COLLEGE PARK, MD — What a mess. The University of Maryland has fired head football coach DJ Durkin just a mere 24 hours after his reinstatement, the school announced Wednesday evening.
From the start, this whole process has been a mismanaged debacle. Tuesday, Coach Durkin was reinstated by the university’s board of regents. The board also informed Athletic Director, Damon Evans that he would retain his title. University President Wallace D. Loh announced that he would be retiring in June of 2019.
Here’s a look at the events that led to Durkin’s demise.
May 29th- 19-year-old Maryland offensive Jordan McNair collapsed during a conditioning workout. McNair was said to be showing signs of extreme exhaustion during 110-yard sprints. At a local hospital, McNair’s body was found to have a temperature of 106-degrees. McNair died 15 days later on June 13th.
June 14th- Maryland held a press conference with Damon Evans and Durkin. Evans detailed a timeline of events that led to McNair’s consequent collapse and eventual hospitalization. Evans announced that an external investigation would take place. Maryland hired Rod Walters, a Sports Medicine Consultant, to lead an external investigation in the death of McNair.
August 10th- ESPN releases an article reporting a toxic coaching culture under Coach Durkin and strength and conditioning coach Rick Court. The articles report an environment rooted with bullying and humiliation.
“Multiple sources close to the program describe past behavior of intimidation, humiliation and verbal abuse that created a culture of fear for the players. The sources also reveal allegations of unhealthy eating habits and using food punitively against the players.”
Maryland quickly announced that four staff members would be placed on administrative leave. Durkin, Court, head football athletic trainer Wes Robinson and director of athletic training Steve Nordwall, were all placed on administrative leave. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada served as interim head coach in Durkin’s absence.
University President Wallace D. Loh released a twitter statement on August 11th.
August 14th- President Loh and Evans held a press conference to announce initial report findings from the McNair investigation. Evans announced that the three staffers – Robinson, Nordwall , and Durkin – would remain on administrative leave. He also shared that Court resigned. President Loh stated the following:
“The university accepts legal and moral responsibility for the mistakes that our training staff made.”
“Some of our policies and protocols do not conform to best practices. Some of the actions of our athletic training staff, not the coaching staff, [but] our athletic training staff – they basically misdiagnosed the situation. No vital signs were taken; other safeguard actions that should have been taken were not. For me, that was enough to say I need to come and personally apologize.”
“We will do everything possible that the situation that Jordan McNair found himself in will never happen again,”
Aug. 17th- The Board of Regents takes over both the investigation into the workout in which McNair collapsed as well as the investigation into the football team’s “toxic” culture.
Sept. 21st- The board releases the Walters Report findings that led to McNair’s death. The report found that Maryland’s athletic trainers were too late in recognizing McNair’s symptoms. The trainers did not properly treat him for heatstroke, including not implementing cold water immersion. The report also found that the field is typically equipped with cold water immersion tanks, but they were missing on May 29 because the practice switched location from the stadium to the practice field.
“Although change of venue is not uncommon in outdoor sports, it is essential that sufficient time must be allowed to ensure minimal medical equipment is set up by the athletic training staff prior to practice initiating.”
Rod Walters also provided a timeline of events from the workout on May 29th, proving that more than 90 minutes elapsed from the time Jordan collapsed to the time he was transported to an area hospital.
Oct. 23rd – Oct. 25th: The Board of Regents held meetings to discuss the findings in the report on the Maryland football culture under Durkin. The report found that there was “no toxic culture” at Maryland, and that the culture of the program did not contribute to the death of Jordan McNair. The investigation did find disturbing things about the program under Durkin’s management. The finding included instances of bullying and humiliation by Court, in addition to reports of a dysfunctional athletic department.
Oct. 26th- The Board of Regents holds another meeting in Baltimore where it hears from Loh, Evans, and CoachDurkin.
Oct. 30th- The Board of Regents announces the recommendation to reinstate Durkin and for Evans to retain his title as Maryland’s athletics director. President Loh announced that he will retire as president in June 2019. USM board chair James Brady stated:
“We believe that Coach Durkin has been unfairly blamed for the dysfunction in the athletic department,”
“While he bears some responsibility, it is not fair to place all of it at his feet.”
Durkin would return to the team that afternoon. Reports claim that players, including starters, walked out of the meeting. Many players expressed displeasure on social media.
Oct. 31st- Amidst mounting pressure and backlash, President Loh makes the executive decision to fire Durkin. Loh gave the order to Damon Evans who informed Durkin late Wednesday. Durkin was reportedly shocked by the decision, and leaves without addressing the team.
This seemingly never-ending disaster has put a real question mark on the University of Maryland’s credibility. From start to finish, the situation has been mismanaged from the medical treatment of Jordan McNair during that May 29th workout to the tone deaf decisions of the Maryland Board of Regents. Thus leading me to question the character of Durkin. The ultimate responsibility of the student athletes’ welfare on this football team falls at his feet. A failure by any staff member, medical or football personnel, is a failure of Durkin’s.
There are absolutely zero excuses as to why trained medical staff couldn’t properly diagnose a heat stroke. Per the Walters report, McNair showed all of the clinical signs of a heat stroke. They failed. The staff was either unprepared, uneducated, or ignorant as to the the severity of the situation. Either way, Durkin is responsible and a life has been lost.
At the start of this nightmare, I thought to myself there is absolutely no way Durkin can come back from this. What parent in their right mind would trust their child’s well being in the care of a program that has already shown to be incompetent? As the report came out, it justified my feelings toward the situation.
Along with most of the country, I was shocked. While shock loomed over us all, I guarantee nobody was more shocked than Jordan’s parents, two people who just lost their son due to negligence, and those responsible were given a free pass. Marty McNair shared his displeasure,
“I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach, and somebody spit in my face.”
Reports of fights in the locker room over the Durkin decision reemphasized the report findings that this program is full of dysfunction and it doesn’t start at the football team. It’s now clear to the world that the dysfunction starts at the University’s administration.
The University of Maryland’s leadership was unprepared for the type of backlash that they would receive following the decision to reinstate Durkin. The only person who was proven to have morals, as well as the intestinal fortitude to make the ultimate decision to fire Durkin was President Loh. Through reports, Loh was said to act alone and was solely responsible for firing Durkin.
While darkness has loomed over the University of Maryland during this unfortunate series of events, remembering and honoring Jordan McNair is the light that will lead players and the remaining coaching staff through this time. Long Live Number 79.
Image Credit: USA TODAY