A disciple of Big Ten royalty, Maryland’s D.J. Durkin is a jolt of energy for Terps
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — A typical day for a Maryland football player might start at 5:30 a.m., but there is no time for early morning sluggishness.
Coach D.J. Durkin and his staff are trying to revive a Maryland program that rarely reached any level of national relevance during the Randy Edsall era. They are trying to do so with an uptempo offense, aggressive defense and a culture that might best be described as controlled chaos.
“They are wild dudes,” senior wide receiver DeAndre Lane said of his new coaching staff. “Like [sophomore offensive lineman] Brendan Moore said, they are like a human version of a can of Red Bull. Every day you come in, it’s music blasting to make sure everybody is awake. Lots of screaming and yelling, people running everywhere. It gets everyone hyped.”
While Durkin is getting the chance to run a program for the first time, he had already built an impressive resume in 15 years as an assistant coach. For Maryland to compete in the loaded Big Ten East, the Terps will need to find a way to close the chasm between them and college football’s royalty, such as Ohio State and Michigan.
Maybe one way to beat Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer is to turn to a young, energetic disciple of two of the five best coaches in the country. Durkin served as a graduate assistant in 2001 and 2002 with Meyer at Bowling Green, and then spent a year with him at Florida in 2010. Before and after his time with the Gators, Durkin worked for Harbaugh, first at Stanford and then at Michigan as his defensive coordinator in 2015.
“I’ve been asked that question maybe 500 times, and that might be on the low end,” Durkin said regarding his tenure with the two college football coaching titans. “Two great, great people and great coaches. I was very fortunate to work with both of them, as well a lot of other coaches. I think I’ve learned something from every person I’ve worked for or with. I’ve learned to stay very alert and take from guys about how they handle a certain experience, and I’ve been fortunate to be around the guys I have been to do that.”
So what did Durkin learn from Harbaugh and Meyer? They are both offensive guys who have drastically different schemes. Durkin, meanwhile, hired a young, fiery offensive coordinator, Walt Belt from Arkansas State, which means the Terps are clearly going to spread defenses and play as fast as possible at times.
That sounds like Meyer.
Several of Maryland’s players immediately pointed to Durkin’s energy when asked about differences about the new staff. Maybe the program wasn’t stagnating with the previous regime, but that was certainly the perception from outside College Park.
Edsall’s tenure began with a signature moment, when Maryland debuted flashy new uniforms in front of a packed home stadium against Miami in the 2011 season opener. After that, various uniform combinations and ties to Under Armour could only do so much. Players clashed with the coaching staff about rules and discipline early on, but, eventually, the Terps became a relatively run-of-the-mill, also-ran in the ACC and now the Big Ten.
There were two lower-tier bowl bids. There were 12 losses without a win against ranked opponents, including nine straight losses by double-digits or worse before Edsall’s termination.
Enter Durkin. High-energy, high-tempo, high-everything is very clearly part of the identity he is trying to establish.
That sounds like Harbaugh.
“Coach Durkin came in and was just like, ‘We are going to do this and this and it is going to be high intensity. We’re going to do it my way,’ and he’s very grrr … very intense about it,” senior offensive lineman Maurice Shelton said. “They are just culturally trying to get everyone on that level. He always talks about bringing everybody up and onto the bus. There are absolutely no off days and you come to work. And you better come to work hard. From the beginning, in the mornings we eat breakfast fast, you put your pads on fast. Everything is high intensity.”
Trying to get the players adjusted to Bell’s new offense means everything has to be fast in practice. The ball boys have to spot the ball or get a new one quickly. Players have to find new positions in different formations. The play has to be called in fast.
Huddles are rarely an option, and it looks like Maryland will try to start some drives with the first two plays locked in on the sideline so the Terps can go even faster.
“Phew, it is a lot faster,” junior defensive lineman David Shaw said after practice Friday. “Faster tempo, all of that. I think they’re going to be good. This is just crazy. There is high energy, but this is just beyond. There is never any quiet time. People are always screaming, hyping each other up. It makes it fun. [Strength and conditioning coach Rick] Court makes all these crazy videos. Right now, there’s like a video of animals fighting each other on in there.”
There might be a nod to Harbaugh’s love of more traditional, power football in the playbook as well. When the Terps practiced near the goal line Saturday in a controlled scrimmage, they lined up for two plays in a formation that included three running backs.
Durkin spoke to Sports Illustrated about his time with Meyer at Bowling Green, calling it “wild.” He said his time at Stanford with Harbaugh was “absolute mayhem.”
It sure seems like Durkin’s assistants are going to have something similar to say about this experience in the future.
“Two years ago, we beat Michigan at a drive at the end of the game, and you could really see the difference between that and the next year with Harbaugh,” Shelton said. “They came out fast, and the defense was totally different, even though it was really the same guys. Then I found out that Coach Durkin had just come in as the defensive coordinator, and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah … that explains everything. I see why this works.’ ”