The 2001 Bowling Green football season played an important role in the careers of two young coaches — first-time head coach Urban Meyer and a 23-year-old graduate assistant he hired, named DJ Durkin.
It was there, during a season that began with a win at Missouri and ended with the Falcons having the biggest turnaround in Division I by going from 2-9 to 8-3, that a bond was formed between the two native Ohioans. That bpnd has grown stronger over the past 15 years.
The friendship that has developed between Meyer, now in his fifth year at Ohio State, and Durkin, in the first season of his first head coaching job, will be part of the backstory going into Saturday's game between the No. 6 Buckeyes and Terps at Maryland Stadium.
The influence Meyer had on Durkin goes back to that first season together.
"The relationship you build with the kids, that's what stuck out to me," Durkin said Tuesday. "The reason why I do what I do and the reason why our coaching staff and the guys I hire are doing it for the right reasons, too, is to have a positive influence on young men. Football is a great way — there are so many lessons they can learn from, and it's a great way to convey a lot of those messages."
Durkin, now 38, recalled thinking quickly what the rest of the country would soon discover about Meyer, who went 17-6 in two seasons at Bowling Green before moving up the coaching ladder to Utah and eventually to Florida, where he won the first two of his three national championships.
"It wasn't that he was known throughout the country at the time," Durkin said. "It didn't take very long [to realize] this guy's pretty special."
Meyer, 52, saw something similar in Durkin.
"I immediately gave him full-time responsibility after the first few weeks we were together," Meyer said Tuesday on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference. "I was having plans to hiring him full-time [before leaving for Utah after two seasons]. That's how good he was."
Those who worked with both Meyer and Durkin saw similarities between the two.
John Bowers, who coached the linebackers at Bowling Green and later worked for Meyer as a recruiting assistant at Ohio State in 2013, said Durkin was the first of an impressive list of graduate assistants who worked for Meyer during those two years.
"You could see his passion, the way he treats people, his love of football, the attention to detail as a young coach," said Bowers, who coaches outside linebackers and special teams at his alma mater, James Madison.
Bowers has a vivid memory of Durkin from one of the team's first winter workouts after Durkin transitioned from a two-year team captain for the Falcons to a defensive graduate assistant.
"We had some guys not competing like we thought they should," Bowers said. "I can remember DJ diving over two or three people to help 'encourage' a guy to give more effort," Bowers said. "I remember his intensity. He understood the passion you had to play with and getting the guys to believe in you and playing hard for you and treating them the right way.
"He was coaching all the guys that he had played with; that's not easy. He did a great job of getting the respect of those guys quickly, relaizing that he was now a coach and no longer a player, and separating that part of his life from his buddies. I did the same thing, it's not easy. You have to do it if you want to be successful."
Paul Krebs, the athletic director who hired Meyer as head coach in 2001, was still at Bowling Green when Durkin returned as a full-time assistant after Meyer left for Utah. Krebs recalled Durkin's reaction on the sideline during the team's opening game of the 2005 season.
"There was an exciting play, and DJ thought he was still playing, and head-butted one of the players who had his helmet on," said Krebs, now the A.D. at New Mexico. "As I remember, DJ got a cut on his forehead."
Krebs said that the young coach's personality reminded him a lot of Meyer.
"I thought he had a toughness and intensity to him, and in that respect, it was similar to Coach Meyer," Krebs said. "DJ was someone who had a passion for the the sport and he was very focused. I thought he was a little bit mature beyond his age. Very dedicated."
In some ways, the Meyer-Durkin matchup is much the same as last weekend's at Michigan with Jim Harbaugh, for whom Durkin worked for three seasons at Stanford (2007-09) and another with the Wolverines.
While Durkin is hoping for a different result than the 59-3 demolition the No. 3 Wolverines put on the Terps, coaching against Meyer and the Buckeyes will be no different.
"It's a game. You're playing someone you have a relationship with and someone you obviously want to do well — except for that day when you're playing them," said Durkin, who also worked for Meyer as special teams and linebackers coach at Florida. "It's the same with a family member of anyone else. You always want to win. You still have the same relationship afterwards. That's where we we are."
On the Big Ten coaches' teleconference Tuesday, Meyer sounded more like a close friend or even a proud older brother in talking about the job Durkin has done so far at Maryland.
"I'm very proud of DJ and hopefully I see the trademarks of our program — play hard, toughness and guys giving everything they can," Meyer said.
Those two years working for Meyer — on a staff that included three other future head coaches in Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, former Illinois coach Tim Beckman and Colorado School of Mines coach Gregg Brandon — proved invaluable for Durkin as he tries to rebuild the Terps.
"It was a great experience, extremely valuable," he said. "It was hard; we worked extremely hard. But I loved it, I loved every second of it. There were things that I learned back then that still to this day are things that are very improtant to me in how I coach and how we do things here."