In his second year as Maryland's football coach, DJ Durkin is typically the headliner at whatever university-sponsored event he is invited to. Such was the case at Thursday night's Terps On Tour stop at Dave & Buster's, though the presence of three fellow Maryland coaches with national championships on their resumes gave Durkin pause to reconsider the pecking order in the program.

"There are coaches [at other programs] that have done it for 30, 40 years and never won a single championship — conference or anything, let alone a national championship," Durkin told the large crowd of fans who came to the Montgomery County arcade. "Just think about who's here tonight and who's speaking and what these coaches are all about."


Durkin recalled watching the men's and women's lacrosse teams win national championships on successive days over Memorial Day weekend, adding to the nine titles the Terps took back to College Park during the 2016-17 season and bringing the total to a Big-Ten best 25 regular-season, postseason and national championships Maryland has won since joining the league in 2014.

"It gave me chills," Durkin said. "Our whole family was sitting and watching it, it was just unbelievable. To Cathy [Reese] and John [Tillman], great job. You're the best. I'm very proud to be part of the same athletic department that you coach in."

Tillman, whose teams had won or shared three regular-season titles and two conference tournaments before winning the program's first national championship in 42 years, understands that he inherited a program that was in a completely different place than the one Durkin was taking over when he replaced Randy Edsall after the 2015 season.

"In DJ's defense, and with some of the other [football] coaches, I don't think he's had the infrastructure to be successful," Tillman said. "When you look at the other programs [in the Big Ten], the bells and whistles, the facilities, the infrastructures they have, it's very conducive to recruiting the best kids…It becomes a little bit of an arms race."

Talking to reporters later, Durkin said that the mindset he came with from Michigan (as well as Florida and Stanford before that) has only been reinforced during his 17 months at Maryland.

"I don't think it changes the mindset, it is the mindset," Durkin said. "I think it's great. We have such tremendous sports and coaches and athletes from top to bottom at Maryland. It's great to see them achieving at such a high level. We want them to continue that. To me, it's about getting all of our programs operating at that level. Every one is in different stages. Certainly that's always the goal and we're going to get it there."

Tillman believes that Maryland has caught up to most and surpassed many in the Big Ten in that regard, and credits athletic director Kevin Anderson for leading the movement with the new indoor football facility and entrepreneurial studies center that will open later this summer where Cole Field House stood for more than 60 years.

"I know Kevin's doing the best he can, and I think [the new] Cole is going to be great," Tillman said. "Being able to show kids, 'Hey, we're actually investing, we are building, we are committed,' I think it's really going to help him. I think DJ's enthusiasm, his staff is awesome. They've been able to keep some kids home. I think they've got a lot of great momentum going."

Longtime men's soccer coach Sasho Cirovski, whose teams have won two national championships since he arrived at Maryland in 1993, understands what Durkin is going through.

"From the first day I walked onto Maryland, I felt this was a sleeping giant and that we were going to become champions," Cirovski said Thursday. "We were at the bottom of the ACC and within three years we were champions of the ACC. You have to have a vision and you have to have the will to go forward, otherwise what's the point?

"I think DJ is absolutely right. He has to think and talk about winning the Big Ten championship. Why not? That's what brings players to come to Maryland. They want to win. And because we've won so many championships, I think the belief is stronger than ever across all sports. It's contagious. When you look across in the weight room and see your peers winning, you start to believe you can do it."

Cirovski said he used the men's basketball program under future Naismith Hall of Fame coach Gary Williams as his benchmark.

"When Gary got here [in 1989], he was fighting and scratching to win a championship," Cirovski recalled. "He won his [national] championship in 2002 and we won in 2005. That's the beauty of DJ. He's so young and energetic and ambitious. He's got that belief. It's contagious, with his staff and his players. That's the way I was when I got here. That's the way I still am."

Said Tillman: "I think you've got to dream it. If you're going to do it, you've got to dream big and you've got to shoot for the stars and if you don't, then you might shoot too low...When it comes to DJ, I wouldn't bet against him in anything....Certainly he's got some things he's got to work on, but just the way they do their business, he gets it. He's going to do some good things."


Recommended on Baltimore Sun