NCF Nation: D.J. Durkin

Florida coach Will Muschamp added to his coaching staff on Wednesday by announcing the hire of new special-teams coordinator/outside linebackers coach Jeff Choate.

Choate, a 21-year coaching veteran, served as Washington State's linebackers coach in 2012 before being named UTEP's defensive coordinator this spring.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to join the Gator staff and have the chance to compete at the highest level,” Choate said in a release through UF. “I’ve gotten to know Coach Muschamp over the past couple of years and have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a coach and a person. I’m looking forward to continuing the great special-teams tradition that has been established here and can’t wait to get to work.

“I would also like to thank everyone at UTEP, and most importantly Coach Kugler, for the support and opportunity they gave me. I wish him and the program nothing but the best of luck.”

With assistant defensive line coach Bryant Young's sudden resignation last week, Muschamp had room to hire another assistant. Since Brad Lawing was hired to coach the Gators' defensive line in January, finding a replacement for D.J. Durkin's old position as linebackers/special-teams coach appeared to be more of a priority.

(Durkin was promoted to defensive coordinator after Dan Quinn left to become the Seattle Seahawks' defensive coordinator in January.)

Choate brings 10 years of experience coaching either linebackers or special teams.

“We are excited to have Jeff Choate join our staff,” Muschamp said in a statement through UF. “He is a high-energy coach, an outstanding recruiter and evaluator, and has a reputation as one of the top special-teams coaches in the nation. He has coached on both sides of the ball and was most recently a defensive coordinator. He sees the big picture and will be a great addition to our staff.

“I got to know Jeff several years ago when I as at Texas and he was at Boise State. He visited Austin and we spent a lot of time talking defensive and special teams schemes. He also visited us in Gainesville last spring and we are very much on the same page philosophically.”
The SEC will have six new defensive coordinators in 2013, which includes a couple of coaches who were promoted.

D.J. Durkin was promoted at Florida after serving as linebackers coach and special teams coordinator the past three years. Geoff Collins was promoted at Mississippi State to run the defense. He was co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach the past two years for the Bulldogs.

When you survey the lineup of defensive coordinators in the SEC, it’s a reminder of how important defense is in this league.

During the SEC’s streak of seven straight national championships, only once has the team winning the title finished outside the top 10 nationally in total defense (Auburn was 60th in 2010).

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that SEC schools pay top dollar for their defensive coordinators. In fact, 10 of the 14 are scheduled to make $500,000 or more next season.

Included in that group are three of the four newcomers, although Auburn’s Ellis Johnson is hardly new to the SEC. Johnson, who will earn $800,000 on the Plains, has made previous stops at Alabama, Mississippi State and South Carolina as defensive coordinator.

Arkansas’ Chris Ash is set to earn $550,000 and Kentucky’s D.J. Elliot $500,000.

Currently, the highest-paid defensive coordinator in the SEC is LSU’s John Chavis, who’s scheduled to make $1.1 million in 2013.

However, look for Alabama’s Kirby Smart to get a bump from the $950,000 he made last season and join Chavis in the $1 million-plus club.

South Carolina’s Lorenzo Ward was recently given a new three-year deal that will pay him $650,000 per year.

Also, Texas A&M’s Mark Snyder is in line to get a significant raise from the $500,000 he made last season. His name came up in a couple of head coaching searches this past December, including Kent State.

Below is a look at the reported salary figures for the SEC defensive coordinators. Vanderbilt’s Bob Shoop isn’t listed because Vanderbilt is a private institution and doesn’t release salary information:
  • LSU’s John Chavis $1.1 million
  • Alabama’s Kirby Smart $950,000
  • Georgia’s Todd Grantham $850,000
  • Auburn’s Ellis Johnson $800,000
  • South Carolina’s Lorenzo Ward $650,000
  • Arkansas’ Chris Ash $550,000
  • Missouri’s Dave Steckel $550,000
  • Ole Miss’ Dave Wommack $550,000
  • Texas A&M’s Mark Snyder $500,000
  • Kentucky’s D.J. Eliot $500,000
  • Florida’s D.J. Durkin $490,000
  • Tennessee’s John Jancek $470,000
  • Mississippi State’s Geoff Collins $325,000
One of the pitfalls in hiring a coach from the NFL is that he may look to return to football's highest level of competition.

Dan Quinn has done an excellent job at Florida the past two seasons, good enough that the Seattle Seahawks scooped him up Thursday to be their defensive coordinator. Quinn spent 10 seasons in the NFL before Florida coach Will Muschamp hired him away from the Seahawks following the 2010 season. Quinn was previously the defensive line coach with the Seahawks.

Not long after the Seahawks announced Quinn's hiring, Muschamp promoted D.J. Durkin to fill the Gators' defensive coordinator position. Durkin was the Gators' linebackers coach and special-teams coordinator the past three seasons and was initially hired at Florida under Urban Meyer.

Durkin will be the Gators' fourth different defensive coordinator in the past five years, and that kind of shuffling can be difficult for the players. But the fact that Muschamp would promote Durkin so quickly tells you a couple of things. For one, Muschamp obviously has a lot of faith in Durkin. Secondly, Muschamp didn't want to be stuck without a defensive coordinator with recruits finalizing their decisions leading up to national signing day. And probably most importantly, this is Muschamp's defense. At the end of the day, it's his show.

Now, the focus shifts to Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and whether or not he will also return to the NFL. There are reports that he's the top target to be the Philadelphia Eagles' defensive coordinator. Grantham spent 11 years in the NFL before coming to Georgia and was the Cleveland Browns' defensive coordinator in 2008 and 2009.

2012 SEC signing day wrap

February, 2, 2012
National signing day is finally over and the SEC once again showed its dominance.

With the class rankings finalized, the SEC came away looking pretty good yet again, as the conference had eight teams in the top 25 rankings.

Alabama led the way with the No. 1 class in the country, after inking 26 commitments, including 13 ESPNU 150 members. Florida finished fourth, with 23 signees and nine ESPNU 150 members. And Georgia rounded out the top five with 18 signees. Georgia waited until Thursday morning to finally get No. 1 outside linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons (Valdosta, Ga./Lowndes) to fax his letter of intent in, after family issues prevented it Wednesday. That gave the Bulldogs 19 signees and six ESPNU 150 members.

There are still a couple of prospects unsigned and waiting to make their decisions, so the 2012 recruiting season isn't quite done for some teams.

As we try to say goodbye to the 2012 recruiting class, we'll end things with an awards ceremony. It's time to hand out our 2012 recruiting superlatives!

Take a look:

Top class -- Alabama: Alabama had most of its stellar class done before national signing day even started. The Crimson Tide were in it for a few top prospects Wednesday, but most importantly, Alabama didn't lose any significant prospects, including No. 1 safety Landon Collins (Geismar, La./Dutchtown), whose mother had her eyes set on him signing with LSU. Beyond bringing in 13 ESPNU 150 members, Alabama met every need on both offense and defense.

Biggest surprise -- Torshiro Davis flips to Texas: Davis was supposed to be LSU's headliner in its 2012 class, and seemed to be locked up ... until the 11th hour. The LSU coaches waited and waited for his letter of intent to come in Wednesday, but it never did. Instead, Davis pulled a shocker and signed with Texas. LSU usually doesn't let top players leave the state of Louisiana, but did Wednesday.

Recruiter of the year -- D.J. Durkin, Florida: The Gators' linebackers coach went into North Carolina and cleaned up for Florida. He helped to secure commitments from four of the state's top 14 players, including No. 1 offensive tackle D.J. Humphries (Charlotte, N.C./Mallard Creek) and No. 4 defensive end Jonathan Bullard (Shelby, N.C./Crest).

Player you’ll see often next season -- Dorial Green-Beckham: Missouri needed a big-play receiver in its lineup to make its transition to the SEC complete, and got it in Green-Beckham, who has drawn comparisons to Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green and Julio Jones. He'll see plenty of playing time this fall.

Future Thorpe Award winner -- Landon Collins: Alabama is stockpiled with talent in its secondary, but Collins is someone who shouldn't have to sit and wait very long in Tuscaloosa. With his athleticism and game-changing ability, he should see the field in some capacity next season, but he might be a real star in the future. He can play down in the box like a linebacker and be a ballhawk in the secondary. This award will definitely be on his mind.

Biggest headache -- Woodrow Clemons: Josh Harvey-Clemons' grandfather appeared to be the only thing standing in the way of him faxing his LOI to Georgia. As his legal guardian, Clemons had to sign his grandson's LOI in order for it to be valid, but he wanted him to sign with Florida. After refusing to sign it Wednesday, Clemons did the right thing early Thursday morning by signing Harvey-Clemons' LOI to the right school.

Most underrated -- South Carolina: Steve Spurrier and his staff had a pretty quiet national signing day, but the Gamecocks had a heck of a class. South Carolina's class ranks 16th, but has really good balance on both sides, and No. 5 wide receiver Shaq Roland (Lexington, S.C./Lexington), No. 5 safety Chaz Elder (College Park, Ga./Benjamin E. Banneker) and No. 6 running back Mike Davis (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson) should compete for early playing time.

Program on the rise -- Vanderbilt: James Franklin's first full class at Vanderbilt was a total success. It spent most of the year in ESPN's top 25 before a late fall, but met the needs of what Franklin wanted. He got bigger and more athletic on the offensive line, and added really good depth to the linebacker spot. For the first time, Vanderbilt was really competing with the bigger SEC schools for prospects. Franklin signed a lot of speed and athleticism, and the types of players who wouldn't have considered Vanderbilt in the past.
Urban Meyer didn't hold back at his introductory news conference Monday at Ohio State.

"I'm going to go about and try to assemble the best coaching staff in college football," Meyer said.

Ohio State is supporting its new coach on the endeavor.

So how is the process going? Let's take a look at what we know and what could be happening soon with Meyer's staff at Ohio State.
  • Current Buckeyes head coach Luke Fickell is the only assistant Ohio State has officially confirmed to be joining Meyer's staff. Meyer didn't specify Fickell's role but said it would be "a significant title and significant position." It's a strong possibility Fickell's title includes assistant head coach. He also could be named a co-defensive coordinator, the role he shared with Jim Heacock on Jim Tressel's staff.
  • While Fickell could be a candidate for the sole defensive coordinator role, Meyer is assessing candidates and could lure in a big fish in Mike Stoops, the former Arizona head coach. Stoops confirmed he has met with Meyer but didn't say whether he has been offered a position. No one will be surprised if Stoops is named Ohio State's next defensive coordinator, a position he held at Oklahoma for five years under his brother, Bob. Stoops would be a big-name addition for Meyer, who likely will add several.
  • Multiple outlets are reporting that Meyer will retain Stan Drayton, in his first year as Ohio State's receivers coach. Drayton worked for Meyer at Florida and replaced Darrell Hazell in Columbus. This makes a lot of sense, as Drayton is a strong recruiter with ties to Ohio and to Florida. Drayton also can coach running backs.
  • It will be interesting to see where Meyer looks for an offensive coordinator. One name being mentioned quite a bit is LSU offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa, an Ohio native who served as Meyer's offensive line coach at Bowling Green. Studrawa in July replaced Steve Kragthorpe, who had to step down after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
  • Other current Buckeyes assistants who could remain on staff include cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson and linebackers coach Mike Vrabel. If Vrabel stays, it will be interesting to see which position Fickell coaches as he used to oversee the linebackers. Defensive line seems a likely spot.
  • Former Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster reportedly has been offered a position on Meyer's staff, as well as one at Arizona with new boss Rich Rodriguez. While Brewster didn't work out as a head coach in Minneapolis, he's one of the nation's top recruiters and could help Ohio State on the trail, particularly in Texas. Brewster has coached tight ends most of his career.
  • Other potential candidates to join Meyer's staff include Notre Dame running backs coach Tim Hinton and Florida linebackers coach/special-teams coordinator D.J. Durkin and strength and conditioning coordinator Mickey Marotti.

Halftime: Florida 16, Tennessee 7

September, 17, 2011
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida led Tennessee 16-7 at the half.

Best player in the half: The Gators moved the ball well on two scoring drives and had good field position on two others, but they've only punched it into the end zone once. Thanks for the leg of kicker Caleb Sturgis, Florida has a nine-point lead. He is a perfect 3-for-3 kicking, including a long of 46 yards, at the half.

Best call: Chris Rainey is one of the fastest, most athletic players in the SEC and special-teams coach D.J. Durkin made a great decision when he moved Rainey from punt returner to a gunner in the middle of Florida's punt block unit on Tennessee's first punt of the game. Rainey shot through the line and blocked Michael Palardy's punt to give Florida the ball at Tennessee's 13.

What Florida needs to do: The Gators had a lot of early success with its running game, but had just 49 yards rushing at the half. Charlie Weis said he wants to have a power running game and for Florida's offense to get back on track in the second half, the running game has to improve. Rainey and Jeff Demps need more touches and the Gators have to score touchdowns in the red zone.

What Tennessee needs to do:
The Vols showed toward the end of the half that they can throw on Florida's defense. When Tyler Bray isn't making plays with his arms, Florida's defense is helping with penalties. Its youth is showing and Tennessee needs to exploit that. Tennessee has the matchups it wants, so it needs to air the ball out in the second half.

Meyer returns to Gators' practice

March, 17, 2010
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- At 3:20 p.m. Wednesday, Florida coach Urban Meyer jogged through the gate onto the vast practice fields. Every Gator could officially and finally exhale. Their coach really did come back.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Phil SandlinFlorida coach Urban Meyer, right, listens to QB John Brantley during spring practice Wednesday.
The real test of Meyer came a half-hour later, when the punt team began to work on the nearer of the Gators’ two grass practice fields. Meyer actually let his new special teams coordinator, D.J. Durkin, run the drill, with four other assistants helping out. Meyer considered the special teams his baby. He might bring along one assistant to help.

"I didn’t know what to expect," said Meyer. "Usually I’m more involved in the kicking game, little more involved in the offense. And I will be more involved. I think springtime I’m usually like this. Let these guys coach, and everybody do their job and see what we got. We got four new coaches."

At a coaches’ meeting a couple of days ago, Durkin was so thorough that Meyer thought, “OK, I can do this now.”

Do this, as in, stand and watch. During a kick-blocking drill at 5 p.m., Meyer stood a few paces away with his hands clasped behind his back and watched.

“I really like our coaches,” Meyer said. “Our special teams coordinator [Durkin], the eye of the tiger is on him and he did a good job. He did a great job today.”

At one point during practice, Meyer actually stood between the two fields and chatted with Maurkice Pouncey, the offensive lineman who in January declared for the NFL draft. Pouncey had been one of 17 Gators from the 2009 team who worked out for NFL scouts at the Swamp on Wednesday.

“How do you evaluate recruiting?” Meyer asked. “You go out at pro day in four years and see how you did.”

After practice, Meyer was asked how long he had been a full-time coach.

“Twenty-five years, or something like that,” Meyer said with a grin. Then he answered the question. “I’m not sure. I think two weeks, three weeks.”

And with one simple word, he gave the answer every Florida fan wanted to hear. Are you back for good?