In his preparation for Alabama’s fourth straight trip to college football’s national championship game, slick Nick Saban added a little something to his team’s practices.
When the Crimson Tide faces Clemson for the title next Monday night, Coach Saban will have a mysterious helper on the sideline. Look closely and you’ll see none other than D.J. Durkin, disgraced former coach of Maryland, hanging out.
Durkin is the latest recycled coach welcomed into Saban’s corner of the college football world where he conducts rehabilitation services for those who have been lost jobs for various and sundry misdemeanors elsewhere.
It is not a good look for the Tide and Saban realized that. He felt obliged to explain that Durkin was not being hired but rather welcomed to work on his “professional development.’’
Durkin needed plenty of that after the death of one of his players following a strenuous spring practice at Maryland and a university investigation that revealed a toxic atmosphere around the coach and the Terrapins program. Durkin was fired and next showed up for Saban’s rehab program.
It sounds like Tuscaloosa’s version of a halfway house, where down and out coaches get their psyches repaired by the game’s most successful sideline boss. This has been going on for a while at Alabama with a coaching who’s who having passed through.
Among the alumni are Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, who will be leaving after the Clemson game and is the fourth straight lame duck coordinator on Saban’s staff.
Locksley arrived in Alabama with considerable baggage including a 2-26 head coaching record at New Mexico. It was at that job that Locksley found himself in hot water, first because of a sex and age discrimination charge followed by an episode in which he was charged with punching assistant JB Gerald. That affair led to a 10-day suspension, $25,000 settlement and a ticket to Nick Saban’s school for naughty coaches.
Others who have passed through in an attempt to massage their reputations include Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian, both former USC coaches.
Kifflin may be the most notorious. He displayed an arrogant personality in previous stops at Tennessee, USC and the NFL’s Oakland Raiders but was welcomed by Saban for the revolving door offensive coordinator job, a turbulent partnership that lasted three years
Their relationship lasted until a week before the Tide played in the 2017 National Championship game. Locksley was next in the hot seat and is credited with the rapid development of left-handed quarterback Tua Tagovailoa into a Heisman Trophy finalist. Meanwhile, Kiffin, grateful for the lessons learned at Saban’s knee, moved on to Florida Atlantic University.
The championship game against Clemson will mark Locksley’s exit at Alabama. Next stop: College Park, Md., where he has worked twice before, as a running backs coach from 1997-2002 and then offensive coordinator and briefly the interim head coach from 2012-2015. He was 1-5 as Maryland’s sideline boss.
When Maryland decided to replace Locksley after 2015, they brought in a bright young assistant, considered a hot property in the business.
His name: D.J. Durkin.