Coach DJ Durkin Fired One Day After Reinstatement
The University of Maryland executed a reverse of sorts. A day after reinstating suspended football coach DJ Durkin, the university pivoted and fired Durkin.
Facing pressure from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, students, media, alumni and the parents of the late Jordan McNair, Maryland – or, more properly, outgoing president Wallace Loh – moved to shut down plans for rallies, a possible walkout at Saturday’s game and extraordinarily pointed criticism. Loh decided Durkin had to go.
McNair, 19, died of heatstroke two weeks after being pushed past his endurance point during spring conditioning drills. Apparently few, if any, of the football program’s health protocols were followed as McNair struggled to complete sprints and then collapsed.
Reports later followed of a “toxic” culture that intimidated players. This, theoretically, was overseen by Durkin. An investigation proved damning, but the Board of Regents announced Tuesday that Durkin, under a suspension with pay, would remain and that Loh, who wanted Durkin gone, would retire in June.
Loh, without consulting the board, fired Durkin on Wednesday.
Doing the right thing after doing the wrong thing doesn’t earn the university any bonus points. It’s still way in the negative column. That the football team is 5-3 and a game away from bowl eligibility is a testament to the grit of the players and the remaining coaching staff that includes interim head coach Matt Canada. But this is so not about football, which has become almost an afterthought at Maryland.
It’s about decency and integrity. It’s about taking pride in your purpose, which is not only educating students but keeping them alive.
Alumni (this typist is one) stayed in touch on Wednesday, emailing the Board of Regents, threatening to give up season tickets, vowing to withhold support of the school (including financially). The student government planned a rally and there was talk of a walkout after halftime of Saturday’s game. Some players spoke out on social media about Durkin’s return (no, they weren’t happy).
So Maryland saved itself from further embarrassment.
Sadly, it still has plenty to deal with.
Nothing will bring back McNair, whose parents entrusted him to Durkin and others. Nothing will erase this tragedy. But the face of a program deemed abusive, if not toxic, is gone. Better days may be ahead.
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