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One of the fringe benefits of having a head coach who is basically a coordinator on one side of the ball is that side of the ball is settled as far as a coordinator.
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, who was a very successful offensive coordinator at Cincinnati, LSU and Florida State before becoming a head coach at Florida State in 2010, has some improvements to make with his offense. That is clear. But it’s not like he has to hire a new offensive coordinator. He’s the offensive coordinator.
So, the only ultra key assistant coach position he has to truly worry about is defensive coordinator. Whereas, for example, former LSU coaches Les Miles and Ed Orgeron, who were never true coordinators on either side of the ball, were constantly having to hire a coordinator on one side of the ball or other. And in the end, not being able to hire good coordinators on both sides is what got Orgeron fired while annual offensive issues got Miles fired.
How new LSU coach Brian Kelly, who has never been a coordinator on either side, performs in this constant dual hiring role will be a key to how much success he has at LSU. That, and learning about accents like the one in Boston, where he is from. It does have accents, even though he doesn’t realize it. Hopefully, he knows that Louisiana has football players, but not many quality linemen or quarterbacks.
Fisher, meanwhile, is in the process of hiring his second straight top notch defensive coordinator. Paperwork and contract details are all that is left before A&M confirms the multi-reported hiring of Ole Miss defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin as the Aggies’ new defensive coordinator.
Durkin will replace Mike Elko, who was Fisher’s first and only previous defensive coordinator with the Aggies. Elko left the Notre Dame defensive coordinator post after the 2017 season to join Fisher shortly after Fisher left Florida State to become the Aggies’ head coach.
Fisher was about to hire LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda before he tapped Elko, but LSU upped the ante that A&M was offering and was able to keep Aranda for the next two seasons. LSU won the national championship in 2019, and Aranda became Baylor’s head coach.
Elko became Duke’s head coach last month after his last A&M defense finished No. 3 in the nation in fewest points allowed with 15.9 a game, was No. 15 in total defense with 327.5 yards allowed a game and No. 17 in pass defense at 192.7 yards a game. His pass defense improved from 2020 to 21 by 33 yards and rose 39 spots from No. 56. His scoring defense improved from No. 28 and by a full touchdown.
Durkin made even more drastic improvements at Ole Miss from 2020 to 2021 and will be missed by coach Lane Kiffin, who, like Fisher, is an offensive coordinator head coach and needs to only really worry about who his next defensive coordinator will be.
Kiffin praised Durkin after his defense was the only thing that kept the Rebels in the Sugar Bowl in a 21-7 loss after the injury to quarterback Matt Corral.
“The way our defense played tonight, DJ has probably got a lot of opportunities,” Kiffin said last Saturday night. “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 statistically over the last five years of defense here – as bad anybody in the country.”
Durkin’s first defense at Ole Miss in 2020 finished No. 126 in the nation out of 127 upper level programs in total defense with 519 yards allowed a game, 125th in pass defense (312.1 yards allowed a game) and 117th in scoring defense (38.3 points a game).
Durkin’s 2021 defense jumped to No. 97 in total defense (420.6 yards a game) by shaving a football field off what it had been giving up, to No. 51 in scoring defense (24.7 points a game) and to No. 68 against the pass (230 yards a game).
Durkin, who was Maryland’s head coach from 2016-18, is experienced in the big time as he previously was a defensive coordinator at Florida in 2013 and ’14 and at Michigan in 2015.
The Aggies finished the 2021 season at 8-4 after losing starting quarterback Haynes King to a broken leg in the second game of the season at Colorado. In two of those losses, the Aggies failed to score 20 points — 20-10 to Arkansas and 29-19 to Ole Miss. There was also a 26-22 loss to Mississippi State and a 27-24 loss to LSU on the last play of the game.
The pressure Elko’s defense put on Alabama quarterback Bryce Young is why the Tide has one loss on the season.
With just an above average offense last season, the Aggies go 10-2. Fisher can work on that from now until the fall. As far as his defense, he can rest.