Texas A&M has hired Ole Miss’ D.J. Durkin to replace defensive coordinator Mike Elko, according to multiple reports.
Durkin spent the last two seasons with the Rebels as co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. He also served as defensive coordinator at Florida (2013-14) and Michigan (2015). Durkin is considered one of the nation’s best recruiters. He was Rivals’ recruiter of the year in 2012 while at Florida. He has helped sign eight top 25 classes, including five in the top 10, according to the Ole Miss website.
Durkin was head coach at Maryland from 2016-18, going 10-15. He went 6-7 in his first season, doubling the program’s victories from the previous season. He also signed back-to-back recruiting classes ranked in the top 30 for the first time in school history. But Durkin was fired without cause following the death of 19-year-old offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who suffered a heatstroke during practice.
Durkin was a consultant with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons in 2019 before returning to the college ranks. Ole Miss didn’t play A&M in 2020 because of COVID-19, but the Rebels beat the Aggies 29-19 this season. Ole Miss held A&M scoreless in the first half with the Aggies’ longest drive covering just 24 yards on five plays. A&M ended the game with 378 yards and threw a pair of interceptions.
Ole Miss went 10-3 this season, ending with a 21-7 loss to Baylor in the Sugar Bowl. The Rebels lost quarterback Matt Corral early to an injury against the Bears, but the defense held Baylor to 319 yards and 12 first downs.
“The way our defense played tonight, D.J. has probably got a lot of opportunities,” Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin said after the game. “He’s done a great job all season. I don’t know of any other opportunities or anything, but he’s done a fabulous job with our players, not just performance, but recruiting and flipping over a roster that — you guys have followed it here — one that statistically over the last five years of defense here, as bad as anybody in the country.”
Elko was part of head coach Jimbo Fisher’s first staff at A&M and spent four seasons in Aggieland. He was hired as Duke’s head coach last month.
Durkin will take over a defense that allowed only 15.9 points per game to rank third in the country behind Georgia (9.6) and Clemson (14.8). The Aggies allowed 327.5 yards per game to rank 15th nationally.
A&M’s defense is expected to lose six starters including junior lineman DeMarvin Leal, who is projected to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft. The Aggies also are losing tackle Jayden Peevy and end Micheal Clemons and possibly end Tyree Johnson. But A&M has stockpiled linemen from top 10 recruiting classes, which might be a reason Fisher picked Durkin who uses four lineman as his base defense.
“I’m still going to be involved in what we run on defense, how we run it, and the systems aren’t changing,” Fisher said on Dec. 15. “You ain’t changing everything. We’re going to run what we run, how we run it, the way we run it, and we’ll make additions and things from it.”
Durkin shared defensive coordinator duties at Ole Miss with Chris Partridge, who also coaches the safeties.
WR Smith to return
A&M wide receiver Ainias Smith will return for his senior season, he announced Wednesday on Twitter.
“I want to grow and better myself as a player and a leader,” Smith said. “With that being said, I’ve decided to come back for my senior year to represent this program one last time. Let’s go get a Natty!!”
Smith had 47 receptions for 509 yards and six touchdowns this season. He added eight carries for 26 yards. Smith also had 23 punt returns for 259 yards with a touchdown. For his career, Smith has 112 receptions for 1,321 yards and 15 TDs and 64 carries for 373 yards rushing and four more TDs. Smith has 54 career punt returns for 524 yards and a TD and 13 kickoff returns for 257 yards.