His Florida career began as special teams coach, and he nurtured 2011 Ray Guy Award winner, punter Chas Henry, and two-time Lou Groza Award finalist Caleb Sturgis. When Will Muschamp replaced Meyer, he kept Durkin as special teams coach.
Last January, he was interim coach when Florida beat East Carolina 28-20 in the Birmingham Bowl.
He was with Harbaugh at Stanford, 2007-09, coaching special teams and defensive ends. The Cardinal were 11th in the nation in sacks per game in 2007 and 2009. Durkin also helped produce Stanford’s top recruiting class in eight years in 2009.
His career began as a graduate assistant for Urban Meyer at Durkin’s alma mater, Bowling Green, in 2001. As a defensive end there, Durkin had played under Gary Blackney, the architect of some of Maryland’s top defenses under Ralph Friedgen, 2001-05. Durkin got his degree in business marketing, and then his master’s in educational administration and supervision in 2004.
As a player, he was a four-year starter at defensive end and linebacker from 1997-2000, and led the team in sacks in 1998. He was a team captain for two years, and was recipient of several awards including the Ken Schoeni Award for character and toughness, the Carlos Jackson Award for personifying the values of a student-athlete, and the Leadership Award.
In 2003-04, Durkin moved on to Notre Dame as a graduate assistant under Willingham, where he worked with the Irish’s all-time sack leader, Justin Tuck. He then landed back at Bowling Green as defensive ends coach in 2005, and then special teams coordinator and linebackers coach in 2006.
“He’s really a players’ coach,” said Tuck. “I know he coached some great players that have gone on to play in the NFL. He’s young and energetic. He brings a different approach to coaching that I hadn’t seen before. He’s a tremendous hire for Maryland.”