Florida Gators Roundtable: Coaching Carousel

Hours after the departure of Dan Quinn to the NFL was made official, Florida coach Will Muschamp announced Quinn’s replacement as defensive coordinator: linebackers and special teams coordinator DJ Durkin.

GatorCountry.com brings you a comprehensive look at Durkin, the impact his hiring could have on the Florida defense as well as Gator Country staff and member reactions.

Durkin Profile

Durkin has been on the Florida Gators’ coaching staff since 2010 as the team’s linebackers coach and special teams coordinator.

During his time at Florida, Durkin has spearheaded the success of Florida’s special teams, a unit that has played a huge role at Florida in the past three years. He helped guided place kicker Caleb Sturgis to a finalist for the Lou Groza Award and former Gators punter Chas Henry to the 2010 Ray Guy Award.

Special teams defense has also shined during Durkin’s tenure as special teams coordinator. In the past two seasons, Durkin’s special teams unit has blocked a total of 12 punts and field goals and has led the SEC in blocks in all three of his years at Florida.

In 2011, Durkin also coached a kickoff return unit that was fourth in the nation with four returns of 50-plus yards.

Durkin was recently named FootballScoop’s Special Teams Coordinator of the Year for the special team’s success in 2012.

In addition to his special teams duties, Durkin led an effective linebackers group that was crucial to the defense’s success in 2011 and 2012. For those two seasons, the Gators defense has finished eighth and fifth, respectively, in total defense. Linebacker Jon Bostic also led the team with 94 tackles in 2011.

Before finding his way to Florida in 2010, Durkin had several coaching positions over the last decade. He served as Stanford’s defensive ends and special teams coordinator for three seasons and as linebackers and special teams coordinator for Bowling Green, his alma mater, in 2006.

He spent two seasons as a graduate assistant on defense at Notre Dame from 2003-04. Durkin coached defensive end Justin Tuck while at Notre Dame and Tuck finished as the school’s all-time sack leader (24.5), career tackles for loss (43) and single-season sacks (13.5).

Impact on Florida Defense

The hiring of Durkin to the defensive coordinator position should have a minimal impact on the Florida Gators defense itself. When Muschamp was hired in December 2010, Durkin was one of two assistant coaches retained by Muschamp.

“DJ and I will run the defense, continuing the way that Dan and I did for the past two years,” Muschamp said about the Durkin hire in a school release.

Basing off of what Muschamp said about the hire, it seems as if there will be no change in the defense, which isn’t surprising. Anyone who has observed Florida since Muschamp arrived has seen that the defense is Muschamp’s defense.

He’s a hands-on coach and that will not change with Durkin becoming the new defensive coordinator. With Durkin’s knowledge and application of Muschamp’s defense over the past two seasons, the transition of Durkin to defensive coordinator should be seamless for the Florida coaching staff and players.

GC Staff Reactions

Drew Laing: I have no problem with this hire by Muschamp. Durkin knows the defense and is already familiar with the current Gators’ players. It’s a move that I think the players can rally behind, despite their love for Quinn, because of that familiarity factor.

Not to mention, Durkin has been an outstanding recruiter for the Gators and it was important for Muschamp to keep him on staff before someone else snatched him up. The probability of Durkin staying around longer is much higher than if Muschamp hired a bigger name outside of the program.

Continuity is something Muschamp has been searching for and he’s got it with Durkin.

DK Thompson: Durkin is a solid hire. He will not blow anyone away, but definitely a solid hire. Let’s be honest, this was never Dan Quinn’s defense, it was Will Muschamp’s defense with Dan Quinn refining the edges. Dan Quinn has been a great coach for the Gators, especially on special teams and recruiting, but I am not blown away on his linebacker development. I think they played well and improved this year, but still seemed to be playing better because of their talent and not necessarily by coaching. We will see. I think Durkin is a very smart guy and will easily transition into his role, because at the end of the day, it’s not a new system.

Durkin has a fiery personality, just like Muschamp. He relates well to players, as you can tell on the sidelines. Always seems to be around the action, offering encouragement and coaching on the sidelines, which doesn’t always happen.

Replacing him as the Special Teams coordinator will be important.

Mike Capshaw: Know why it took less than an hour for Will Muschamp to name a new defensive coordinator? Because HE is the defensive coordinator. DJ Durkin being promoted to replace Dan Quinn is simply window dressing. Everyone close to the program knows this is Will Muschamp’s defense. Quinn simply served as an extension of what Muschamp wanted implemented, so Muschamp could focus on the bigger picture on game days.

Rewind all those game replays from the past two seasons. Watch the sidelines between plays. Look closely and Muschamp is the one calling the plays — whispering into his headphones — that Quinn and other defensive assistants are signaling in. Sure, Quinn, Durkin and the others have their input, but it was Muschamp dialing up cornerback blitzes and line stunts and everything else. This is Will Muschamp’s defense and will remain Muschamp’s defense.

In other words, nothing will change. The defense fans see on the field each Saturday next fall will be the exact same hybrid 4-3/3-4 scheme that has been executed the past two seasons to near perfection – finishing among the top eight in total defense nationally both seasons.

David Parker: At a high level, DJ has proven himself as much as any assistant both in his coaching charges (both LBs and STs showed huge improvement over last year and were outstanding units in 2012) and in his recruiting assignments. He has proven to be an elite recruiter – a real ace. He’s also a young gun who relates to and connects with the recruits and the players really well, which goes a long way to explaining his success.

A big upside to DJ as far as stability is that he is young and this is his first coordinator position. We knew Quinn was a short timer, but DJ should stay at DC with Champ for a good spell. Pease will likely leave in a few years for a head coaching spot (and if he does it means he had a lot of success here) but we’ll at least have the Big 3 in place for the next 3-4 years.

After that, Joker will slide seamlessly into the OC spot (if he stays that long) for more continuity. But for a defense-first program like UF, it’s best that HBC and DC be together for a significant stretch (like Saban and Smart). With Champ and DJ, we’ll get that.

Andrew Spivey: The loss of Dan Quinn is a tough one as his NFL experience helped on the defensive line and in the play calling but in all reality this is Will Muschamp’s defense.

But with linebackers coach DJ Durkin taking over as the defensive coordinator the transition should be smooth as Durkin is a veteran on the staff.

Not only is Durkin a veteran on the staff, but he is one of the top recruiters on the Florida coaching staff and in the entire country.

Last year alone Durkin gets credit for bringing in DJ Humphries, Jonathan Bullard, Rhaheim Ledbetter and Alex McCalister from the state of North Carolina, a state he has dominated the last few years.

Recruits and players love Durkin’s personality and he is a guy that they want to play for, so that should make things smoother. While Durkin has never been a defensive coordinator, he has ran the special teams at Florida and that’s a group that always ranks among the best in the country.

I believe this was the best hire for Muschamp as Durkin would have been hired away as a defensive coordinator by another school soon and the players are already use to him.

Alex Gray: Personally, I feel that the Durkin hire is a good hire. Some will point to his lack of experience, but let’s remember that Quinn himself had only one year exactly of defensive coordinator experience prior to coming to UF and that was all the way back in 2000 at Hofstra. Also, it’s not like the Gators haven’t recently been through this before.

The Gators’ defense has the luxury of having a coach who was known to have defensive prowess upon his hiring in Muschamp. Although Durkin will be a first year coach, Muschamp will be lending a guiding hand throughout the process, much like he did with the departed Quinn.

The amount of input that Durkin has on Florida’s defense will be widely speculated. The truth is, some will say that the defense is totally Muschamp’s and others will argue that it was Quinn, which was powering the locomotive that was the Florida defense during the last two seasons. Honestly, which way some will lean in this argument may very well be swayed by what colors the individual wears on fall Saturdays.

However, Durkin may also potentially be in a no-win situation.

If the defense maintains its success from the last two years, many will point to Muschamp as the true brains behind the operation, who simply brought Durkin along for the ride. If the defense flounders next season, it will be Durkin who will be the scapegoat, as some will say he was not ready or ill suited for the job.

It remains to be seen what will come of Durkin’s tenure, but if some are questioning why Durkin was such a quick hire, perhaps a quote from Will Muschamp early on in the season can offer a peek.

“I have two guys that I really respect in this profession that both called me and said, ‘If you don’t retain [Durkin], I’m going to hire him,'” Muschamp said in October.

All-American kicker Caleb Sturgis echoed Muschamp’s sentiments on Durkin as well.

“There are not many people in college football who spend as much time and get into as many details as [Durkin] does,” Sturgis said.

Durkin will have the luxury of more prepared talent than Austin had during his only year on the job. If Durkin can work with Muschamp in a similar fashion to that of Muschamp and Quinn, there is no reason for the Gators to see a major drop off next season.

GC Member Reactions (taken from BullGator Den)

jjbbq: This is a good move…it’s Muschamp’s defense anyway and this will keep a very good young coach who would likely be hired away soon in place

Lawman: Durkin has paid his dues and deserves the title. We would lose him soon without a promotion. Muschamp will always control the defensive side of things. This gives Champ the opportunity to bring in a primo recruiter (which was not one of Quinn’s strengths) to coach ST and another position.

mdgator05: A good recruiter but not an impressive on the field coach. Our LBers have not developed nearly as well since he was hired and our special teams have been pretty hit or miss. This is a pretty huge downgrade for on the field coaching.

ufrulz2: Yes, consider me in the minority here. While I appreciate the continuity this contributes to the staff, I have never been impressed with Durkin.

atlg8rfan: With Muschamp’s history on the defensive side of the ball, I trust him.

grimesy: I trust the man coaching the team to evaluate his staff better than a bunch of message board jockeys. I trust his opinion of Durkin over any of you naysayers

prgator: If we can’t trust Muschamp’s judgment on what is best for the gator defense, then we can’t trust him on anything else, either. I trust this will work out very well for us. Go Gators!

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Drew is a senior at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. When not at school, Drew resides in Lakeland, Fla. Ever since working on his high school yearbook, Drew has had an interest in pursuing a journalism career after college. In addition to being Editor-in-Chief of his school newspaper, The Samford Crimson, Drew has also been with Gator Country as an intern for one year. He enjoys the finer things in life like Tampa Bay Rays baseball and always making sure to make fun of the Atlanta Braves to Andrew Spivey’s face.