Crash Course on D.J. Durkin
After nearly two months of searching that saw many names pop up in the rumor mill, the University of Maryland has completed a deal with their preferred choice – D.J. Durkin – to take over the reigns of the program. Durkin, most recently the Michigan Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers Coach, will be charged with building the Terrapins up as a competitor in the Big Ten East.
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Durkin grew up in Youngstown, Ohio and attended Bowling Green State University, where he played defensive end and linebacker from 1997-2000. He was an excellent player, serving as the team’s captain for the final two years of his collegiate career. He also led the team in sacks in 1998. He also has a post-graduate degree from Bowling Green, a master’s degree in educational administration and supervision. He and his wife, Sarah, have two children, Abigail and Luke. He will turn 38 in January.
Durkin chose not to pursue the NFL out of college, and immediately took a job as a graduate assistant at Bowling Green, where he served on the coaching staff from 2001-2002 under then-head coach Urban Meyer. He then moved on to Notre Dame in the same position, where he served from 2003-2004 under then-Head Coach Tyrone Willingham. He traveled back to Bowling Green, where he spent 2005 and 2006 coaching defensive ends, linebackers, and special teams under then-head coach Gregg Brandon. From 2007-2009, he coached defensive ends and special teams at Stanford under then-head coach Jim Harbaugh. He then moved on to Florida, where he spent the next 4 years under both Urban Meyer and Will Muschamp. This is where he made a name for himself both as a Defensive Coordinator and as a recruiter. He also served as the interim head coach for Florida’s bowl game in 2014 after Muschamp was fired, winning the Birmingham Bowl over East Carolina by a score of 28-20. From there, he re-joined Jim Harbaugh as Michigan’s Defensive Coordinator / Linebackers coach in 2015.
Durkin’s largest influences come from both Meyer and Harbaugh. He spent the most time with those two coaches, and learned the most from them. While he is still fairly young, he has a lot of quality experience as a defensive coach, and has learned from some very well-regarded head coaches. He also has experience in a number of different regions, from the Midwest to the West to the South. He has experience in a few different conferences, including the Big Ten, Pac-12, and the SEC.
Durkin’s defenses both at Florida and at Michigan have been extremely successful. Let’s look at some numbers in-depth.
2013 was his first year as a Defensive Coordinator, and his Gators ranked as the #6 defense in the country, and the #2 defense in the SEC. They were the #10 pass defense in the country, and the #13 rush defense in the country. They were the #11 defense in the country in points allowed per game.
2014 was his second year as the Gators’ Defensive Coordinator, and the team was ranked as the #17 defense in the country, and the #5 defense in the SEC. They were the #60 pass defense in the country, and the #12 rush defense in the country. They were the #27 defense in the country in points allowed per game.
2015 was his first year as Michigan’s Defensive Coordinator, and his numbers only got better. The Wolverines currently hold the #3 defense in the country, and the #2 defense in the Big Ten. They are the #2 pass defense in the country, and the #18 rush defense in the country. They are the #6 defense in the country in points allowed per game.
Durkin is also a very accomplished recruiter, highlighted by his being named Rivals.com‘s National Recruiter of the Year in 2012. In this year, he helped Florida recruit the #3 recruiting class in the country (according to Rivals.com), highlighted by 5-star defensive ends Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler Jr.
Durkin runs one of the most effective and unique defensive schemes in college football. It cannot be put into one category, and must therefore be called a “Multiple” defense. He demands versatility out of all of his players, and this allows him to call plays in any number of different fronts. Most of his base play-calls come out of either a 4-3, 3-4, or 3-3-5 front. He can mix and match these fronts without substituting players in and out. He does not utilize a two-gap scheme, so while he does utilize a nose tackle, he is only responsible for one gap in the opposing offensive line (I’ll break this down in a future article).
His featured position is the “Buck” defensive end. At Florida, Fowler Jr. shone in this role, and it propelled him to the first-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Durkin would use him as a pass-rusher with his hand on the ground in a 4-3 scheme, or stand him up as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 or 3-3-5 scheme. This season, Durkin used Mario Ojemudia in the same role.
There are still a number of questions to be answered about how Maryland’s offense will be run, but allow me to make some predictions. Durkin is heavily influenced by Meyer, who has always run a power-spread offense. It would not surprise me at all to see Maryland go after one of Ohio State’s current Co-Offensive Coordinators, either Ed Warriner or Tim Beck. Whoever gets the job will likely have full control over the offense, as Durkin will spend most of his time with the defense. It would surprise me very much to see a pro-style offense run at Maryland next season.
There is also a question as to whether or not current interim Head Coach Mike Locksley will be retained by Durkin. It would seem to be in his best interest to keep Locksley, who is regarded as one of the best recruiters in the DMV area and who essentially holds the keys to many high-level 2016 recruits (Dwayne Haskins, Tino Ellis, Adam McLean, Keandre Jones, etc.). However, Durkin is a very accomplished recruiter in his own right, and may want to start fresh with his own coaching staff. If I were to put money on it, I’d expect Locksley to be retained as the team’s Quarterbacks Coach/Recruiting Coordinator.
Here’s one thing we know for sure: next season will be Jesse Aniebonam’s time to shine. He will almost surely be Durkin’s starting “Buck” defensive end, and will be given an opportunity to show his talent and versatility. Maryland’s defense will also be very fun to watch overall, and should be a very fitting complement to an offense led by Haskins.
I like the Durkin hire. Initially, I was pining for former Oregon Offensive Coordinator Scott Frost, who was recently hired as UCF’s Head Coach. And I was leaning strongly towards an offensive-minded Head Coach like Dan Mullen. However, the more I look at Durkin, the more I like him. Not only is he a very accomplished defensive coach and recruiter, but he is also very well-respected in the coaching community. He is a really great guy, and Terrapins fans should really enjoy him.
His first duty will be to hire a coaching staff, and reach out to recruits. Before he does that however, he needs to meet with Locksley and make a decision on his future. I’m excited about the future of Maryland’s program with Durkin at the helm, and will be very interested to see who he tabs for his staff.
EDIT: Reaction From National Analysts
Tom Luginbill / ESPN: I really like this hire from a defensive perspective and given his recent experience at Florida and Michigan he has seen how the premier programs operate first hand and what it takes to elevate a program to the next level. The key now is the hire an exciting and dynamic Offensive Coordinator to help not only in recruiting, but from an fan base, alumni perspective as well. One name I can recommend as OC is Scott Milanovich. I Coached the former MD QB in the XFL in 2001. He was our backup to Tommy Maddox. He is an EXCEPTIONAL coach and football mind.
Chris Landry / Landry Football: Durkin is an outstanding recruiter and sold his background with Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer. His key hire will be Offensive Coordinator. He has a couple of good guys in mind for that position so we’ll see how that goes.
Brandon Pertner / Brandon Pertner’s College Football Preview: First and foremost, Durkin is not the flashy hire that most Terps’ fans envisioned when the job became open almost 2 months ago. He doesn’t have any prior head coaching experience outside of being the interim for Florida’s bowl game against East Carolina last year (a win I may add). He may not have any direct connections to the school or region but Durkin’s pedigree is about as strong as any Coordinator out there without Head Coach experience in all of college football.
Since we’re close to the same age and both went to the same college (Bowling Green), I’ve been familiar with Durkin long before he even became a coordinator at Florida. This even goes back to day one when he was hired as a grad assistant at his alma mater about 15 years ago. He’s worked under future Hall of Fame coaches like Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh and obviously that will be vital considering he’s coaching in the same division along with his former mentors. Durkin’s been a DC at the highest level in college football at two different programs in Florida and Michigan and has had great success at both stops. He also has some special teams coordinating experience which obviously plays a vital role in the overall success of a program.
He’s young, he’s energetic and should have no problem on the recruiting trail. While he isn’t the big name that many were hoping for, outside of maybe Mark Richt at Miami (FL), what school has hired a big name coach this year so far? I think Durkin is a good hire but Maryland fans have to be a little patient with him. They’re not in the ACC anymore and expecting the Terps to win 10 games for multiple years like what Ralph Friedgen did at the start of his tenure, just isn’t realistic in my opinion. With Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and to a much lesser extent Penn State, you could make a case that the Big Ten East is the toughest division in all of college football right now. On the bright side, money and facilities should never be an issue with the Under Armour support and if Penn State continues to tread water with James Franklin, then I could easily see Maryland replace the Nittany Lions as one of the dominant powers in that Mid-Atlantic region.