Back by overwhelming demand, FootballScoop will once again examine the assistant coaching hires that will have the biggest impact on the college football season and the coaching job market in the 2020 season and beyond.
No. 20: Zach Arnett, Mississippi State
No. 19: Larry Fedora, Baylor
No. 18: Justin Hamilton, Virginia Tech
No. 17: Sean Gleeson, Rutgers
No. 16: Adam Fuller, Florida State
No. 15: Matt Lubick, Nebraska
No. 14: Mike Bobo, South Carolina
No. 13: Rhett Lashlee, Miami
No. 12: Marvin Lewis and Antonio Pierce, Arizona State
No. 11: David Ballou and Matt Rhea, Alabama
No. 10: Scott Cochran, Georgia
Who: DJ Durkin, Ole Miss
Title: Co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach
Previous stop: Atlanta Falcons consultant (2019)
Why he’s important: Ready or not, this is happening.
For the first time since he was fired on Halloween night of 2018, following a lengthy investigation that found he was oblivious to a caustic culture that culminated in the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, DJ Durkin is back in college football on a full-time basis.
Durkin ignited a firestorm when he showed up as a guest consultant at the Falcons’ training camp last summer, and Ole Miss was prepared for that storm to move west to Oxford. It’s not often an AD has to release a statement such as this after hiring an assistant coach.
Statement from Ole Miss athletics director Keith Carter: pic.twitter.com/PDfGcUDdCP
— Emily Giambalvo (@EmilyGiam) January 2, 2020
“We went through a really extensive process there, talking to multiple people at multiple universities, very high up. Also talking with former players, former head coaches,” Lane Kiffin told reporters this spring. “They raved about D.J.—everyone. In our short time here, I can see why. He’s done a great job in recruiting, great job around the players, assistant coaches. Tireless worker. He’s always in here. Chris (Partridge) and him will do it together. We’ll figure out the play-calling and stuff down the road. That was an easy transition, an easy move, because they had been around each other at Michigan.”
(It should come as no surprise that Durkin has not given an on-the-record interview. Three years studying The Process taught Kiffin a few things.)
As an assistant, Durkin will not be responsible for installing his culture, only to support Kiffin’s.
On that point, it will be interesting to see if experience has changed Durkin in any way, a guy who built a reputation as “hardcore, robotic, super intense.” Of course, it’s possible to love and guide players with that approach, but Durkin will have to put the work in to show players, recruits and their families that he’s more than what happened at Maryland.
To be clear, there is a long list of accomplished coaches who believe in Durkin’s ability. Ole Miss wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of hiring him otherwise. Durkin worked for Urban Meyer at Bowling Green and Florida, for Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and Michigan, for Tyrone Willingham at Notre Dame, and for Will Muschamp at Florida. In fact, Muschamp retained Durkin from Meyer’s staff, and later promoted him to defensive coordinator.
No one ever questioned Durkin’s ability to coach. Here’s how Falcons head coach Dan Quinn defended the decision to bring in Durkin last year:
“An unfortunate situation, of course, but as far as eyes to look at the defense to help us, I definitely knew the advantage of that.”
It’s not a surprise that it was Kiffin’s neck stuck out to hire Durkin, a man who knows what it’s like to bounce back after becoming persona non grata as a young head coach. Kiffin also made an offensive coordinator hire many other coaches wouldn’t have, naming former Art Briles assistant Jeff Lebby as his offensive coordinator.
Second chances are important in life. Here’s hoping Durkin makes the most of his.