Maryland's Hiring of D.J. Durkin Could Be the Steal of CFB Coaching Carousel

Ben AxelrodBig Ten Lead WriterDecember 2, 2015

Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, left, and head coach Jim Harbaugh, right, watch players warmup before the NCAA college football team's spring game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, April 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Tony Ding/Associated Press

It won't go down as the splashiest hire of the college football offseason, that's for certain. Especially not after the midseason firing of Randy Edsall was followed by rumblings that Maryland would be turning its attention toward luring Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly to College Park.

The hire of Kirby Smart at Georgia, Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech and the potential Miami (Fla.) hire will grab more attention, but there's a lot to like about Maryland's hiring of Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, which Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel reported on Wednesday.

In fact, it may not take long for the 37-year-old Durkin to emerge as the hidden gem in this year's college football coaching carousel.

The end of Durkin's college career as an outside linebacker and defensive end with the Falcons coincided with the arrival of a first-year head coach named Urban Meyer. After serving as a graduate assistant for Meyer in 2001 and '02, Durkin spent two seasons in the same role at Notre Dame under Tyrone Willingham before returning to Bowling Green as a defensive assistant on Gregg Brandon's staff.

Durkin's coaching career then took its most interesting turn in 2007, when he joined Jim Harbaugh's staff at Stanford as a defensive end/special teams coach. The Youngstown, Ohio, native reunited with Meyer at Florida in 2010 and was promoted to defensive coordinator by then-Gators head coach Will Muschamp in 2013.

Nov 15, 2014; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin during the second quarter against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When Muschamp was fired following the 2014 campaign, Durkin served as Florida's interim head coach in the Birmingham Bowl, leading the Gators to a 28-20 win over East Carolina. After two stints with Meyer, Durkin then doubled back up with Harbaugh, taking over as Michigan's defensive coordinator in his first season at Michigan, where he pulled the strings of the nation's fourth-ranked defense this season.

After having spent the past 15 years learning under some of college football's top coaches, it's now Durkin's turn to call the shots.

And all indications are that he's more than qualified for the job.

Particularly when it comes to recruiting, Durkin owns the title of Rivals.com's 2012 Recruiter of the Year for his work at Florida, leading the charge in landing 5-star prospects Jonathan Bullard and D.J. Humphries. His Rivals.com recruiting profile shows a coach with strong ties to talent-rich areas such as Florida, Pennsylvania and especially North Carolina, which should make for nice additions to the already fertile recruiting ground in the D.C./Maryland/Virginia area.

Of course, recruiting will be only half the battle in determining Durkin's success in College Park. Brady Hoke was a great recruiter during his time at Michigan, but fell short as an in-game tactician, a similar criticism that's been levied against Penn State's James Franklin recently.

Butch Dill/Associated Press

Along with the impressive stats of Durkin's defenses, his coaching is defined by some of the traits of his mentors that he has taken on. With his demonstrative demeanor and involved coaching style, Durkin made for a perfect fit on Harbaugh's staff while quickly earning the trust of his unit in Ann Arbor.

"[You] stamp your personality as a player. I think you do the same thing as a coach," Durkin said following the Wolverines' 28-0 shutout win over Maryland in October. "That’s just me. I like being hands-on and being involved in it. I like being high-energy. Whatever your personality is, if you’re true to it, I think that usually gets a response."

As for his philosophy of players doing the same?

"You were recruited here for reasons that are good. Don’t change that," Durkin said. "We don’t want robots. Keep playing the way you play, obviously within the scheme and what we do, but play the way you play the game. I think that’s important."

Lauded by Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden for his "explosability," Durkin will have his work cut out for himself taking over a program coming off of a 3-9 season in a conference that includes Meyer, Harbaugh and current Big Ten East champion Michigan State. But a $155 million facility project, including a new football complex due in 2017, should help, as should Under Armour's attempt at turning the Terrapins into the Oregon of the East.

John Raoux/Associated Press

As far as recruiting is concerned, Maryland currently lays claim to 2016's 37th-ranked recruiting class, which includes a commitment from 4-star quarterback Dwayne Haskins. Given their new head coach's track record on the recruiting trail, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Terrapins' upcoming recruiting class improve dramatically between now and national signing day.

But more than anything, Durkin's success in College Park will be built on his ability to "stamp his personality" on the Maryland program. It's a strategy that's been honed under some of the best mentors he could have asked for in college football.

Now it's time for Durkin to see if it's good enough to beat them as well.

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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