After a particularly volatile season and offseason, several major college football programs will begin the 2016 season with new coaches. As part of our season preview, we take a look at those changes both nationwide — focusing on Mark Richt at Miami and Kirby Smart at Georgia — and in the Washington area, with glimpses into how three coaches — DJ Durkin at Maryland, Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech and Bronco Mendenhall at Virginia — are embracing their new environs.
[After stormy offseason, Richt and Smart landed at home]
Maryland Coach DJ Durkin won’t force his players to do anything he won’t do himself. So when the team moved into their dorm rooms at Dorchester Hall to begin fall camp on Aug. 7, he joined them. He checked into his room and vowed to make it home for nearly a month, sleeping a maximum of five hours a night on the same state-issued mattress that each of his 109 players received. His first two nights were a struggle.
“I barely slept. You’re rolling around on a dorm bed. You can’t get quite comfortable,” he said. “Then you get to that point that you’re so tired that if your body is horizontal, you’re going to sleep.”
That came after the third day, when the routine for Durkin’s first fall camp as a head coach had been firmly established. It takes approximately six minutes to walk a third of a mile from Dorchester Hall to Gossett Team House. When you’re trying to working around the clock to reshape a struggling program, these are the kind of details that matter. No time to waste.
[Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente: Dinner with the coach]
Durkin usually arrives before 5:30 every morning. The building already reverberates with hip-hop music, which begins to play at approximately 4:50 a.m. to set the tone for players and staff. Then Durkin grinds out the day, typically not stopping to walk back to his dorm room until well after 11 p.m.
He’s taken on plenty of new responsibilities over the past month, including delivering a speech to a large gathering of incoming freshmen at Maryland Stadium. But his decision to sleep among his players is also new. He had never done it during his previous 15 fall camps, not even when he was an understudy of the ultra-intense Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and Michigan. Most of his staff have also been staying in the dorms instead of sleeping at the team facility or commuting home to their normal beds every night. The players have taken notice.
“He believes in practice what you preach. If he wants us to be in the dorms, he’s going to be in the dorms right there with us,” sophomore center Brendan Moore said.
[Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall: Cultural immersion in Charlottesville]
A number of Maryland players have admitted over the past month that this fall camp has been the most difficult test of their football careers, and Moore admitted that the energy of Durkin’s staff is unlike anything he’s seen while in College Park. Durkin designed a number of the practices to be three-hour sessions in the boiling midday sun, often running alongside his players to provide instruction.
There have been intermittent rewards for their hard work — Durkin allowed an ice-cream truck to toss frozen treats to the players last week after a practice — but mostly, the coach and his players have refused to return to Dorchester every night of camp without having earned their sleep.
“This is my first time around as a head coach, so I’m going to stay with the team,” Durkin said. “I’ve slept fine. It does the job.”
College football previews from The Post
Every FBS team, ranked: Playoff picks | 10-5 | 15-11 | 20-16 | 25-21 | 50-26 | 75-51 | 100-76 | 128-101
Week 1 TV schedule and preview: It’s a monster opening weekend
Several familiar faces are early favorites in the Heisman race
For top teams, uncertainty at QB doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker
Three transfer QBs who are capable of shifting the balance of power
How to feed a college football team: Start at 4 a.m., and never stop cooking
Navy must navigate this season with an entirely new front five
Benkert’s first start as college QB is part of U-Va.’s fresh start
Nearly a year after football injury, Georgetown student fights to walk again
With Cato June and Brandon Torrey, Howard’s staff has NFL cachet
Hokies’ McMillian plans to charge ahead, even if his role is uncertain