"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)
COLLEGE PARK — In the days leading up to his decision to fire Randy Edsall midway through the 2015 season, Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson peeked into the binder he used to make notes about coaches he might be interested in hiring.
DJ Durkin's name first went into the binder a couple of years ago, after missing out on the head coaching job at his alma mater, Bowling Green. Shortly after Dino Babers was hired away from Eastern Illinois, Anderson heard from Bowling Green athletic director Chris Kingston.
Kingston had nearly as much to say about a young defensive coordinator, who had worked under former Bowling Green coach Urban Meyer at Florida and was now with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, as he did about Babers.
"After he got through with the interview [process], he called me and talked to me about DJ," Anderson recalled Thursday.
It was around that time that the name and accomplishments of the then 35-year-old Durkin went into Anderson's binder.
Among the list of potential replacements if he fired Edsall — something Anderson knew was a possibility even as he was giving him an extension last summer — "Durkin was always in the top percentile," Anderson said Wednesday.
Knowing that Anderson stated at the press conference to announce Edsall's firing that he wanted an offensive coach whose system would "excite the fan base," Durkin went on the offensive when Anderson flew to Detroit recently to talk with the first-year Michigan defensive coordinator and his wife, Sarah, at their home in Ann Arbor.
"When we sat down and talked about philosophy, one of the first things he said was, 'How you win football games, you have to put points on the board' — that he knows," Anderson said. "And in this league [the Big Ten], you have to spread people out and you have to be fast and you have to have the right people to work with them.
"When he told me that, he does have an offensive philosophy that I think all of us are going to like. When you talk about boxes, I think people put him in a box. The thing that impressed me the most about DJ is that he said, 'I know how to run offenses that can beat defenses.' That was good enough for me."
After the meeting, Anderson called Kingston and told him that Durkin had "reaffirmed" what he and others had told him.
"From the very beginning, DJ was on my list," Anderson said. "I hired the best guy out there."
What Durkin also said that resonated with Anderson was how unafraid the former Bowling Green linebacker was about coaching in the Big Ten's rugged East Division, and going up against his two former bosses, Ohio State's Meyer and Michigan's Harbaugh, as well as others including Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio.
"I talked to a lot of people. A lot of people were afraid [when] they looked at our conference and our division," Anderson said. "First thing I said to him was, 'We'll climb that mountain together and we'll be as competitive as anybody else, and we won't be scared.' That was the other thing he said. I want somebody in the foxhole like that. I think there were some people who said, 'Maybe this isn't a good job for me because I don't want to take on that challenge.'"
Durkin doesn't seem to be intimidated by competing against what has become arguably the toughest division in college football. Durkin, who grew up between an older and younger sister, compared trying to outsmart and outcoach Meyer and Harbaugh to a younger brother going up against older brothers.
Durkin also knows that he is not going to do it alone.
"Any good organization has proper alignment," Durkin said. "From the top down, if you have alignment and the culture where everyone is pushing in the same direction, the sky's the limit; you can accomplish anything.
"In our industry, when you're talking about football, with our recruiting base in our backyard, I know we can recruit great talent to be here. … Energy equals production, this entire building will be filled with high-energy people who are excited about coming to work. When you get everyone pushing in the same direction, that's hard to stop."
Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon, who attended Wednesday's introductory news conference with members of his staff, said he was impressed with what he heard from and knew about Durkin.
"I think he's what we need," Turgeon said. "I liked his energy. We need football to be good, not to put pressure on him. It would help a lot of areas. I think we can work off each other. We're going to have great home crowds. They can bring recruits in here and help them be successful. If they get it rolling, that helps us when we bring recruits in."
Still, just as Turgeon is not a clone of Roy Williams or Larry Brown or others he has worked for, Durkin is not mimicking Harbaugh or Meyer or Tyrone Willingham, who he coached under at Notre Dame.
"He has the pedigree," Turgeon said. "It has an impact on him and how he approaches the job. It's going to help make him successful, but he's got to be himself."
Asked what advice he would give Durkin, Turgeon said, "He's already got it figured out, he just keeps saying, 'I'm going to be myself. I'm going to be who I am.' That's terrific. Who he is has been pretty good to this point. I imagine he's going to do just fine."
Former Maryland star Shawne Merriman, who publicly had come out in support of former offensive coordinator Mike Locksley having the interim label removed to become Terps coach, said he has heard good things about Durkin.
Ironically, Merriman had the same linebackers coach at Maryland — Al Seamonson, now at Illinois — as Durkin did at Bowling Green.
"He and a few other people who called me when they heard the news said that he is a great guy and he's really going to get after it," Merriman said. "He's smart, he's young, he's got a great mentality."