BALTIMORE — The University of Maryland has reinstated suspended football coach D.J. Durkin and retained athletic director Damon Evans amid the fallout of an investigation into the school’s football program’s “culture” and dissonance in the athletic department.
The parents of deceased Maryland football player Jordan McNair made clear to reporters they were not satisfied with the recommendations made earlier Tuesday by the University System of Maryland Board of Regents. The McNairs’ attorney implied they may consider a lawsuit by saying, “This will not be the last word.”
“I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach and somebody spit in my face,” Martin McNair, the player’s father, said.
At a press conference in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, university president Wallace D. Loh — facing reports that he did not want Mr. Durkin to return but was compelled to bring him back — announced that he will retire on June 30, 2019.
Although Mr. Durkin accepted some responsibility for the student athlete’s death, board of regents chairman James T. Brady said the regents felt Mr. Durkin was “unfairly blamed” for much of the dysfunction in the athletic department.
“We believe that he is a good man and a good coach who is devoted to the well-being of the student-athletes under his charge,” Mr. Brady said.
In a statement issued later by the athletic department, Mr. Durkin said he’s “grateful for the opportunity to rejoin the team and very much appreciate having the support of the Board of Regents. Our thoughts have and will continue to be with Jordan’s family. I am proud that the team has remained united and represented themselves and the University well during this difficult time. As we move forward, I am confident that our team will successfully represent the entire University in a positive way both on and off the field.”
Mr. Brady also said Mr. Evans should be given an opportunity to lead the department. He was promoted to the position full-time in June.
McNair’s parents responded with their own press conference, with attorney Hassan Murphy telling reporters the university’s personnel decisions mean “the only person who has paid for (the staff’s) failures is Jordan McNair.”
“If the university will not do right by Jordan, we promise to explore every possible avenue that will,” Mr. Murphy said.
McNair collapsed at a team workout in May and died two weeks later, and reports in August alleged a “toxic culture” within the program under Mr. Durkin, triggering dual investigations.
The regents accepted the findings and recommendations of an eight-member independent commission that investigated reports of a “toxic culture” in the Terrapins’ football program. Overall, the commission wrote that it did not find a “toxic” culture, and did not believe that the culture caused Jordan McNair’s death.
But the findings pointed to “a culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out,” the commission wrote.
The regents, who oversee the state’s 12-institution system of public universities, met five times between Oct. 19 and Oct. 29 to deliberate their course of action. They met with Mr. Durkin, Mr. Evans and Mr. Loh on Oct. 26.
The regents could not directly fire Mr. Durkin or Mr. Evans. But their top priority was to keep Mr. Durkin employed, the Baltimore Sun reported, and they told Mr. Loh they would remove him as president if he didn’t comply.
Mr. Loh, who is in his early 70s, has served as president in College Park since Nov. 1, 2010, and made a decades-long career in college administrations around the country.
Asked about reports that he did not want to bring Mr. Durkin back, the president said, “He has been a successful coach in terms of many aspects of football. He is coming back.”
Mr. Durkin, 40, was hired as Maryland’s head football coach in 2016. The Terrapins went 10-15 in his first two seasons. He is the second-highest paid public employee in the state, making just shy of $2.5 million a year.
Mr. Evans served in several athletic department administrative roles at Maryland since 2014 and was promoted from interim to acting athletic director at Maryland last June. While Mr. Loh did not mention Mr. Durkin by name during the press conference, he expressed strong support for Mr. Evans.
“He is, in my judgment, one of the finest athletic directors in this country, and I am proud to call him my colleague,” Mr. Loh said.
Mr. Loh would not confirm whether Mr. Durkin would coach the Terrapins in their next game Saturday against Michigan State. But ESPN reported that Mr. Durkin met with the team in College Park Tuesday, and several players “walked out” of the meeting.
Offensive lineman Ellis McKennie reacting to Tuesday’s news on Twitter, said: “Every Saturday my teammates and I have to kneel before the memorial of our fallen teammate. Yet a group of people do not have the courage to hold anyone accountable for his death. If only they could have the courage that Jordan had. It’s never the wrong time to do what’s right.”
Every Saturday my teammates and I have to kneel before the memorial of our fallen teammate. Yet a group of people do not have the courage to hold anyone accountable for his death. If only they could have the courage that Jordan had. It’s never the wrong time to do what’s right. pic.twitter.com/AaZVmLGTtS— Ellis McKennie (@emck_cubed97) October 30, 2018
Some current players’ comments published in the commission’s report revealed the team was far from unanimous in wanting Mr. Durkin out.
“He loves the game, and loves our team,” one player said. “It is not his fault the training staff didn’t take proper care (of McNair). He would never have allowed that. He cares for us. He deserves to be back, was not in the wrong … Coach Durkin is innocent.”
The report also revealed supportive text messages that some players and parents sent Mr. Durkin in the days following the ESPN report.
The commission found that neither Mr. Evans nor previous athletic director Kevin Anderson did enough to help Mr. Durkin as a first-year head coach or maintain proper oversight of the football program, and that Mr. Durkin “bears some responsibility” for failing to supervise head strength and conditioning coach Rick Court.
Mr. Court was Mr. Durkin’s first hire at Maryland, but the commission found there was confusion over who Mr. Court reported to within the program — despite his contract making clear he was supposed to report to Mr. Durkin.
Mr. Court was found to have demeaned players with verbal abuse, and in one case, players alleged he choked another player by pulling the bar of a lateral muscle pulldown machine into his neck.
“I was forced to do things I couldn’t do,” a former player told the commission. “Too much weight was put on the bar for me to lift. When I couldn’t lift it, [Court] bashed me with horrible language.”
The commission’s findings also backed up allegations of Mr. Court’s food-related humiliation tactics, which included making a player the team deemed overweight eat candy bars while watching teammates practice.
“Mr. Court would attempt to humiliate players in front of their teammates by throwing food, weights, and on one occasion a trash can full of vomit, all behavior unacceptable by any reasonable standard,” the commission wrote.
Mr. Court resigned from the program in August, days after the initial ESPN report, and the school gave him a $315,000 settlement.
The independent commission included Washington Redskins executive and former football player and coach Doug Williams, former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, sports journalist and Maryland alumna Bonnie Bernstein and two retired federal judges.
• Adam Zielonka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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