D.J. Durkin an easy promotion for Muschamp
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Proof of change was already evident Friday morning in the Florida football offices. The sign on the wall outside former defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s office had a new name and face than the previous morning.
New Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin had not moved in yet, but he won’t have any trouble finding where to move his belongings when he packs up his old office across the hall.
Gators coach Will Muschamp named Durkin the new defensive coordinator Thursday, shortly after Quinn accepted an offer to return to Seattle to become the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator.
At his news conference Friday, Muschamp said it was an easy decision to promote Durkin, Florida’s linebackers coach/special-teams coordinator the past three seasons.
“I’m really excited about D.J. Durkin being our coordinator,’’ Muschamp said. “D.J. is similar to Dan in the sense that the guy is very bright, smart, energetic — he does a great job with our players. Obviously the results he had on special teams were outstanding.
“D.J.’s experience with our system and with our players, the stability and continuity that we provide for our players in that decision, I think it is our best decision.”
When Muschamp was hired to replace outgoing coach Urban Meyer in December 2010, he had a month to observe as Meyer prepared the Gators for an Outback Bowl matchup against Penn State.
Muschamp said during that time frame is when he realized Durkin would be a good fit for his staff despite the two not knowing each other well personally at the time. He liked Durkin’s aggressive coaching style and his defensive outlook, which matched up well with Muschamp’s plan to build a big and physical defense that could withstand the grind of the rugged Southeastern Conference season.
He made calls to coaching acquaintances that knew Durkin, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Muschamp said it was an easy decision then and an easy decision Thursday.
“I’ve watched him for two years do a fantastic job with our players. He’s a great motivator, smart, intelligent, understands the game, sees the big picture,’’ Muschamp said. “All of the things I think it takes to be a successful play-caller on offense or defense, he has.”
Muschamp, a former defensive coordinator at LSU, Auburn and Texas, will remain heavily involved in coaching the defense, like he was with Quinn. However, Durkin will call plays on game day like Quinn did and essentially work off the blueprint the staff has created since Muschamp took over the program.
Under Durkin’s direction the past three seasons, the Gators’ special teams have consistently been ranked among the nation’s best in blocked kicks and kickoff returns. Kicker Caleb Sturgis and punter Kyle Christy were arguably the nation’s top tandem last season.
Meanwhile, Durkin worked closely with linebackers Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins, both of whom are expected to be taken in the NFL draft in April. Durkin is also considered one of the coaching staff’s top recruiters.
As coaching hires go, this one transpired swiftly.
In a span of a few hours Thursday morning, Jacksonville named Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley as its new head coach, Quinn accepted an offer to replace Bradley and Muschamp promoted Durkin.
Muschamp said he was not caught off guard by Quinn’s departure and thanked Quinn for his impact on the program the past two seasons.
“Part of my job is anticipating when things are going to happen,’’ Muschamp said. “Obviously with Dan’s relationship with the Seattle organization, I knew that if Gus Bradley got a job, there would be interest on their part and possibly some interest on his part.
“I appreciate the foundation he laid here at the University of Florida defensively. He’s an outstanding coach and an outstanding friend and a guy that’s going to be very successful in Seattle. That’s probably the only job he would have left here for because of his relationship with John Schneider, the general manager of Seattle, and his relationship with Pete Carroll. I knew that would be a possibility if those chain of events happened.”
With Quinn’s departure and Durkin’s promotion, Muschamp’s next move is to hire an assistant. As of now he would like to keep Durkin as linebackers coach and will name someone else to coach special teams. He said that could be someone already on staff or the person he hires.
“I have some ideas about the next hire,’’ he said. “We can go some different routes.”
What is clear is that Muschamp is comfortable with Durkin’s increased role. Durkin started his coaching career in 2001 as a graduate assistant on Meyer’s staff at Bowling Green and later served as an assistant at Notre Dame, Bowling Green and Stanford.
Muschamp expects a smooth transition as the Gators prepare for National Signing Day on Feb. 6 and then the start of spring football in March.
“I think that’s what is really helping us on the recruiting trail,’’ Muschamp said. “People understand defensively that we’re not changing. Schematically, the terminology is not going to change. We don’t have to wholesale change anything within our organization.”
Well, other than for moving Durkin’s office across the hallway.