"I want to recruit guys that embrace that competition. So, to me, it's an easy sell," said Maryland's new football coach DJ Durkin when asked about recruiting. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
When Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson introduced DJ Durkin as the school's 36th football coach Thursday, he repeatedly emphasized the importance of Durkin's pedigree.
Durkin coached under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan and Stanford and under Urban Meyer at Florida and Bowling Green. He was on staffs with Stanford coach David Shaw and Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn, the defensive coordinator for the Super Bowl XLVIII-champion Seattle Seahawks.
And while Durkin has no head coaching experience — outside of one month as Florida's interim coach at the end of last season — Anderson is confident Durkin's time working under some of college football's most proven minds at elite programs will give him the base to shape a successful program in College Park.
"Most impressive with DJ is he's worked with tremendous people," Anderson said before listing off the notable names. "He comes from the most prestigious football programs in this country."
But what does that mean for Durkin at Maryland? How can he pull together the traits of those he's worked for and combine those with his previous lessons in a profession that's bound to have growing pains for a 37-year-old first-timer?
Immediately, Durkin made it clear he's trying to be his own coach. He won't be Jim Harbaugh Jr. — though some of his talking points seemed to be taken from Harbaugh's script — or Urban Meyer II. No, Durkin's goal is to be DJ Durkin, Maryland football coach.
"I've been fortunate to be around some of the best there is," Durkin said Thursday. "As coaches, you always take bits and pieces from people you've worked for, worked with. You're always learning, you're always evolving. There's a long list of things that I've learned from the gentlemen you mentioned, as well as the guys I've worked with and worked for. I think the most important thing as a coach is you put your own stamp on it."
Durkin spent the first two years of his coaching career with Meyer at Bowling Green during the future three-time national champion's total rebuild of the Falcons, and he later reunited with Meyer for a season at Florida in 2010. Durkin coached at Stanford with Harbaugh from 2007-09 before Harbaugh handpicked him to coach Michigan's defense when the former San Francisco 49ers coach returned to his alma mater this year.
He's the latest branch of Harbaugh and Meyer's coaching trees to get the opportunity to run his own program. Shaw, South Florida's Willie Taggart, Vanderbilt's Derek Mason and Nevada's Brian Polian are all former Harbaugh assistants at Stanford who are now head coaches. Scott Shafer, Harbaugh's first defensive coordinator at Stanford, was fired from Syracuse at the end of this season.
Meyer's coaching tree includes Houston's Tom Herman, who is highly coveted and seems set for a hefty pay raise to stay with the Cougars, Texas' Charlie Strong, Utah's Kyle Whittingham, Oregon State's Gary Andersen, Mississippi State's Dan Mullen and Boston College's Steve Addazio. All were coordinators and assistants on Meyer's staffs at Ohio State, Florida and/or Utah.
Those coaches have had mixed results during their stints leading programs. But some — namely Mullen at Mississippi State and Taggart at South Florida — have turned around programs. Maryland hasn't won more than seven games since 2010 and has had three losing seasons in the past five years. And the Terps are in the same division as Big Ten Conference foes Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan.
So the task ahead of Durkin is difficult, though it's not as daunting as when Harbaugh, with Durkin as his special teams coordinator, took over a Stanford program in 2007 that had gone 1-11 the year before. In Harbaugh's fourth season, the Cardinal went 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl.
"He seems very much in the Harbaugh mentality," FOXSports senior college sports columnist Stewart Mandel said Friday. "They're going to play blue-collar football, run it up your throat, play great defense. He's a young guy, so he kind of bucks the trend of everybody that's seemingly coming up the ranks and wants to all run the spread and throw 50 times a game. He's obviously much more in line with the Harbaugh vision than that."
Beyond talking points and the desire for a "blue-collar" program, both Harbaugh and Durkin are high-energy coaches. Harbaugh's sideline reactions have become classic social media fodder, especially upon his return to Michigan. In the Wolverines' win at Penn State on Nov. 21, Harbaugh ripped off his coat while voicing his displeasure with a pass interference call. Behind Harbaugh, Durkin prowled back and forth, stomping his feet and pumping his fist.
"Energy equals production," Durkin said. "So this entire building will be filled with high-energy people that are excited about coming to work and go do it from the top on down. You get a group of people doing that, everyone pushing the same direction, that's really hard to stop. That's the intent."
Durkin called the opportunity to match wits on the sideline against his mentors "healthy competition," although he also said he didn't view it as extra motivation to take the Maryland job.
Mandel pointed out that some former Harbaugh assistants haven't panned out as coaches or have struggled in tough jobs. But he said Durkin's track record independent of who he's worked with points to a likelihood of success in College Park. When Meyer left Florida after 2010, incoming Gators coach Will Muschamp, considered one of the brightest defensive minds in college football, kept Durkin on his staff and later promoted him to defensive coordinator.
"I think the reason he's been so regarded is the defenses he's built at Michigan and Florida are just so good," Mandel said.
Durkin takes over a program that went 3-9 after making it to bowl games in the previous two seasons. It might not be the total rebuild that Meyer helped jumpstart at Bowling Green or the construction of an elite program Harbaugh initiated at Stanford. Durkin has seen what can be done, even in the face of stiff competition.
DJ Durkin isn't going to be Jim Harbaugh or Urban Meyer. And he doesn't want to be them. But those two elites coaches — along with the other notables Durkin has worked with — will play a role in how Durkin shapes his program at Maryland.