Much like its fellow newcomer Rutgers, Maryland’s football program has felt just stuck in the mud since its arrival in the Big Ten.
And, like Rutgers, there’s a new man running the show, a coaching change made this offseason to install DJ Durkin as the new head coach. Like Rutgers’ new head man Chris Ash, Durkin’s resume is an impressive one. He’s worked for current Big Ten East rivals Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh, turning in a pair of the best defenses in the country in his past two seasons at Michigan and Florida.
But staring up at those big boys in the East Division can make the task of building a competitive program feel nearly impossible. Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan don’t seem like they’ll relinquish their grips on the top of the mountain anytime soon, and Penn State is widely regarded as a sleeping giant that could also reestablish itself as a perennial power.
So, like Rutgers, Maryland’s challenge is an extremely tough one. Ash is ready to take it on in Piscataway. And so too is Durkin ready to take it on in College Park.
“You just continue to improve,” Durkin said during Big Ten Media Days when asked how he could one day get Maryland in a spot to compete with the division’s big boys. “How do you improve? You go recruit at a high level, great players. Then what do you do when you get them there? You keep developing them? Then what do you do? Because you bring in great players, they bring the players there currently better because you’ve got good competition, you’ve got a bunch of guys fighting to keep the jobs they already have.
“We met when the rest of the staff was on the road recruiting in the spring, I said, ‘You know where the whole staff is right now? They’re out finding your replacements, trying to find guys better than you. Just call it like it is. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t like you or love you or want you to be great. You need to keep working here to not let us do that, don’t let us find a guy better than you.’
“And then what happens is you’ve kind of flipped over your roster. You’ve got a lot of guys that are working hard at your place helping. You’re bringing in great talent and developing them when they get there. And they’re competing against each other, and that’s how to get to the point where you want to be, talent-wise.”
It’s a time-consuming process, building a program up. Randy Edsall didn’t leave the Terps in too great of shape when he was fired midway through last season. In his four and a half seasons, he never led the team to more than seven wins in a single campaign, something his predecessor Ralph Friedgen did six times during his 10-year tenure. The Terps went 3-9 last season, the third season with three or fewer wins in the last seven. Conference play has been particularly tough for Maryland, and over the past nine seasons in the Big Ten and ACC, the conference record has been above .500 just once.
No one is expecting the Terps to challenge the Buckeyes, the Wolverines and the Spartans right away, so if it’s ever going to happen, Durkin is going to have to up the level of talent in his program. But how do you convince kids to play for Maryland when Meyer and Harbaugh also come calling?
“We’re at a place where we can recruit with anyone, I believe,” Durkin said. “In our own backyard, there’s players that are being recruited nationally that we have every say in getting as (much as) anyone else does. I think we can build our place into being whatever we want to be. That’s part of the process.
“A certain type of kid in an extremely positive way, a competitive guy — a guy that has unbelievable confidence about himself — has an opportunity to come and be part of building something at our place. There’s nothing better to be a part of, there’s nothing more rewarding than coming to a place and saying, ‘This is where they’re at, and I was part of building it to this level.’ Timing has to be right to do that, that’s not something you’re in control over. But you are in control of where you go. And you can go to a place where we’re going to fight to sustain and maintain and keep it going or whatever that might be. Or you can go to a place where you’re part of special and building something.
“It takes a certain type of person with something about them to go do that, and those are the people we want to recruit.”