College Sports

Maryland Football: In buying in, Terps ease transition to Durkin

COLLEGE PARK — DJ Durkin's first four-and-a-half months as Maryland's coach have been filled with tales of the seemingly boundless reserves of intensity and energy present within the 38-year-old and his staff.

The first-year coach has laid out his vision and expectations for the program to the Terps in his tone. He's been impressed with the response.


"Probably the best thing I see in our team is we're very coachable," Durkin said after Saturday's Red-White spring game. "We've been very demanding on these guys. There hasn't been any pushback. They want to be good. They want to win. They want to do what we're asking them to do, and that's all you can ask for as a coach."

The transition from former coach Randy Edsall to interim coach Mike Locksley to Durkin is Maryland's second coaching change in six years. The transition from Ralph Friedgen to Edsall in 2011 was fraught with conflict, with more than 20 players transferring in Edsall's first year. The circumstances surrounding both coaching changes are opposite — Edsall took over a team that went 9-4, while Durkin inherited a 3-9 squad — and the program has cycled out any players left.


But why has the transition to Durkin been so smooth?

"That's a good question," defensive end Roman Braglio said. "I would really say it's just they came in and it was just, 'Trust us. Trust us.' They're so accepting of who you are and they just want to make you a better player and you can really feel that. It's really about you and what you want to do as a player, and they're there for you no matter what."

The lack of "pushback" from the players started at the top with Durkin and trickled down through the rest of his staff. The past success of Durkin's hires established instant credibility with the players. Durkin coached under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan and Stanford. Defensive backs coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim spent the past two seasons under Nick Saban at Alabama. Offensive coordinator Walt Bell ran a record-setting offense at Arkansas State.

On paper, Durkin's assistants boast lofty track records, and it's not lost on the players.

"These coaches come from winning programs like Florida, Alabama, Ohio State, Mississippi State," linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. said. "They come from all winning places, so they know how to win, and we just got to be able to buy in to what they want, and we should be able to win."

Since Durkin's tenure started in December, he's raised the stakes of nearly everything the team does, and that "competition breeds success," Carter said. It's allowed him to connect with the players, and since he's given the Terps a blank slate, he's given them a chance to come forward and impress him.

"I think part of being a coach is figuring out what makes a guy tick," Durkin said. "You don't handle everyone the same. But overall as a program, guys got to see that what they do actually matters."

The ultimate end that Maryland wants to reach under Durkin is winning games. The Terps averaged 4.6 wins per year over the past five seasons with the peaks coming in seven-win seasons, and lower-tier bowl losses, in 2013 and 2014. Durkin has been able to tap into that, and it's helped things go smoothly.


"Trust is the biggest thing for a player or coach," Braglio said. "You have to have that bond. When he came in, it was a just a strong trust bond. Everyone bought in it, from the first winter workout. It was so hard and so tough, and the next day we're right there ready to go it again. We want to get better as a team. It's not fun going 3-9, so we come here and we're ready to work."

Much can still change for Maryland in Durkin's tenure. What happens if the wins don't come in a grueling Big Ten Conference schedule? How will the players react to disgruntled teammates?

But Durkin has laid the groundwork for success early through his vision for the program.

It has resonated with the players. They've recognized through Durkin's hires and philosophy that there is a path toward improvement from last season. It's difficult, but the Terps see it.

"We definitely have everybody to buy in," Carter said. "We don't have any guys on the team who have any attitudes or any type of person that wants to push back toward the coach. Everybody's just wanting to listen and get better. Who doesn't want to get better?"