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D.J. Durkin forges own, intense path with Maryland

Maryland coach D.J. Durkin on learning from mentors like Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh: "I've taken stuff from all of them. That's coaching." David Banks/USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO -- When Maryland hired D.J. Durkin as its new head coach this offseason, the school must have been impressed with the references section of his résumé.

Durkin has worked under both Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh, experiences that would immediately grab the attention of any athletic director in the Big Ten -- or anywhere else, for that matter. Meyer and Harbaugh are the two rock stars of the Big Ten right now, as evidenced by their hammer slots in the coaches' speaking lineups on Monday and Tuesday of the league's media days.

Durkin understandably embraces the time he spent with both coaches. But that doesn't mean he's simply a 50/50 clone of the two -- an Urbaugh-bot, if you will.

"Obviously, those two coaches have been very successful," he said. "But I've also worked with great coaches Will Muschamp, Tyrone Willingham and Gregg Brandon. I've taken stuff from all of them. That's coaching."

Compare Durkin's early tenure with that of Rutgers' Chris Ash, a fellow first-year, first-time head coach. Ash has made no secret that he's copying much of his blueprint from Ohio State, where he coached under Meyer the previous two seasons, by cribbing everything from slogans to schemes and in between. Though Durkin filled notebooks with lessons learned from Meyer and Harbaugh, his program doesn't seem so neatly Xeroxed, at least not yet.

Durkin hired three veteran head coaches as assistants for more input, though one of those -- Scott Shafer -- has since left the staff. His offense, which will be led by former Arkansas State coordinator Walt Bell, bears no resemblance to Michigan's and has only surface similarities to Ohio State's.

"As a former defensive coordinator, I based my decision on what I don’t like to play against," Durkin said. "It's more about how you do things than what you do, anyway. There are a lot of bad spread offenses out there."

Durkin doesn't need to imitate one of his former bosses, because he already has his own distinct personality, which might best be described as a human can of Red Bull. Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis knows it well after having played for Durkin last season, and he said that Maryland "is about to get aggressive." Asked to describe his former coach, Lewis said, "Intensity, honestly. And a bunch of words I can't say right now."

Terrapins players learned all about that fieriness this spring.

"When he gets intense, his face starts turning red," linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr., said. "In meetings and stuff, he can be calm, but when he’s on the field he's a whole other person. His whole demeanor changes. You know you've got to pick up the pace in practice. You don't like to see the red face."

Though Durkin was the Terps' third head coach in less than a year -- Randy Edsall was fired midway through the 2015 season, and Mike Locksley then took over as interim coach -- the team bought in to him quickly, because of his strong track record as a defensive coordinator and that intensity.

"He was not a person coming in and just talking," star cornerback Will Likely said. "His work speaks for itself, like how he game-planned against us last year (Michigan beat Maryland 28-0).

"He definitely brought us a new attitude. Everything we do is a competition now. It's one of those things where you can feel something special is happening."

Durkin will have to help Maryland rise up while playing in the same division as Ohio State and Michigan. At least there won't be much he doesn't know about how both those programs operate. But simply copying them won't be his style.

"You've got to be true to yourself," he said.