DJ Durkin hadn’t been serving as Maryland’s head coach since August, and after his brief and unexpected return to the program this week, he’s now officially out. This means Maryland will now embark on its second coaching search in four years, and will do so with a new athletic director in Damon Evans and a president in Wallace Loh who is retiring in June..
This coaching search will be different than the past few. Kevin Anderson won’t be the one conducting it, for starters. This is the second Maryland football coaching search since the program joined the Big Ten, and where last time it was easy to sell anyone on promise, that now becomes a bit harder. The investigation into Maryland football detailed turmoil in the athletic department, fan support is low and the school and program both have a lot of work to do to get back in the good graces of fans and casual observers alike.
Some things Maryland needs to consider when it’s looking for its next coach:
Head coaching experience
The coach Maryland hires should have experience running a program, not just experience watching someone else do it. DJ Durkin didn’t have experience as a head coach before coming to College Park, and investigators pointed the finger at the athletic department for not helping him enough in their report:
The Athletics Department provided little education around, or support to handle, the myriad administrative responsibilities of a head coach, tasks Mr. Durkin had not been delegated in previous jobs as a coordinator or position coach
Maryland can’t bank on an assistant learning how to get it right while on the job. There’s zero guarantee whoever comes to Maryland gets the proper support and education on how to be a coach, so it’s time to get someone who has already proven he can do it.
A good record on player safety and player treatment
Investigators report into Maryland football found missteps all over the place, from the training staff to the strength staff to Durkin himself. One player told investigators:
“If you’re not a superstar he doesn’t really care about you. You are just a number on the roster. He needs to learn how to control his staff and become a decent human being. He should not be our head coach.”
And while yes, other players did tell coaches things like this...
“Coach Durkin has given me tremendous opportunity. I have been able to work while being a member of the team to help my future career after football. I have the utmost respect for him, he has always been a great coach to me.”
...Maryland football players reported significantly lower rates of satisfaction with their head coach than other Maryland athletic teams investigators surveyed:
And the report also mentioned players who said the medical staff did not take proper care of them, and that Durkin’s environment was one where “you weren’t injured unless you couldn’t walk.”
Maryland has to find a coach who won’t elicit those types of reviews from players. Pretty simple.
The ability to succeed in tough situations
This is a vague characteristic, obviously, but one I think is worth mentioning. Maryland might be rebuilding parts of its athletic department, and will definitely be rebuilding the culture of its football team. Whoever becomes Maryland’s next head football coach won’t have tradition to rely on. He’ll have to build something on his own (with the help of a heap of Under Armour money, but still).
A recent Baltimore Sun report outlined decreases in attendance and donations since Maryland joined the Big Ten. The head coach is partially responsible for that too. The easiest way to get butts in seats and donations flowing to your program is to win games. The easiest way to win games is to already have butts in seats and donations flowing to your program. Maryland’s next coach will have to prove to fans and boosters that he can build a program worth spending money on. It helps to have experience building something from the ground up elsewhere.
One thing not to necessarily look for: University of Maryland connections
There are arguments for and against this, but my thinking is that on a macro view, connections to the school don’t matter nearly as much being a successful head coach does. Bringing an alum or a former Maryland coach back doesn’t guarantee success. Let Michigan and Brady Hoke tell you about that. Having familiarity with a school doesn’t mean you’ll be able to run a successful program there. And after everything we’ve heard about Maryland’s athletic department, it doesn’t sound like many people had beneficial experiences there.
One person could argue that a familiarity with Maryland could help a new coach know exactly what he’s getting himself into. But a coach with a totally new perspective might just be better. Get someone who’s been a successful head coach and let him model what he does at Maryland after what he’s done elsewhere. Connections to a Maryland program that has only seen one over-.500 regular season in the past decade doesn’t seem to me like something worth chasing.
If you’re worried about connections for recruiting purposes, that’s done easily enough by hiring assistants who know the area. Durkin’s recruiting was by far his most public success at Maryland, and he had no connections to the area. He succeeded because he hired assistants who had connections to high school coaches in the DMV, and because convincing players and families to commit to his school has always been one of his strengths.
Hiring a new coach means considering tons of variables. Connections to the university is one that shouldn’t outweigh any others.