COLLEGE PARK — The question bounced around Young Dining Hall in the Gossett Team House at Maryland on Tuesday afternoon and meant something different to each of the three former head coaches and the young, rising offensive coordinator speaking publicly as members of the Terps coaching staff for the first time.
Why Maryland? Why coach DJ Durkin? Why now?
For associate head coach and defensive line coach Mike London, assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Pete Lembo, defensive coordinator Scott Shafer and offensive coordinator Walt Bell, the circumstances that brought them to College Park were all different. But everything boiled down to the belief in Durkin, the belief that the 37-year-old first-time head coach was building something successful that each could be part of.
"I think this is a tremendous place with incredible potential," Lembo said. "I really believe in Coach Durkin and what he stands for. I think he's a high-energy guy who's really got a great vision for this program and where it can go."
In the days and weeks after he was introduced as Maryland's coach, Durkin made it clear that he was going to take his time assembling his staff with a "deliberate" approach. He only gets one shot at a first staff, he said, and knows the significant impact it can have on the future success of the program.
So this is the result. Lembo was the head coach at Ball State for the past five years. London led Virginia for six. Shafer was at Syracuse in the top job for three years. Bell ran an exciting, record-breaking offense at Arkansas State in the Sun Belt Conference for two seasons. Durkin has mixed experience and youth on his staff, all the while giving him some coaches who can provide guidance and others he can groom and develop.
"I love the staff that he's assembled, and I'm excited to be a part of that," Lembo said. "He's obviously not afraid to hire guys that have experience and have been through a lot of different situations as head coaches or as coordinators and so forth, and he's been very strategic about assembling a staff."
With putting together his staff, Durkin worked his connections. He knew Shafer from working with him on Jim Harbaugh's staff at Stanford in 2007. He knew of Bell through North Carolina coach Larry Fedora, who Bell worked under with the Tar Heels and at Southern Mississippi. London and Durkin had a variety of mutual acquaintances who vouched for one another. Lembo and Durkin met last June when Harbaugh invited Lembo to speak at a camp at Michigan.
The common thread for each coach was that they had a proven track record of success in various capacities. For Durkin, it was all about finding the coaches who fit his vision and what he sees as the future for a Maryland football team coming off a 3-9 season.
"At this point in your career, you've done a lot of things from a football X's and O's standpoint," London said. "We just wanted to see, I wanted to see if it was a fit from a philosophical standpoint with him and he probably wanted to see, was it a fit from is this the type of guy that he wants on his staff?"
"It's so important to try to get yourself aligned with the same types of people and the values system and the beliefs and the philosophy and how you go about coaching young men playing this sport," Shafer said. "We're in alignment, so it worked out perfect for us."
Ultimately, though, the question of why boiled down to whether or not the new members of Durkin's staff believed he can bring Maryland to a level of consistent success, something the program hasn't seen since its run of 10-win seasons in the early 2000s.
Lembo, Shafer, Bell and London believe he can do it. That's why they're in College Park.
"I think he's the guy to do it," Bell said. "He's built a staff to do it, and ultimately as a professional, when you have to make a choice, I'm putting my livelihood on the line. I really feel like he's the guy to get it done. If I didn't think he could get it done, I wouldn't have shown up."