GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. Ė D.J. Durkin is a high-energy guy. You hear that phrase tossed around in football all the time, but if you want to see it in action, watch Durkin closely on the sideline.
If the Gators were polled, Durkin would be voted the coach most likely to head butt one of his players coming off the field. Itís the linebacker in him.
With such a revved-up motor, you can imagine what it was like for Durkin in December when Urban Meyer stepped away from coaching and Will Muschamp was named his successor. Durkin had just moved cross country to join Meyerís staff Ė he started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Bowling Green under Meyer in 2001 Ė after spending three seasons at Stanford.
He and his wife, Sarah, were new parents with the arrival of daughter Abigail in April 2010. But after only a few months in Gainesville, Durkinís future at UF was cloudy at best once Muschamp took over.
Durkin didnít want to leave, but he didnít know Muschamp, so all bets were off about his future in orange and blue.
While the two didnít know each other personally, Muschamp knew who Durkin was. He couldnít forget him.
ďWhen I was at Auburn I was recruiting a kid out of the Atlanta area and I felt pretty good that we were going to get him,íí Muschamp said. ďHe ended up going to Stanford and I thought to myself that coach must be one heck of a recruiter to beat us out on a kid, so I looked up the coachís name and it was D.J. Durkin.íí
The two were finally officially introduced when Muschamp replaced Meyer. It didnít take long for Muschamp to tell Durkin that he planned to keep him on staff.
ďI donít know if you can measure how glad I am,íí Durkin said recently. ďThere are a lot of reasons. No. 1 obviously is that itís Florida and the Gators and working here is unbelievable.íí
Muschamp recalled the head-to-head recruiting loss he suffered to Durkin, which didnít hurt Durkinís quest to stay. But there was more to his decision than that.
ďIn doing more research on D.J., I found out about all of the success he was having on special teams,íí Muschamp said. ďEveryone I talked to said he is one of the bright young coaches in college football.íí
The uncertain offseason wasnít the first time Durkin has faced the prospect of a job change because of a coaching change. He served as a defensive graduate assistant at Notre Dame for two seasons under Tyrone Willingham. When Willingham was fired after the 2004 season and replaced by Charlie Weis Ė UFís new offensive coordinator Ė Durkin spent a couple of months at Notre Dame after Weis arrived before landing his first full-time job as defensive ends coach at Bowling Green, his alma mater.
After two seasons at Bowling Green, he joined Jim Harbaughís staff at Stanford and quickly made a name for himself.
As he prepares for the start of his second season at UF, GatorZone.com caught up with Durkin to talk about the new staff, linebackers and a whole lot more. Here is our Q&A with the 33-year-old Durkin:
Q: How much did you know about Muschamp when he was named head coach?
A: I didnít know him at all. I had heard a bunch of great things about him. Thatís been one of the joys to me, to get a chance to work with him. The amount of defensive football that Iíve learned from him in just this short time is remarkable.
Q: Whatís the chemistry like with the new staff?
A: With the new guys on staff and Will, itís been unbelievable. You take a great place and mix it with great people, you canít beat it.
Q: How have the players adjusted to the coaching change?
A: Good, bad or indifferent, any time there is change or something new, thereís always that sense of hesitation at first, and then guys start buying in and liking it and moving forward. I think weíre in that stage right now. It is different than what it was before. I think our staff has done a great job of reaching out to our players and bringing them in. I think the guys are enjoying it. Thatís how kids are. They like newness and, Ďhow can you help me get better?í This staff provides a lot of ways for that to happen.
Q: What do you know about Florida football that you didnít know a year ago when you started here?
A: Thereís a long list. You donít really know a place until you get there. Everything has been phenomenal. Our administration is unbelievable. The amount of resources we have and the commitment to winning is unbelievable. You canít probably match it anywhere else. And coaching in the SEC Ė the level of competition and the environments and all that Ė is something that when you are on the outside looking in, you kind of know it looks pretty cool, but once youíre in it, itís like Ďwow.í Itís really like a different sport at times, coaching in the SEC.
Q: How did you end up in coaching?
A: Iíve always loved the game, playing the game, being part of the game. As my [playing] career was getting toward the end, thatís when I started thinking about what I wanted to do. My degree was in business. I wasnít really fired up about going into business. I started thinking, ĎOk, whatís the next best thing to playing?í To me, it was coaching. And then it just worked out from there. Iíve been really fortunate to be around some great coaches and great people to learn from and to help me with jobs.
Q: Who has had biggest influence on you as a coach?
A: Every head coach Iíve worked for Iíve taken bits and pieces from. Iím always taking notes and keeping track of things and looking for ways to that, to learn something new. Iíve tried to gain something from every person Iíve worked for. Iíve been around some phenomenal guys. What you do as a coach is you take those things Ė and some fit you and some donít Ė and you kind of take them all in and mix them in with your own personality.
Q: Where does all that energy on the sideline come from?
A: Nothing I do on the sideline is really planned out. Thatís the enthusiasm I have for the game. Thatís how I was as a player, thatís how I am as a coach. Pour yourself into it and letís go, not worry about it. Thatís just me out there enjoying myself and having fun.
Q: Did you ever consider a pro coaching career instead of college?
A: Iíve always thought of myself as a college coach. Iím not exactly sure what the difference is because Iíve never done pro. Iíve had a couple of opportunities that I could have probably gone pro and pursed [a coaching career] that way, but I havenít. Iíve been happy with the places Iím at. Working with kids at this age, college level, is more what I want to do.
Q: You grew up in Youngstown, Ohio Ė a football hotbed Ė what was your greatest day as a player?
A: Thatís a good question. We had some good times in high school football, made it to the state semis my senior year. We had a huge upset game. I remember plays from the game. We still talk about it. Itís always fun when you win a game that youíre not supposed to win. At Bowling Green, we did that. Playing in the Horseshoe [Ohio Stadium] Ė having grown up in Ohio Ė was pretty cool. As a coach at Stanford, going to USC and upsetting them at their place when no one gave us a chance. I love doing this. You get those moments a lot.
Q: You played linebacker in college and now you coach them, so what makes a great linebacker?
A: A great linebacker is a guy who is a competitor. Youíve got to be a great competitor in the way you prepare, in the way you practice, and on the field. There are obviously a lot of great physical attributes you can go into Ė theyíve got to tackle, got to be able to run Ė but I think to me, the bottom line, what it all boils down to is that youíve got to be a great competitor. You are going to be involved in everything on defense. If it happens on the front or on the back end, you are in the middle of it. You are making all the calls and all the checks, and you are getting in collisions on every single down. So, no matter what you are able to do physically, if you donít have all that inside of you, at some point you are going to shut it down. But if youíre a competitor, you enjoy that challenge and get after it.
Q: A role model growing up that helped shape your outlook?
A: I was a huge Cleveland Browns fan growing up as a kid. I can rattle off about 200 names of Browns right now, but really, the guy I looked up to probably the most as an NFL player was Derrick Thomas. He was playing about the time I was in high school and in college. I thought he was a phenomenal player and competitor.
Q: A perfect vacation?
A: With my wife and my daughter and no cell phone and doing nothing, just relaxing and hanging out. Our time to be able to do that is very short.
Q: A perfect meal?
A: I love food. Iíve got a lot of meals. Iíd have to go with my momís lasagna.
Q: Your favorite movie?
A: My wife always makes fun of me because I have like 100 favorite movies. I donít know. I like a lot of dumb comedy movies. ďKingpinĒ is up there for me. I love ďDumb and DumberĒ and ďThe Cable Guy.Ē I might have to go with ďNaked Gun.Ē Thatís probably my favorite.
Q: Your favorite music/band?
A: I like all kinds of music. Iím a big Ď80s rock guy. Iím not a hard rock guy anymore. I know all the Ď80s rock. Letís go with Metallica. I like Metallica.
Q: The challenge ahead for this team?
A: I think our challenge as a team is to come together as a team and be together and play together. I think we have enough talent to be as good as we want to be, but we all know this is the ultimate team sport. Weíve got to play as a team. I like where weíre going.