COLLEGE PARK — When Maryland takes the field to face Howard in its season opener on Sept. 3, DJ Durkin will be prowling the sideline in charge of all facets of a team for the first time in his young career. But also shepherding the Terps through their game at Maryland Stadium will be three coaches who were in Durkin's place less than a year before.
For Mike London, Scott Shafer and Pete Lembo, the move from the head coaching role to assistant will be a transition. But in a profession known for its control freaks and obsessive personalities, the trio exuded a level of calm and excitement about the changes during a meeting with local media Tuesday afternoon.
It's Durkin's team, and London, Shafer and Lembo are looking forward to their complementary roles.
"I don't mind being Tonto to the Lone Ranger," said London, Virginia's coach for the past six seasons.
"I'm really excited for it," said Shafer, who spent the past three seasons leading Syracuse. "I'm almost giddy."
"As you get to know me, I don't have a big ego," said Lembo, who left Ball State in December after five seasons. "I believe in what I do and how I do it, but I never, ever felt like I couldn't go back and do this."
Each have taken different paths to College Park, and the reasons for their moves vary. But they all said there are unique things they can bring to the program, and that Durkin was a significant factor for their presence Tuesday in the Young Dining Hall in Gossett Team House overlooking the field at Maryland Stadium.
London wasn't sure what his next move would be after his tenure at Virginia ended. But Durkin came calling and the two connected on a personal level. Becoming Maryland's associate head coach and defensive line coach also provides London a chance to hit a "reset button" and go "back to the roots" of his coaching career where he first had success.
"I get a chance to do the thing that got me to where I got to," London said.
London said in the process of meeting Maryland's players, he was surprised at how many of them remembered him from past interactions, even if those were just in passing while he was recruiting a teammate or a brother. He has the opportunity to get more hands-on with the players while passing along lessons to Durkin.
"Having sat in that chair, we can offer perspectives to DJ that we've experienced ourselves because you've got to make a lot of tough calls, tough decisions," London said. "I can tell you, there's no ego in the circle of coaches that we have or with the three of us being former head coaches."
Shafer said he's looking forward to being more involved with the minutiae of the program as defensive coordinator — more time on the road recruiting and the ability to develop deeper personal relationships with the players on his side of the ball — that he didn't necessarily have the chance to work on during his three seasons as Syracuse's head coach.
The assistant coaches' jobs, Shafer said, are to make Durkin's job easier. And with former head coaches on the staff, they can work together on the smaller things so Durkin can concentrate on the bigger picture of the Terps realizing his vision.
"It's funny," Shafer said. "You spend your whole career working hard and hoping that maybe someday you can be a head coach, and then once you get there, a lot of the things that you fell in love with, the daily grind of whatever period you're in — recruiting, spring ball, fall camp, camp circuits, clinics — a lot of that gets taken away from you. Now you're starting to manage bigger things, things that were kind of the top of things that you never had to mess with. It's nice to get back into the grassroots of coaching."
Durkin's hiring of Lembo was perhaps the most surprising of the three.
In his five seasons at Ball State, Lembo had a 10-win and nine-win season, though the program won only eight games over the past two years. Lembo also had more head coaching experience than London or Shafer, with 15 years between Lehigh, Elon and Ball State. But the chance to do something he'd never done before in working for a school in a "Power Five" conference, along with his background of extensive special teams experience from his time at Lehigh and Elon — not to mention roots in the area from playing at Georgetown — were too much to pass up.
"I've been able to check off a lot of boxes in my career in terms of working my way up and taking a lot of pride in what we've done and how we've done it," Lembo said. "This is another great opportunity for me and that's exactly how I'm looking at it."
The coaches all insisted that there won't be too many strong, forceful personalities in one place on Durkin's staff. They know what their particular roles are and what their responsibilities are. For now, that's enough.
"We're going to discuss things, and then we're going to get behind something. When the door opens, we're all on the same page. We're all unified and this is the plan that we're going with," Lembo said. "He genuinely wants those different points of view. He wants to have meaningful conversations about how we're going to organize the program, and I know that's going to be a big part of my role, to be willing to speak up and willing to contribute and fall back on those 15 years of experience I have as a head coach."