Maryland volleyball coach Steve Aird expects bright future for DJ Durkin

After DJ Durkin was hired as Maryland's football coach in December, Terps volleyball coach Steve Aird took an approach that he said might be "a little untraditional" in introducing himself to the new coach.

"I just hunted him down and said, 'Let's go have a beer,'" Aird said Thursday night at the second stop of the annual Maryland Pride tour at the National Zoo.


Though their sports carry different profiles and reside in different spheres, the similarities between Durkin and Aird run deep, and the volleyball coach has seen the characteristics in Durkin that he thinks can lead to football success in College Park.

"What you're struck with when you meet him immediately is just his energy and his intensity," Aird said. "In his sport, those two things are just super important. He's a very, very impressive human being. When you're around him, you know. When he walks in a room, you know."

Durkin and Aird are both 38 years old, have young children around the same age and married "superhuman" wives, Aird said. They both worked as assistants for top coaches at the Big Ten Conference's preeminent schools in their respective sports — Durkin at Michigan under Jim Harbaugh last season, Aird under seven-time national champion Russ Rose at Penn State — and carry reputations as recruiters who can lure top talent to Maryland.

Durkin was the Recruiter of the Year in 2012 and currently has his Class of 2017 ranked No. 13 nationally by Aird inked the highest-rated volleyball recruiting class in Maryland history this spring. The Terps were ranked No. 16 by, and outside hitter Gia Milana of Romeo, Mich. — the No. 15 player in the nation, according to — is the highest-ranked recruit to sign with Maryland.

While Maryland doesn't necessarily have the same tradition in either sport that its Big Ten rivals boast, Durkin and Aird have recruited with visions for what the Terps can be and persuaded prospects to share that same view for the future.

"You've got to be authentic," Aird said. "He's not trying to be Harbaugh. I wasn't trying to be Coach Rose, who won seven titles. I know what I am. I know my strengths. And I think he knows he has a really good identity and self-awareness. He says, 'Hey, this is what I'm good at. This is what I am.' It's real.

"When you talk with recruits, these young men and young women are really smart. If you're just throwing a whole bunch of BS at them, they see right through it. So he's authentic, he's real, he's honest and he cares."

Both coaches are acutely aware of the challenges that face their respective programs. The Big Ten boasts some of the nation's top volleyball programs, and in Aird's first two seasons, the Terps went 8-32 in league play. Durkin will have to face off with two of his former bosses in Harbaugh at Michigan and Urban Meyer at Ohio State — not to mention Michigan State and Penn State — on a yearly basis in the Big Ten East division.

It's an uphill climb for both, but on Thursday, Durkin said the way he wants to become the best is to beat the best. And Aird said Durkin has created an environment that caters to improvement and success.

"The one thing I really respect about him is he brought in a lot of experienced people and as a young coach, you've got to be smart enough to know you don't want to be the smartest guy in the room," Aird said. "You've got to surround yourself with people who have really good tools and are incredible people with great energy and I think he did that."

Aird said that Maryland "isn't a steppingstone deal" for either coach, and both have designs on bringing Maryland into the upper echelon in each sport. There are plenty of challenges, but Aird has already righted the trajectory of a program that was an Atlantic Coast Conference bottom feeder even before the move to the tougher Big Ten.

Aird has shown that the foundation for a turnaround can be laid quickly, and with the similarities he sees between himself and Durkin, he expects there to be an upswing on the football field.

"He came in and I came in at a time where if you're buying a stock, it's the absolute right time to buy the stock," Aird said.