Ole Miss DC D.J. Durkin Explains How to Return Rebels to SEC's Elite

Nate Gabler

"I don't see any reason why we couldn't reach (elite SEC status) here at Ole Miss."

D.J. Durkin, huddled up in the back of a van at a lake house in the mountains of Western Virginia, video connection glitching in-and-out, was clearly excited. 

Taking a little vacation time around the 4th of July weekend, Durkin caught up with RebTalk on Thursday night over Zoom. 

After spending five of his formative coaching years in the Southeastern Conference, Durkin is now back, serving as the Ole Miss Co-Defensive Coordinator. 

You can tell in his voice, he's chomping at the bit for the opportunity. 

"The excitement, the backing and support that goes into football in this conference is amazing. You really can't compare it to anything else," Durkin said. "When that opportunity to work with coach (Kiffin), as well as come back to the SEC, it was too good to be true."

Durkin spend 2010-14 at the University of Florida, serving two seasons as the defensive coordinator and taking over as the interim head coach in 2014 when Will Muschamp announced his departure. 

From Gainesville, Durkin spent one season as the defensive coordinator at Michigan before taking the Maryland head coaching position, where he served as the Terrapins head coach from 2015-18 before an unceremonious fallout. 

Now, Durkin is back in the SEC at Ole Miss, working as the Co-Defensive Coordinator alongside Chris Partridge – the two worked together prior at Michigan. 

D.J. Durkin has seen what it takes to win at this level. In his five years at Florida, the Gators went 37-26, including a 11-2 season in 2012 capped by a Sugar Bowl loss. 

To him, there's one answer as to how to get to the top of the conference: recruiting. 

"The biggest difference as a coach in the SEC is the level of recruiting," Durkin said. "No matter where you are, recruiting is a 24-7 job. It's that turned up a couple of notches here in the SEC. People understand that this  is where most teams come recruit anyways, and you're right in it. You're competitors, it's a long list."

That all starts from the top down. Durkin elaborated on the role of athletic director Keith Carter, how his decision making (especially on the hiring and investment front) sets the tone for the whole operation.

Then there's Lane Kiffin, who's delegation and hiring himself – going out and getting some of the best recruiters in the nation – show the dedication to that goal. Remember, Kiffin himself has seen winning at the highest level in the SEC, having served as an offensive coordinator at Alabama.

On the recruiting front, selling Ole Miss is essentially selling the SEC. For each draft over the last 14 seasons, the SEC has led all other conferences in draftees. In April's 202 NFL Draft, the SEC broke their own record when 15 players from the conference were drafted in the first round.

It's simple – if you want to play in the NFL, the easiest route there is through the Southeastern Conference. And for Ole Miss, the easiest path back to national relevancy is selling that recruiting pitch.

More from The Grove Report:

Behind Enemy Sidelines: NCAA Player Empowerment and a Less Toxic Egg Bowl?

June Recruiting Wrap-up: Where Does Ole Miss Stand With the Class of 2021?

Keith Carter: "I'm Less Optimistic Today About a Normal Start"

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