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New Maryland football coach DJ Durkin makes good first impression

While hiring DJ Durkin as head coach won't excite the fan base, winning in the Big Ten definitely would.

It would be difficult not to be charmed by new Maryland football coach DJ Durkin.

The 37-year-old former Michigan defensive coordinator is young, energetic, well-spoken and — by some accounts — as competitive as the uber-intense Jim Harbaugh, whom he was working for at Michigan when he got the call from Terps athletic director Kevin Anderson.

So, he can strike the good first impression off the checklist of important coaching attributes he has brought to Maryland, after Thursday's introductory news conference at the Gossett Football Team House.

Otherwise, it's a little early to draw any major conclusions from one late-morning Q&A session, other than to notice that Durkin's public persona is decidedly different from the last head coach who was brought in to straighten out the football program.

Durkin could not hide his enthusiasm about the opportunity to run the whole show after paying his dues and climbing the coaching ladder in several top-level programs. Randy Edsall often seemed too busy trying to look like the iconic old-school ball coach to venture outside the standard coaching bromides and reveal much about himself.

In other words, Durkin appears to be more Mark Turgeon than Edsall, though he talks a lot faster than either of them.

"This is really cool,'' he said. "I've been waiting for this day for a long, long time — preparing for it — and it's finally here and, to say the least, I'm very excited."

To be sure, it is an exciting new day for Terps football, but how could it not be?

The Terps just suffered through a highly disappointing season under Edsall and interim coach Mike Locksley. Their fans have largely applauded the decisive way Anderson acted to move the program in a new direction, even if the search began with a fairly specific focus and ended with a surprisingly different result.

Anderson indicated on the day he announced the Edsall firing that he would be looking for an offensive-minded guy with head coaching experience who would "excite the fan base." Durkin is a longtime defensive guy with no head coaching experience (save for one game as an interim head coach) whose name was widely known only in college football circles.

That doesn't mean he isn't the right choice. It just means the search parameters evolved and Anderson remained open-minded enough to take the road less traveled and pick an accomplished assistant and well-respected recruiter who got rave reviews from just about everyone Anderson contacted to vet him.

"It was based on leadership and who was going to be the best leader for our young men,'' Anderson said. "So, as I went through the process, we started to meet with many people and at the end of the day, the person who stuck out in our mind was DJ from the very beginning.

"When we talked about leadership, the energy that he had, people that I talked to that knew him … we knew that he was the right person for our job."

There's a lot more to the story than that. The search committee was impressed with Durkin's enthusiasm for a coaching challenge that some other potential candidates apparently viewed as insurmountable.

Getting Maryland to the mountaintop in a Big Ten Conference East Division that includes entrenched power programs Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State may turn out to be a bridge too far, but it obviously won't be because Durkin shied away from the opportunity to try.

"The way this conference, and in particular this division, has shaped up, it's the top of the country," Durkin said. "So, you have an opportunity to recruit the best in the country because I believe that the best of the best want to play in the best. That's who we are. That's who we play week in and week out and those are the guys we want to be involved with recruiting. We're going to take our swings and fight our battles and hopefully just keep plugging away and winning more and more."

So, a new era begins with some tough talk from a tough guy who appears to have the credentials to back it up. But the proof isn't going be found in a news conference setting, and a dynamic Terp turnaround certainly isn't likely to happen overnight.

Anderson may have set out to find a coach who would immediately excite the fan base, but it was really about rebuilding confidence in the program and creating a better road map to the upper reaches of the Big Ten.

If Durkin is equal to that herculean task, the excitement comes later.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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