When trying to describe D.J. Durkin’s coaching style in a word, his now-former players at Michigan had to make one up.
“I’ve never been around a guy with more passion,” Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden said earlier this year. “And I might make up a word, but explosability.”
Maryland’s new head coach has spent time at five different schools in the last 15 years and left behind a trail of people impressed with his intelligence and his fervor for the game. From his time as a linebacker at Bowling Green to his most recent stint as the leader of Michigan’s defense alongside the equally exuberant Jim Harbaugh, Durkin has built a reputation as someone on the path to a head-coaching job. Now, at age 37, he has one.
Here’s what the Terps should know about their new, intense leading man:
Strong pedigree: Coaching in the Big Ten East won’t be easy, but Durkin should at least know most of his stiffest competition well. He started his career as a graduate assistant for Urban Meyer at Bowling Green. He spent one year with Meyer at Florida before Meyer left and eventually landed at Ohio State. Durkin's first full-time job outside of the Midwest came when he was hired by Harbaugh at Stanford in 2007. By working for those two men, Durkin has crossed paths at one point or another with several prominent or up-and-coming coaches in college football.
“Tremendously bright young coach, very energetic,” said Kent Baer, who was the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame when Durkin was a graduate assistant in 2003. “He was around a lot of good coaches [when he was young]. He learned a lot from those guys. I think that time really paid off for him.”
Defensive specialist: Durkin played linebacker at Bowling Green and has stayed exclusively on defense and special teams during his coaching career. He coached defensive ends for three seasons at Stanford, building that group into a team strength by the time he left. At Florida, his Gators defenses were regularly top-10 units, which led to him taking over as interim head coach when Will Muschamp was dismissed at the end of the 2014 season.
Durkin’s defense at Michigan posted three consecutive shutouts earlier this season and finished fourth nationally in yards allowed per game (281.3). His lack of experience on offense, though, will make the coordinator position on that side of the ball a very important hire at Maryland.
Coaching style: Durkin’s players describe him as a mile-a-minute ball of energy. He can be a fiery taskmaster on the field and in meeting rooms. Chase Thomas, who played for Durkin at Stanford, said he can remember many cases of his coach breathless and red-faced during daily film sessions. While cameras regularly followed Harbaugh’s outbursts on the sideline throughout the 2015 season at Michigan, Durkin was usually just as animated in the background of the frame.
“He gets fired up,” Thomas said. “He gets out of breath sometimes with the amount of energy he brings to every practice. Off the field, he was one of my favorite coaches to talk to and hang out with. We really connected with him.”
Durkin said that’s just who he is. He tells his players to “stamp their personality” on the way they play defense. That means there is some leeway for being an individual within Durkin’s system as long as you’re getting the job done. It also means he expects players to be true to themselves, and he tries to do the same.
“If you are yourself, players respond,” he said earlier this fall. “You’re not putting on a show or trying to do something different. ... It’s just, be yourself.”
Recruiting: As one of the younger head coaches in the country, Durkin should have the energy to do well on the recruiting trail. He has experience in roping in big-time prospects from his time at Florida and Michigan. His Ohio roots could prove to be a plus for a Maryland program that now has the ability to tap into the Big Ten footprint in the Midwest.