DJ Durkin's rapid ascension to a coordinator-level spot at the somewhat preposterous age of 34 wasn't surprising to a lot of people who knew him. Durkin jumped into coaching immediately upon completion of his playing career, first as a GA at Bowling Green, his alma mater, under Urban Meyer. He progressed to a steadily more impressive series of stops. Since that GA spot Durkin spent…
- two years as a grad assistant at Notre Dame under Greg Mattison
- two years as a BGSU position coach, first DE, then LB
- three years as Stanford's DE coach under Jim Harbaugh
- two years as Florida's LB coach, first under Urban Meyer, then retained Will Muschamp
- two years as Florida's DC
…and now he's at Michigan. Probably for more than two years, but not twenty. Coaching trajectories like that don't often end before the head coach level. Durkin's already been hired by Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh (twice), and those guys are head coach gatling guns.
Add in Greg Mattison and Will Muschamp (who knows what he's doing on defense to the tune of a $1.6 million gig at Auburn even after the Florida flameout) and that's a lot of excellent coaches vouching for him.
“Everyone I talked to said he is one of the bright young coaches in college football,” Muschamp said.
This is how quickly he moves up: when Dan Quinn was hired away from Florida to be the Seahawks DC it took all of three hours for Muschamp to promote him.
But until he's got a presser somewhere else, he's here. Michigan's won a defensive version of Jim Harbaugh, which isn't that surprising since his first big break was with him.
It helps Durkin's case he has the energy, intensity and work ethic to match the indefatigable Muschamp. Before he came to Florida in 2010, Durkin was the same way at Stanford with the hyper-intense Jim Harbaugh.
The way he coaches is the way Durkin wants his players to perform.
"We want to play with unbelievable effort and enthusiasm in what we're doing," he said. "That's the way I coach. That's my personality."
Stanford fans were impressed with him as well:
Durkin was always known as an insanely high-energy coach when he was at Stanford, and his special teams units were always well-coached. That intensity definitely carried over to his recruiting abilities, where he helped bring in and develop some of the best players in Stanford history.
I think his star pupil at Stanford was probably Shayne Skov, who became an unstoppable player on special teams his freshman year - he made so many tackles that the coaches basically had no choice but to play him at linebacker. The guy knows what he's talking about and has that same intensity as Harbaugh and Muschamp, so I think he's a perfect fit for the promotion.
And so is Scot Loeffler:
"His enthusiasm is off the charts," said Scot Loeffler, the former Wolverines quarterback and assistant coach who later was a Lions assistant, and who tutored Tim Tebow at Florida, where he worked with Durkin.
"I've known him for five years, and he's remarkably intelligent. He knows the game inside and out, and his toughness and love for the game is remarkable.
"I think he's a great hire for Michigan. He'll bring excitement to the program. He has that great enthusiasm. And I promise you, his defensive unit will be fundamentally sound."
He generally backed that up in his two years as Florida DC, with the caveat that Muschamp was also heavily involved:
There's a good measure of how random turnovers are: Florida was great or horrible with nothing in between over the last five years.
Durkin's first year at DC was a miserable 4-8 hole in which the Florida offense died, finishing 97th in FEI—a large part of the decline there was no doubt fatigue and apathy.
Durkin's position coaching chops are also impressive. At Stanford he was walking into a situation where talent was sparse, but he still had a major impact on their ability on a college level:
"He always found a way," [Ben] Muth recalls. "We really didn't have much speed out there at all at Stanford early on, and he still found a way to put together some really solid special teams groups.
"And we had some good position coaches. Our defensive line coach (Lance Anderson), our offensive line coaches (Chris Dalman, Tim Drevno), David Shaw. All obviously really good. But Durkin, he might've been the best position coach we had."
The year before Durkin got to Stanford with Harbaugh (2006), the Cardinal had 14 sacks as a team. Two years later, Stanford registered 33 sacks.
At Florida he did excellent work with their LBs. Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins, and Ronald Powell were drafted, with Bostic going in the second round. OLB/WDE guy Ronald Powell is projected as a top 15 pick in the upcoming draft. Antonio Morrison was a second team all-SEC guy at a mere 218 pounds.
After Muschamp's firing, Durkin was a hot commodity. He was courted by North Carolina and supposedly on the verge of accepting the Texas A&M DC job until Harbaugh stepped in. Those jobs went to Gene Chizik and LSU DC John Chavis, and Durkin was seemingly preferred in both situations. Hell, as late as early December OSU fans on Eleven Warriors were agitating for Durkin to replace Luke Fickell, in part because he almost ripped highly touted OH LB Jerome Baker from their sweaty clutches. Urbtopia has no doubt cooled those calls, but point is dude is desirable.
Durkin should be a major asset. He was named the Rivals recruiter of the year for the 2012 class after swooping into North Carolina and snatching two five stars out of the state; as mentioned above, he has been active in Ohio with recruits that OSU went into the recruiting year believing they had a blood right to. Durkin's hire immediately piqued the interest of several recruits in the south, including Roquan Smith, who visited last weekend.
Durkin's from Youngstown and has four years of experience scouring the south so he'll be a pointman on a lot of major recruitments.
Presser style preview:
Durkin has run both a 3-4 and a 4-3, but let's expand on a topic we briefly touched on during the very last searchbits: there's running a "3-4" and running a 3-4. The scarequotes version kind of has three down lineman plus a "drop end" who often lines up in a two point stance. There's no behemoth Wilforkian nose tackle, and the DL generally attack single gaps. This was what Florida ran most of last year, featuring 6'3", 260-pound Dante Fowler as their WDE/drop-end guy.
That's basically a 4-3 under taken slightly further. When running the under with Greg Mattison, Michigan would blitz SAM Jake Ryan, slant the three guys on the line away from him, and "fold" the end back.
The end result is the same 4-3 defense except the guys are in different spots and the offensive line may get confused, allowing your gap attack to be more effective. Durkin's most recent Florida defense was more explicit about the fact their defense flipped from down to down, but it was similar in philosophy to Michigan. Against FSU it was almost all 4-3 or nickel looks with the standard okie chaos on passing downs.
So I wouldn't expect Michigan's style of defense to change much.
What about the coverage? With Jourdan Lewis coming on and Jabrill Peppers hopefully healthy, Michigan could so some things, and Florida was inclined to do those things:
Florida plays a lot of press technique especially for cornerbacks, an in-your-face physical style of pass defense. The style also involves a shuffle step in lieu of the traditional backpedaling most cornerbacks are taught to do from an early age.
If Michigan does try to go aggressive again the comparison between staffs will be an interesting one.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
A couple years to get stablized and get some pass rushing talent in, then some dang good defenses, then he ends up like Pat Narduzzi, waiting for a good opportunity to break into the head coaching ranks.