The arrival of a new head coach usually brings out the cliche buzzwords. We’ve heard them all before.
This new coach has inhaled a “breath of fresh air” into the program and has injected life into his new destination.
Well, call DJ Durkin’s first year at Maryland out of the ordinary, and for good reason.
Although he hasn’t coached a game yet, the former Florida and Michigan assistant has infused a different type of energy into Maryland. Whether it’s the players he inherited when he was hired, or the players he has lured to College Park, Md., Durkin’s philosophy is relational and that strategy has worked thus far.
The most direct evidence comes from the recruiting trail, as Durkin has quickly assembled a borderline top 25 recruiting class for 2017. That isn’t an easy accomplishment as a first-year coach at Maryland.
But recruiting isn’t everything and getting the players he inherited to buy in might have been the toughest task on Durkin’s plate. The more abstract proof that Durkin’s plan is working comes from the current Terrapins he won over his first day on the job.
“The very first day they introduced Coach Durkin, I was like ‘Yeah this is the guy,’ ” linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr., told Landof10 at Big Ten Media Day in Chicago last week. “I just felt his energy the very first meeting he had with the whole team and I was just excited for what he could bring to the table.”
Senior offensive lineman Michael Dunn echoed Carter’s sentiments.
“The first day when he came in and talked to us, you could just feel the energy in the room,” Dunn said last week. “I was definitely a bit taken aback by it at first because I guess I’d say I wasn’t really used to it. As a senior, I refuse to go into my senior year without doing everything that I could possibly do to have the best year possible. I knew that Coach Durkin was the right guy.”
What makes Durkin the “right guy” to rebuild the program?
“Coach Durkin, one of his big things is honesty,” Dunn said. “That’s something that I really agree with. To have a coach who, no matter what it is, as long as he’s honest, being able to tell you straight-up what he believes and what he sees. Not like beating around the bush, just getting to the point and telling you. You can really respect someone like that.
“And all he asks in return is that we’re honest with him. That’s one thing that I completely go for. When he’s honest with me, I can be honest with him. It just makes the relationship even better.”
It helps when Durkin’s favorite part of the job is creating and maintaining those relationships with players, recruits and parents.
“I enjoy the face-to-face, the conversations, sitting down with a family, with a mom and dad, a potential recruit and talking and getting to know people,” Durkin said. “I enjoy that part of it.
“That’s really where you get a feel and a sense for people what they’re all about. I feel they get a better feel for me and a sense when I’m able to talk to them in person. But to do all that, it takes time. Those are not short conversations.”
Durkin replaces Randy Edsall, who spent five seasons at Maryland before being fired. His midseason firing wasn’t easy for the Terps on last year’s roster, but Dunn admits that Durkin’s enthusiasm is something he hadn’t experienced during his time at College Park.
“We were coming off a really bad season, our coach got fired midway through the year and the interim coach got fired,” Dunn said. “We were close with them and it’s always rough to see that happen to all of the other coaches you really develop relationships and grew close with.
“It was definitely a difficult time in our lives. But when coach Durkin came in and you just heard him talk and saw the intensity and raising his voice and stuff and you realize ‘Wow this is something I haven’t seen before.’ You could just sense excitement in his voice and when you see that you can’t help but get excited yourself.”
Durkin’s Maryland tenure has started off about as well as the wildest optimist could hope. The question will be whether that excitement will translate into wins on the field this season.
So far, Durkin’s done everything else right.