The rumors about Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator’s flirtations with Texas A&M began swirling shortly before the Rebels’ Sugar Bowl matchup with Baylor on New Year’s Day, and on Wednesday, the two made things official, according to TexAgs’ Billy Liucci.
DJ Durkin to A&M a done deal. Defensive coordinator officially making the SEC West move from Ole Miss to Aggieland.— Billy Liucci (@billyliucci) January 5, 2022
Durkin’s Ole Miss defense saw massive improvement in his two seasons in Oxford, going form the No. 117 scoring defense in 2020 to No. 55 in 2021. Aggie fans in particular remember how inspired his defense appeared to play in their 29-19 win over A&M last November. Prior to his stint at Ole Miss, he has been a coordinator at Florida, where he had the No. 15 and No. 19 scoring defense in 2013-14, and Michigan, where he led the No. 6 scoring defense in 2015. In Durkin, the Aggies get a coordinator whose on-field product has always been good, and sometimes great. But it’s also inevitable that Durkin’s off-the-field baggage will bring up a lot of questions.
Most fans know Durkin primarily for his time as the head coach at Maryland, where a player died after collapsing during a summer workout. ESPN highlighted the “toxic culture” that helped lead to this situation, and while it may sound similar to what happens and many football programs, the outcome was beyond unacceptable. While Durkin was not leading the workout in question (it was done by S&C Coach Rick Court), and was cleared of any wrongdoing in an ensuring investigation, ultimately a coach is responsible for everything that happens at his program. It may not always be fair, but it’s a part of the job.
Will Durkin be able to exercise the same influence at A&M that he had as the lead man at Maryland? Of course not. He is not the head coach, and he walks into a program with an established staff and culture already firmly in place. So the actual risk of any kind of repeat of what happened at Maryland is virtually non-existent. But you have to question why A&M would welcome the scrutiny that will come with his hiring. With an already elite defensive unit in place that should only get better with the incoming 2022 recruiting class, I’m sure there was no shortage of interested coaches lining up to take this job. Surely someone just as competent but with zero questions about his coaching past was gettable.
Nonetheless, it appears Durkin is Jimbo’s guy, and with the talent on this roster, and the position coaches that the Aggies retained following the departure of Mike Elko to Duke, this defense should yet again be poised to be one of the best in SEC, and perhaps in all of college football.