At the University of Maryland, the death of football player Jordan McNair was unfortunately just the beginning of some potential long-term problems. It took something so major, so tragic, to investigate the program’s culture, and the decision made in the aftermath will likely cost more than just money.
The University System of Maryland board of regents recommended Tuesday that both football head coach DJ Durkin and athletics director Damon Evans should retain their current positions and resume their duties, which is something university president Wallace Loh accepted and chose not to override.
This, of course, follows the external investigation of the Maryland Terrapins football program under Durkin that determined in the nearly 200-page report that the team “did not have a toxic culture but did have a culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out” following the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, a 19-year-old who passed away two weeks after being hospitalized following a May 29 workout, and a report by ESPN.
So there you have it. Durkin, who has been on paid administrative leave since August 11, is expected to return to the sidelines soon and coach college football this season.
The Maryland board of regents chairman James T. Brady acknowledges Durkin “failed to adequately supervise conditioning coach Rick Court” considering the offseason workout that ultimately led to the death of the 6-foot-4, 325-pound McNair, but also claims the failure “is shared by the university’s athletic department.”
“We believe that Coach Durkin has been unfairly blamed for the dysfunction in the athletic department. And while he shares some responsibility, it is not fair to put all of it at his feet… He has acknowledged his role in the athletic department’s shortcomings while he served as head coach, and he has committed to reforms.” — James T. Brady
Although Maryland accepted responsibility in the player’s death, and the board of regents made the recommendation, the final decision came from Maryland President Wallace D. Loh. However, according to the Washington Post, retaining Durkin is not something he wanted to do.
It’s quite possible this is the reason Loh announced he will retire in June.
“It was made clear that if he wanted to remain in his position, he had no option,” one person close to the situation told the newspaper. “He ultimately felt it would’ve been tremendously disruptive to the entire campus if he was to be terminated simply because he wouldn’t put the coach back on the field.
“The board has no authority to hire and fire a football coach, but they made clear that returning DJ to the field was their highest priority.”
The highest priority? After all of that, keeping Durkin, who is 10-15 overall and 5-13 in Big Ten Conference play, was the most important thing? Yikes.
If he were that important, or even that well liked, there is no way multiple players would have walked out of the first team meeting held by Durkin after the announcement.
Durkin’s buyout at Maryland is a little over $5 million, but this decision will cost more than it would to fire him.
It will cost the entire university the respect of many for keeping Durkin around.