By Tom Worgo
The University of Maryland football program looks like it has found the coach to eventually move the Terrapins back into the national polls and also into the Big 10 Conference’s top tier.
DJ Durkin, 39, Michigan’s defensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh, has a better recruiting record than any previous Maryland coach in three decades.
Rivals.com named him the nation’s best recruiter in 2012.
Durkin can get prospects from the South, a region where most Maryland coaches have had scant luck.
His coaching background jumps out. He also worked for Harbaugh, a former highly successful coach with the San Francisco 49ers and long-time NFL quarterback with the Ravens, Bears, Chargers, and Colts, at Stanford, and with Urban Meyer at Florida and Bowling Green. Meyer has won national championships at Florida and Ohio State.
Durkin, a native of Youngstown, Ohio who is married with two young kids, recently sat down to talk to What’s Up?
about his recruiting secrets, what appealed to him about Maryland and what he does to help underprivileged youth.
What attracted you to Maryland?
It was really a long list of things, but more than anything it was the people. When you start getting involved in a process like this, you meet and talk to a lot of people. To me, it’s the people who make places what they are. I also believe it’s really such a great job: This is a great recruiting area and you have the relationship with Under Armour. But in the end, I really think people make a difference when you are making those decisions.
Was it tough to leave Michigan after only one season?
I really enjoyed my time at Michigan. It’s really a neat place and Ann Arbor (Michigan) is a great place to live. Jim Harbaugh is a good friend of mine and I have good friends on that staff. You don’t want to leave that quickly, but at the same time, knowing what this opportunity is and what we are moving to and going to, the excitement far outweighed the sadness of leaving.
You coached under Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh. Who had the bigger influence on you?
Coaching is one of the deals where if you are paying attention, you learn so much from people around you. Not only the guys you work for, but the guys you work with. There’s a long list of tremendous coaches I have been associated with. Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh are two, but (former Notre Dame coach) Ty Willingham and (ex-Florida coach) Will Muschamp were great coaches to work for. I’ve really had some great coaches to learn from and work with.
You have coached in Gainesville (Florida) and Ann Arbor. As far as College Park goes, how does it stack up with those two as a college town?
I think what makes this place so special and so unique is all that is going on around here. We have a beautiful college campus. It’s not spread out among a city. It’s a beautiful place to walk around and see. But at the same time, we are only a couple of miles away from the most powerful city in the world as well as another huge market in Baltimore. There’s so much for families to do and for our players in terms of internships and networking. I really think it’s such a huge advantage what we have around this place.
You were named the nation’s best recruiter a few years ago. What is your secret?
You have to stay consistent. Don’t be up and down. There’s so much media coverage of recruits. You read one article. One day you think you are in the lead, the next day you think you are not even in the picture. You can’t worry about that stuff. You stay steady. You can’t ride the roller coaster. Day in and day out, you have to be the same person. You have to be honest with people and their families. It takes a staff of people to recruit at a high level. I have received awards and gotten credit for a lot of recruits, but I’ve had a tremendous amount of help from people around me.
What charities do you devote your time to?
My passion is anything that helps underprivileged kids or kids that have had a rough go in life because of their family situation. My wife and I have put together a foundation and give to different charities. We started it at the University of Florida. We got involved with a family that was in need and it kind of grew from there. It falls in line with my passion. I love the opportunity to make a difference in a young man’s life.