Energetic Maryland football coach DJ Durkin wants to run 'blue-collar program'

Daniel Gallen
Contact ReporterBaltimore Sun Media Group
Maryland football coach DJ Durkin was introduced in College Park Thursday.

His voice quickened at times and he occasionally stumbled over his words, but through all of the press conference introducing him as the 36th coach in Maryland football history, DJ Durkin exuded a bubbly, youthful energy as he detailed his vision for a program in flux after a disappointing season.

The 37-year-old first-time head coach, who served as Michigan's defensive coordinator in 2015, inherits a Maryland squad with a number of questions — especially on offense — and one that faces a tough road in one of the nation's toughest divisions, the Big Ten East.

But for about a half-hour Thursday morning, Durkin brought excitement for the future to Glazer Auditorium in the Gossett Team House. He might have been a little nervous, but he thoughtfully outlined his expectations for a bright future in College Park with his wife Sarah, 5-year-old daughter Abigail and 2-year-old son Luke, who played with a stuffed Testudo, sitting in the front row with his parents, Dan and Marianne.

“Why Maryland? Why are you here?” Durkin asked in his opening remarks. “To me, it was an easy one. I think, personally, I really identify with this program. I think this is a blue-collar place, a blue-collar university, a blue-collar program. I think we compete in one of the best divisions, best conferences in the country. I embrace competition. I want to recruit guys that embrace that competition. So, to me, it's an easy sell.”

According to a source, Maryland signed Durkin to a five-year, $12.5 million contract, starting at $2.4 million in the first season and elevating to $2.6 million. The contract includes a rollover clause, adding a sixth year worth $2.65 million at the back end if Durkin stays for at least one full year.

Athletic director Kevin Anderson cited Durkin's coaching pedigree during his introductory remarks as a significant selling point for him and Maryland's search committee. Durkin coached under Michigan's Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and in Ann Arbor, Mich.; and he worked for Ohio State coach Urban Meyer at Bowling Green and at Florida. The list of names that Durkin had worked with, which includes former Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham, current Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn and current Stanford coach David Shaw, showed Anderson that Durkin's coaching future is bright.

“We wanted someone with a strong background who had a great winning pedigree, and we wanted someone who was going to be a national and a great recruiter,” Anderson said. “Most importantly, we wanted someone who had a winning attitude and came from a winning culture.”

But Durkin made it clear that he's not trying to imitate any of his previous bosses. He doesn't want to be Harbaugh — though he did drop one of Harbaugh's favorite lines during his presser: “Don't talk about it, just be about it” — or Meyer. He has worked for enough successful coaches during his young career that he can mold himself into a unique coach based on his range of experiences.

“I think the most important thing as a coach is you put your own stamp on it, your own personality,” Durkin said. “You don't try to be someone else and do it just the way they did it because, do it the way you want to do it and what's true to yourself. That's how we'll operate here.”

With Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon also sitting in the front row and football players Brad Craddock, Adam Greene, Caleb Rowe, Amba Etta-Tawo and D.J. Moore watching from the back of the auditorium, Durkin explained his recruiting and coaching philosophies. Durkin knows that Maryland is in the fertile recruiting grounds that the former Rivals.com Recruiter of the Year can take advantage of to build his program.

Durkin said he has a “really clear picture” of how he wants his team to look on defense and special teams. Offensively, he said he knows what he doesn't like to see, and he hopes that his experience as a defensive coordinator can help the offensive staff. Durkin also said he will be “deliberate” in constructing his coaching staff, and he was in the process of meeting with the Terps' current coaches, including offensive coordinator and former interim coach Mike Locksley.

“I think there's already good talent in the building, and I think right in our backyard is one of the richest talent areas in the country,” Durkin said. “We have to do a great job of recruiting and keeping those guys close to home. That's our job as coaches — to go recruit and go like crazy and do it.”

Durkin told the story of when he told his family it would be moving again, this time to College Park after living in Ann Arbor and Gainesville, Fla., the past two years. He broke the news to Abigail, who was excited for him as he expected she would be. But she also showed him how high her expectations for her father were.

“She didn't take much time to look right at me and go, 'It's about time you've become a head coach,'” Durkin said. “I guess I've been disappointing her all along, but I finally got that done.”

Durkin relished the opportunity for the challenge and stiff competition the Maryland coaching job presents. He has been tutored by some of the nation's top coaching talents, and all of it — his recruiting prowess, his enthusiasm, his excitement — built toward him standing at the front of Glazer Auditorium with Anderson, holding up a No. 1 Maryland jersey.

“I've been waiting for this day for a long, long time, preparing for it,” Durkin said. “It's finally here.”

Sun reporter Don Markus contributed to this article.

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