D.J. Durkin facing uphill battle in shadow of B1G East powers
It took a whole 10 minutes for D.J. Durkin to get his first dose of his new reality.
Maryland’s new coach was asked at his introductory press conference Thursday about whether or not he had any extra motivation to beat Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer. After all, he was coming from a Michigan program where he worked as Harbaugh’s defensive coordinator. He also spent two years as a graduate assistant on Meyer’s staff at Bowling Green.
The question was inevitable. Durkin laughed it off as if to say, ‘Wow, I’m not easing into anything, am I?’
There’s no extra motivation to beat Harbaugh and Meyer. And Mark Dantonio. That has to be Durkin’s only motivation. If Maryland is going to become a worthy B1G foe, those are the three guys Durkin has to find some way to beat. Nobody is expecting Durkin to turn Maryland into some national power. But he knows that he needs to — at the very least — compete with those three B1G East giants.
“The way this division has shaped up, it’s the top of the country,” Durkin said. “…The best of the best want to play in the best.”
That task starts now, in the peak of recruiting season. That’s why Durkin won’t coach in Michigan’s bowl game. That’s also why he admitted that recruiting is more of a priority to him right now than figuring out his coaching staff.
And to get Maryland over the hump, Durkin has to capitalize on the strengths he has in his favor.
“I think there’s already good talent in the building,” he said. “I think our backyard is one of the best talent areas in the country. Anytime you can field a team from your backyard, I see that as a huge advantage.”
Also an advantage is Durkin’s recruiting background. The Rivals.com 2012 Recruiter of the Year helped land four straight top-11 classes at Florida.
It’ll be up to Durkin to make the same pitch that Maryland athletics director Kevin Anderson made to him.
“Why Maryland? Why are you here?” he said. “To me, it was an easy one.”
Durkin talked about the blue-collar attitude he believes his program will have and reiterated the fact that everywhere he’s been, his teams have been the aggressors. Three straight top-20 defenses, including the fourth-best unit at Michigan this year, would suggest he’s right about that.
But Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State can all pitch the “dominant defense” message to recruits. What they can’t pitch, however, is the Under Armour element. Oregon, Durkin said, is the only school in the country that is in a situation like Maryland.
It’s no secret that Under Armour co-founder/Maryland grad Kevin Plank is going to go above and beyond to build the Terps’ brand into one of the most recognizable in the country. Uniform combinations and hype videos don’t win games, but they surely have an effect on establishing an identity for a program.
That, above all else, is what Maryland needs right now. Look around the B1G East. The great teams have an identity.
Michigan is the revived traditional power with the high-profile, highly successful head coach. Michigan State is the consistent, chip-on-the-shoulder contender that churns out NFL quarterbacks. Ohio State is the New York Yankees of the B1G.
Right now, Maryland’s identity is a basketball school with a football program that doesn’t stand much of a chance in the B1G East. If you think that’s a little harsh, all you need to look at is the team’s 14-percent drop in attendance this year. Or you could look at the fact that the Terps were a Rutgers defensive stand away from finishing winless in the B1G.
If there is an identity, it surely isn’t a good one. It’s Durkin’s job to turn that perception around.
That, in a nutshell, is what what Durkin is tasked with doing. Identities aren’t built overnight, especially those that lack the tradition of the B1G East powers Maryland will run into on a regular basis.
There was nothing Durkin could’ve said on Thursday to guarantee that his vision will become a reality in College Park. He won’t try to become the next Harbaugh or Meyer. He’ll develop his own high-energy ways that he hopes will permeate through a struggling program.
But he couldn’t help but drop one Harbaugh-ism on Thursday.
“Don’t talk about it. Be about it.”