WASHINGTON — University of Maryland said that it has placed football coach D.J. Durkin on leave while school investigates a bullying allegation.
The school said in a tweet on Saturday that:
Damon Evans has announced Coach DJ Durkin is on leave effective immediately while a thorough examination of our coaching practices is conducted. Matt Canada will serve as interim head coach. We must do better, and we will rebuild a culture of respect in our football program.
The announcement follows an article published in ESPN this week that referenced players’ complaints that Durkin and Rick Court, the person in charge of team’s strength and conditioning staff, cultivated a culture of toxicity on and off the field. ESPN said the players spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of repercussions of talking publicly.
Athletic Director Damon Evans said in a statement Saturday that placing Durkin on leave was “the best decision” for the football program so that the “culture of the program” could be reviewed.
Court was placed on paid leave as part of the investigation into the article’s claims, The Associated Press reported Saturday, citing an anonymous source.
The school is also investigating the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, 19, who died weeks after an offseason workout in June. Heatstroke was eventually determined to be the cause of his death.
McNair was majoring in kinesiology and was a redshirt freshman last year. He played in one game for Maryland, against Towson, on Sept. 9.
Dr. Rod Walters, a former college athletic trainer, has been hired by Maryland to investigate the circumstances of the death; a report is expected by Sept. 15, The Associated Press reported. McNair’s parents are being represented by Baltimore attorney Bill Murphy, whose firm is also investigating.
The university said members of the athletics staff had been placed on administrative leave pending the final outcome of McNair’s death investigation and that it had “commissioned an external review of the procedures and protocols surrounding athletes’ health and safety.”
Athletic Director Damon Evans, in a letter to the university’s community, disputed the accusations in the ESPN report, stating that the claims were “not reflective of the culture we seek to build here.” He also said he was “committed to swiftly examining and addressing any reports brought” to his attention.
Maryland’s gubernatorial candidates weighed in on the controversy on Saturday.
Ben Jealous, the Democrat running for governor, published a tweet calling for Evans and Durkin’s suspensions, ahead of the announcement that Durkin was placed on leave.
The athletic director and the head coach are ultimately responsible for ensuring the safety of our student athletes. The University of Maryland should immediately suspend Damon Evans and D.J. Durkin until that investigation is complete. https://t.co/NLMl6iclOu
— Ben Jealous for Governor (MD) (@BenJealous) August 11, 2018
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan also issued a statement:
“In light of deeply troubling reports about the University of Maryland football program’s training practices and general culture, I support the university’s decision to suspend Coach DJ Durkin, and expect that the investigation into the program will be wide-ranging and thorough. We must have complete confidence that our student athletes are treated with dignity and respect and that they are supervised and coached responsibly.
“If the investigation confirms these reports, then strong and permanent corrective actions should be taken immediately.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.