COLLEGE PARK — There have been plenty of words and phrases like "buy in" or "culture change" thrown around at Maryland since DJ Durkin became coach in early December. And many times, those can be empty placeholders filled with ambiguity to distract from any real meaning.
But at Maryland, it appears that there is a distinct drive behind those words. In a program that went 23-39 over the past five seasons, the Terps are simply tired of losing, so they've responded to Durkin and his staff's message and changes.
"No one likes to lose and we knew that something had to be done, something had to be changed," fifth-year senior quarterback Perry Hills said Tuesday at Maryland's media day. "The environment we were in, something had to be done, and we were just going to give our hearts. We trusted in him and his plan in order to win."
Durkin has said he wasn't sure how the Terps would respond to him or his approach when he arrived in College Park. Resistance from veteran players could have surfaced. Durkin and his staff had to simultaneously learn the personalities of the roster while also putting in place the structure they thought would give the Terps the best chance to win.
Durkin found a receptive group inside the Gossett Football Team House.
"Our guys, they want to be good, they want to be successful, like most people," Durkin said last month at Big Ten Conference media days. "They're willing to say, 'Let's try something different, something new and see how it goes.' That part has been awesome."
A mutual effort from both the coaching staff and the players led to the smoothness of the transition. Quarterback Caleb Rowe, a fifth-year senior who has played in each of the past four seasons, said the remnants of the Terps' leadership council, a staple of former coach Randy Edsall's teams, were willing to do the work to set the example for the younger players on the team. And in turn, Durkin and his staff exhibited traits that appealed to the returning players.
"We wanted someone that would lead us in the right direction," Rowe said. "And we got it. Coach Durkin is unbelievable. There wasn't much pushback because that's what we wanted. We wanted somebody like that. … When he came in, it wasn't hard for the young guys to buy in because we have older guys that are willing to do what Coach Durkin is asking us to do, so honestly, I love it."
"They all came in every day," Hills said. "None of them would come in sleepy-eyed, tired. They would all come in, no matter what. No matter how they were feeling that morning, sick, whatever. They would all come in super energized."
Every coaching transition is different. In 2011, Edsall dealt with massive attrition when he took over for Ralph Friedgen after a 9-4 season. He went 2-10 in his first season, and while the program made gains in the following years, it got off to a 2-4 start last season and Edsall was fired.
Durkin said he sometimes tries to create adversity for his players to "make it difficult on them for no other reason than just to be difficult." The Terps have risen to the challenges, whether it's practices during the August midday heat or working at a breakneck speed for the whole session.
"It's been really cool, actually, and they've been far more willing than I ever would have imagined," linebackers coach Matt Barnes said. "We coach really hard and that starts from the top. We challenge our guys, and we're huge on accountability around here, and our boys have been very, very receptive to that, and they're a group that wants to win. They want to get better. And I think they're already starting to see how much progress they've all made and once you get a little taste of that success, I think that goes a long way for them."
The ultimate test for Durkin is to improve Maryland's on-field product in a season in which the schedule sets up nicely to make a run at bowl eligibility. That starts with the players on his roster, and he needed them to get on the same page as him in a meaningful way. After more than eight months on the job and less than three weeks from the season opener against Howard, Durkin has found a team that wants to be coached by him and wants to be better under his leadership.
"It's been great," Durkin said Tuesday. "So I don't know, man. Maybe those guys came together and said they're willing to change. I think they want to win and be successful, so usually people are more willing to change when something they were doing maybe, whatever it was, they feel wasn't working. So they've really bought into that.