UT's coach Campbell, Durkin set to face off in Florida

Clash between Rockets, Gators to reunite friends

University of Central Florida quarterback Daunte Culpepper throws the ball under pressure from Bowling Green's D.J. Durkin (44) in 1998.
University of Central Florida quarterback Daunte Culpepper throws the ball under pressure from Bowling Green's D.J. Durkin (44) in 1998.

Does Matt Campbell smell funny?

The University of Toledo’s football coach may have asked himself that question when he chased D.J. Durkin out of town not once but twice.

Campbell and Durkin almost crossed paths coaching at Bowling Green State University in 2003 before Durkin left for Notre Dame. The two connected four years later but only briefly before Durkin — who had returned to BG — exited for Stanford as Campbell was transitioning back from a stint at Mount Union.

Soon these 30-somethings who grew up in northeast Ohio will have the chance to show the other what he learned in his journey to and from Wood County. Durkin will coach his first game as Florida’s defensive coordinator Saturday when Campbell’s Rockets roll into town for the season opener. Durkin encounters a stiff test his first day: Slowing an explosive Toledo offense, one which is covered in Campbell’s fingerprints.

"He’s probably one of the best young football coaches in college football," Campbell said of Durkin. "He’s a tremendous leader. Great college player. Great high school player. D.J.’s a guy, he’s kind of got a magnet to him. He’s a guy people like to be around because of his energy and how he coaches with emotion. There was no surprise to me when the coordinator job opened and they elevated D.J."

The two keep in touch and consider the other a friend. Durkin, 35, grew up in Youngstown before embarking on a stellar playing career at BG. Campbell, 33, lived an hour-plus away in Massillon. Their high school alma maters, Boardman and Perry, are members of the eight-team Federal League, although their teams never squared off while they were in school. Boardman didn’t join the conference until 2002, long after each had graduated.

Durkin, now in his fourth season at Florida, became defensive coordinator in January after Dan Quinn left for the same position with the Seattle Seahawks. Durkin will continue to coach linebackers but not special teams, a unit which he molded into one of the nation’s best. The Gators a year ago ranked seventh in kickoff coverage and 11th in punt returns. They also blocked six kicks.

"He’s done a great job wherever he’s been," Campbell said.

Durkin’s latest challenge, that of coordinator, is one he will share with head coach Will Muschamp. Muschamp, who developed a rockstar-like reputation for his punishing units with Texas, Auburn, and Louisiana State, has fielded a couple of top-10 defenses in his two seasons with the Gators. Durkin was one of two assistants Muschamp retained from Urban Meyer’s staff.

Durkin has his hands full this season breaking in eight new starters in the dominant Southeastern Conference. First though he will encounter a Toledo offense returning nine starters and a head coach with a track record for scoring points.

"Matt is a very capable coach, a really smart football coach," Durkin told Florida reporters. "Obviously, he has done a great job there at Toledo. He’s a friend of mine. He has done really well. He recruits well. He understands that offense, so he’s good.”

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.