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Tuesday May 3, 2011After Period Of Uncertainty, Durkin Glad To Be A Gator

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – 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. It’s 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 Meyer’s staff – he started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Bowling Green under Meyer in 2001 – 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, Durkin’s future at UF was cloudy at best once Muschamp took over.

Durkin didn’t want to leave, but he didn’t know Muschamp, so all bets were off about his future in orange and blue.

While the two didn’t know each other personally, Muschamp knew who Durkin was. He couldn’t forget him.

“When 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,’’ Muschamp said. “He 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 coach’s name and it was D.J. Durkin.’’

The two were finally officially introduced when Muschamp replaced Meyer. It didn’t take long for Muschamp to tell Durkin that he planned to keep him on staff.

“I don’t know if you can measure how glad I am,’’ Durkin said recently. “There are a lot of reasons. No. 1 obviously is that it’s Florida and the Gators and working here is unbelievable.’’

Muschamp recalled the head-to-head recruiting loss he suffered to Durkin, which didn’t hurt Durkin’s quest to stay. But there was more to his decision than that.

“In doing more research on D.J., I found out about all of the success he was having on special teams,’’ Muschamp said. “Everyone I talked to said he is one of the bright young coaches in college football.’’

The uncertain offseason wasn’t 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 – UF’s new offensive coordinator – 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 Harbaugh’s staff at Stanford and quickly made a name for himself.

As he prepares for the start of his second season at UF, 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 didn’t know him at all. I had heard a bunch of great things about him. That’s been one of the joys to me, to get a chance to work with him. The amount of defensive football that I’ve learned from him in just this short time is remarkable.

Q: What’s the chemistry like with the new staff?

A: With the new guys on staff and Will, it’s been unbelievable. You take a great place and mix it with great people, you can’t 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, there’s always that sense of hesitation at first, and then guys start buying in and liking it and moving forward. I think we’re 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. That’s how kids are. They like newness and, ‘how can you help me get better?’ This staff provides a lot of ways for that to happen.

Q: What do you know about Florida football that you didn’t know a year ago when you started here?

A: There’s a long list. You don’t 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 can’t probably match it anywhere else. And coaching in the SEC – the level of competition and the environments and all that – is something that when you are on the outside looking in, you kind of know it looks pretty cool, but once you’re in it, it’s like ‘wow.’ It’s really like a different sport at times, coaching in the SEC.

Q: How did you end up in coaching?

A: I’ve always loved the game, playing the game, being part of the game. As my [playing] career was getting toward the end, that’s when I started thinking about what I wanted to do. My degree was in business. I wasn’t really fired up about going into business. I started thinking, ‘Ok, what’s the next best thing to playing?’ To me, it was coaching. And then it just worked out from there. I’ve 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 I’ve worked for I’ve taken bits and pieces from. I’m always taking notes and keeping track of things and looking for ways to that, to learn something new. I’ve tried to gain something from every person I’ve worked for. I’ve been around some phenomenal guys. What you do as a coach is you take those things – and some fit you and some don’t – 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. That’s the enthusiasm I have for the game. That’s how I was as a player, that’s how I am as a coach. Pour yourself into it and let’s go, not worry about it. That’s just me out there enjoying myself and having fun.

Q: Did you ever consider a pro coaching career instead of college?

A: I’ve always thought of myself as a college coach. I’m not exactly sure what the difference is because I’ve never done pro. I’ve had a couple of opportunities that I could have probably gone pro and pursed [a coaching career] that way, but I haven’t. I’ve been happy with the places I’m at. Working with kids at this age, college level, is more what I want to do.

Q: You grew up in Youngstown, Ohio – a football hotbed – what was your greatest day as a player?

A: That’s 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. It’s always fun when you win a game that you’re not supposed to win. At Bowling Green, we did that. Playing in the Horseshoe [Ohio Stadium] – having grown up in Ohio – 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. You’ve 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 – they’ve got to tackle, got to be able to run – but I think to me, the bottom line, what it all boils down to is that you’ve 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 don’t have all that inside of you, at some point you are going to shut it down. But if you’re 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. I’ve got a lot of meals. I’d have to go with my mom’s lasagna.

Q: Your favorite movie?

A: My wife always makes fun of me because I have like 100 favorite movies. I don’t know. I like a lot of dumb comedy movies. “Kingpin” is up there for me. I love “Dumb and Dumber” and “The Cable Guy.” I might have to go with “Naked Gun.” That’s probably my favorite.

Q: Your favorite music/band?

A: I like all kinds of music. I’m a big ‘80s rock guy. I’m not a hard rock guy anymore. I know all the ‘80s rock. Let’s 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. We’ve got to play as a team. I like where we’re going.


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