Before he took over his own program, D.J. Durkin was mentored by some of the best minds in college football.
Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh and Will Muschamp are all on that list, all with pretty reputable backgrounds.
When Durkin was on Meyer’s staff serving as a graduate assistant at Bowling Green in 2001, he witnessed the Falcons transcend into an eight-win team after an abysmal 2-9 season just a year prior. Skip ahead 14 years later, and Durkin – this time as a defensive coordinator -played a role as Michigan doubled its 2014 win total, finishing the 2015 campaign with a 10-3 mark.
After sitting in the passenger’s seat during those two turnarounds, Durkin didn’t want to disappoint when it was his turn at the wheel.
Durkin became just one of a handful of B1G coaches to double a team’s win total in his first season, as the Terrapins jumped from three wins to six in 2016. Only five other names are on that list over the past 20 years, two of which were his former bosses.
It hasn’t occurred often over the past two decades, but those coaches that did enjoy an unprecedented amount of success in their first season have seen long-lasting effects – at least most of them:
|Year||Coach||School||1st year record (win increase)||overall record|
|1997||Joe Tiller||Purdue||9-3 (+6)||87-62|
|2001||Ralph Friedgen||Maryland||10-2 (+5)||75-50|
|2003||John L. Smith||Michigan State||8-5 (+4)||22-26|
|2012||Urban Meyer||Ohio State||12-0 (+6)||61-5|
|2015||Jim Harbaugh||Michigan||10-3 (+5)||20-5|
|2016||D.J. Durkin||Maryland||6-6 (+3)||6-6|
Of all those coaches – even Smith – Durkin’s win increase was the lowest. He needed just three wins to double the total from last season. Numbers-wise, that doesn’t compare to what Meyer and Harbaugh did in Columbus and Ann Arbor. And Maryland didn’t transcend into a B1G contender overnight like the other two programs.
Durkin inherited a more difficult task than his former mentors, though, and immediate success seemed fairly unlikely.
Maryland doesn’t have the same caliber of talent as Ohio State or Michigan. When Meyer took the whistle in Columbus, the Buckeyes were fresh off the “tattoo-gate” scandal and Jim Tressel was booted out. That 6-7 record in 2011 was a reflection of the disarray the team, and Luke Fickell, had to endure on short notice.
When Harbaugh walked into the position at Michigan, he inherited some of the nation’s top recruiting classes. Despite Brady Hoke’s poor game-management, he was still able to entice players like Jourdan Lewis, Chris Wormley, Jake Butt and others to play in Ann Arbor. The former Wolverines quarterback was taking over a project that had all the right pieces.
The Terrapins hadn’t had a recruiting class ranked higher than 40 since 2011. They had lost six of their nine games in 2015 by at least three touchdowns. From the moment the job became available, it was expected to be a work in progress.
And yet, through the first month of the season, Maryland was sitting at 4-0 and Durkin was considered a potential Coach of the Year candidate. Though the spotlight eventually tapered off as competition got stronger and the Terrapins dropped a few games, they still landed a spot in the Quick Lane Bowl against Boston College.
It’s similar to situation that Joe Tiller was in when he took over at Purdue. He was tasked with taking the laughingstock of the B1G and turning it into a competitive product. In 12 seasons, the Boilermakers earned 10 bowl bids.
Repairs are still needed in College Park, but Durkin’s expedited success is hard evidence that Maryland can evolve into a player in the B1G, too. If his effort on the recruiting trail is any indication, it won’t be long before the Terrapins are competing with Meyer’s Buckeyes and Harbaugh’s Wolverines.
Durkin has notched commitments from six recruits with a four-star rating according to 247 Sports. Maryland is on the verge of locking up its highest-ranked recruiting class since such records have been kept. Currently the Terrapins’ 2017 class is No. 15 in the country and third in the B1G.
That’s a good formula for the sustainability of a program.
During those years as a position coach and a coordinator, Durkin was paying attention. He noticed what worked for Meyer and Harbaugh and is intertwining some of those methods with his own strengths. Thanks to that approach, he’s joined some elite company as a first-year head coach.
Meyer and Harbaugh have revitalized Ohio State and Michigan as national powers. After brief lulls, Durkin’s former tutors have their programs at the top of their game, neither appearing to quiver any time soon.
The next question for Durkin is whether he can elevate Maryland to the same status and whether he can improve on and sustain that level of success he enjoyed in his first season.
He’s off to a pretty good start.