Florida's elevation of D.J. Durkin to defensive coordinator last week came as a surprise only in its alacrity: Dan Quinn had been gone to Seattle for all of three hours when reports came that the Gators' linebackers coach and special teams coordinator would hop into Quinn's chair.
Clearly, Will Muschamp trusts Durkin, and likes him enough to make him a lieutenant on Florida's staff. But Durkin didn't just impress Muschamp: He impressed Urban Meyer enough at Bowling Green and in his time afterward to get hired at Florida, and impressed Jim Harbaugh enough to be part of his Stanford staff. Durkin is likely going to be a head coach before very long, and may end up being a very good one. And people who have covered Stanford saw that five years ago.
I reached out to our Stanford bloggers at Rule of Tree for their insights on Durkin, and here's what editor Jack Blanchat had to say:
Durkin was always known as an insanely high-energy coach when he was at Stanford, and his special teams units were always well-coached. That intensity definitely carried over to his recruiting abilities, where he helped bring in and develop some of the best players in Stanford history.
I think his star pupil at Stanford was probably Shayne Skov, who became an unstoppable player on special teams his freshman year - he made so many tackles that the coaches basically had no choice but to play him at linebacker. The guy knows what he's talking about and has that same intensity as Harbaugh and Muschamp, so I think he's a perfect fit for the promotion.
That story about Skov certainly sounds like Loucheiz Purifoy's rise to me.
Blanchat also served the question up to Wyndam Makowsky, who covered Stanford for the school's paper. He emailed this:
Stanford, back before it became a relevant football school, used to have a fairly lax policy on open practices. Anyone who watched could see that there were players who stood out from the rest of the pack, but it was odd to also see the same phenomenon among coaches. Specifically, this happened with Durkin. Jim Harbaugh was a rare breed of coach--perhaps influenced by his brother's extended stint as an STC--who spent a considerable amount of time on special teams. Some neglect it entirely; Harbaugh would devote whole parts of practice to it.
And that was Durkin's show. He would fly around the field talking, it seemed, to the returner, gunner, punter and long snapper simultaneously. He was enthusiastic and packed an endless amount of energy but more than that, players responded to his coaching almost immediately. Something needed to be fixed? It was fixed. He was 29 and 30 years old during his two seasons on The Farm, yet he commanded the respect of a coach twice his age. Outside of the scrimmages, it was the must-see attraction of open practices.
If you asked any beat writer covering the team during that time, "Who is the rising star on that coaching staff?" I would bet heavily that your response would be unanimously in favor of Durkin. I say that even though now two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year David Shaw was a coordinator on that same staff. When we lost him to Florida it was on the one hand wholly disappointing, but on the other, was not unexpected.
I've thought for years that Durkin will be a head coach sooner rather than later; his promotion to the Gators' defensive coordinator gig is another step toward that inevitability.
Now, if you factor in the fact that this effusive praise of Durkin is about his work when he was a mere pup in the coaching ranks, and came before he turned Florida's special teams into a unit with finalists for national awards at kicker and punter that swung multiple games in 2012 with its kick coverage, I think we've got every bit of evidence we need to believe that Durkin is at least a very good coach, if not one on the verge of greatness. And that's all without mentioning that Durkin is Florida's best recruiter — except, perhaps, Muschamp himself.
So, yeah, I think the Gators will be fine with D.J. Durkin at defensive coordinator.