CHICAGO – First-year coaches at programs like Maryland aren’t supposed to have a top 25 recruiting class entering the fall. Don’t tell DJ Durkin that, because the longtime assistant turned head coach has been taking care of business on the recruiting trail.
Durkin’s 2017 class ranked 23rd in the country on Tuesday and features five 4-star prospects. That isn’t too shabby for a program that has had only two winning seasons the past five years and went 3-9 a year ago.
Durkin hails from a pair of powerful programs, Florida and Michigan. Both are programs that don’t necessarily recruit, rather select the talent that typically comes knocking on their doors. That doesn’t make the cutthroat sport of recruiting any easier, but Maryland is only similar to Michigan in climate and it certainly doesn’t resemble Florida.
Hundreds of players want to play for Michigan. Maryland on the other hand, not so much. So if Maryland doesn’t equal Michigan, then how is Durkin getting it done at an impressive clip on the recruiting trail? What’s his secret?
It’s nothing special. Durkin just makes sure to be himself and forge bonds with the players he’s pursuing.
“Recruiting is recruiting too,” Durkin said. “It’s about relationships. The style of which you do that I think is be true, be genuine to yourself and build real relationships with people.”
Durkin observed that the differences between recruiting as an assistant and recruiting as the face of a program are evident. The biggest distinction in Durkin’s mind is the pool of players he interacts with on a daily basis, but that doesn’t change his approach.
“I’m not going to do that any differently as a head coach than I did as an assistant,” Durkin said. “Now it’s a broader range of more guys you have to be involved with. I’ve always been with defensive guys, mainly, because that’s what I was coaching.”
That all makes sense. But it’s still uncertain how Durkin has sold joining the Terrapins to recruits who may have spurned the program in the past. Having a close relationship with UnderArmour probably helps. Perhaps it’s just the breath of fresh air that arrived with Durkin and his energetic staff.
“I don’t know what was pitched before. For us, there’s a lot of excitement around our program right now,” Durkin said. “There’s a facility being built right now that will be as nice as anywhere in the country. There’s a brand new coaching staff, obviously just being fairly new to the Big Ten right now.”
Durkin has also gotten some help from his invigorated team as well as some current commits who are persuading others to join them. The best customer is an advocate, and it appears Durkin has at least a couple people spreading his message to prospective players.
“(There’s) just kind of new life, a new way of doing things in and around our team, Durkin said. “I think our players are very excited about stuff so they’re conveying that message to guys when they come visit. We’ve been able to get on some guys early in the area that have then helped us recruit other guys and they’re conveying that same message.”
Durkin won’t promise anyone the world and he won’t sell Maryland as the eighth wonder of the world. But he won’t get upset over spoiled milk. Maryland is Maryland, take it or leave it.
“I think guys are just realizing and seeing we are who we are at our place,” Durkin said. “We don’t really play the used car salesman type recruiting games. This is who we are, if this fits you and you want to do it, come on with it. If it’s not, we understand too.”