U.Md. football coach, athletic director to return to jobs; president to retire

UPDATE, 10/31/2018, 7 p.m.: One day after an announcement that his job had been spared, DJ Durkin is out as the head football coach of the Maryland Terrapins. University President Wallace Loh announced Durkin’s departure in a statement Wednesday night.

Earlier:

WASHINGTON — The University of Maryland’s head football coach will be back on the sidelines when the Terrapins play Michigan State on Saturday.

Both DJ Durkin and Athletic Director Damon Evans will return to their positions following weeks of inquiries into the death of Terrapins offensive lineman Jordan McNair.

University President Wallace Loh, however, will retire in June.

The university Board of Regents’ recommendations were detailed during a news conference Tuesday afternoon, the latest chapter in a saga that began with McNair’s death on June 13. The 19-year-old had collapsed after a preseason conditioning drill two weeks earlier, on May 29. The reported cause of death was heatstroke.

Trainers on the scene May 29 did not follow proper procedures after he collapsed on the field, according to an independent investigation into the student-athlete’s death last month.

Defending Durkin

Jim Brady, Board of Regents chair, told reporters Tuesday that Durkin is a good man and a good coach at the beginning of his coaching career.

“We believe coach Durkin has been unfairly blamed for the dysfunction in the athletic department,” he said, “and, while we share some responsibility, it is not fair to place all of it at his feet.”

The board, Brady said, accepted the key findings of the latest independent report, this one on Maryland’s football program:

  • The football program didn’t have a “toxic culture,” but did have a culture where problems festered “because too many players feared speaking out.”
  • Maryland’s athletic department lacked a culture of accountability and failed to provide adequate oversight of the football program.
  • The department failed to provide Durkin with “tools, resources and guidance necessary to support and educate a first-time head coach in a major football conference.”
  • Both Durkin and department leadership share responsibility for the failure to supervise now-former strength and conditioning coach Rick Court. And on too many occasions, Court “acted in a manner inconsistent with the university’s values and basic principles of respect for others.”
  • University leadership bears some responsibility for ongoing dysfunction in the athletics department.

“What happened to Jordan McNair was tragic and heartbreaking,” Brady said. “At the same time, the commission found no direct link between the administrative dysfunction in the athletics department and Jordan McNair’s death.”

Brady said the board would ensure that the reports’ recommendations are implemented swiftly. Chief among them: instituting what he called a “strong medical model for student-athlete care to improve health outcomes and ensure that the university is a leader in collegiate sports medicine best practices.”

An independent monitoring group will soon be formed, he said, to ensure compliance with those recommendations.

Brady also called “totally inaccurate” any criticism that nothing was being done following the tragedy. “In fact, the recommendations that are being put in place … are not common on all college campuses for football programs,” he said. “They are very much state-of-the-art. They’re very much best practices.”

University of Maryland System Board of Regents met via private conference call Monday to discuss the futures of Durkin, Evans and Loh. It was their fifth meeting in 11 days.

On Friday, the board had face-to-face meetings with Loh, Durkin and Evans and gave itself a Tuesday deadline “to announce any initial decisions and/or recommendations from the board.” Durkin, who had been on administrative leave since August, had made a positive impression with the board when they met Friday, a source told WTOP.

“All three individuals understand and have accepted that they share responsibility for the dysfunction within the athletic department,” Brady said Tuesday. “But [the board] also found that all three individuals share our commitment to improving the culture in the university’s football program and to implementing the recommendations” of the reports on McNair’s death and on the football program itself.

The Board of Regents only has the power to hire and fire university presidents. The employment status of anyone else is determined by the leadership of the schools themselves. On Tuesday, Loh said Evans has put the athletic department “on the path towards becoming more united, more cohesive and more thriving.”

“He is, in my judgment, one of the finest athletic directors in this country,” Loh said.

Characterizing himself as the captain of the University of Maryland “flagship,” Loh said that while this would be his last academic year as university president, he would not “abandon ship in the middle of a storm.”

“It is the captain’s job to navigate that ship to calmer waters,” said Loh, vowing to help implement the suggested changes to ensure the “well-being of student athletes and their success.”

Loh said he accepts responsibility for the “ongoing dysfunction of the Athletics Department” that the independent commission’s report found in their report.

“Today, Athletic Director Damon Evans and I agreed to implement all recommendations made by the commission and the Board of Regents,” said Loh’s letter to the campus. “Together, Damon and I will spearhead these reforms to ensure the safety and well-being of all student-athletes.”

In a letter sent to the university community Tuesday night, Evans said he was “personally grateful” for Loh’s leadership and that Loh had “transformed the University of Maryland” as president.

Evans went on to outline upcoming changes to the athletics department and the football program, such as providing more chances for students-athletes to share their concerns.

“The tragic loss of Jordan touched the lives of every member of our athletic community. We have committed to doing everything in our power to make sure something like this never happens again, and that all of our student-athletes have a supportive environment,” Evans said in his letter.

Reaction from around Maryland

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said he would push for assurances that the issues outlined in the latest report are effectively addressed.

“University leadership still faces the considerable challenge of restoring the trust of students, families, and faculty,” the Republican governor said in a statement.

“… The addition of an oversight board seems to be a positive step, but many will understandably question whether enough has been done to address the serious concerns that exist among many in the College Park community — I am one of them.”

His rival in next week’s election, Democrat Ben Jealous, said that the university “has become a national embarrassment for putting the agenda of a few wealthy football boosters ahead of the health and safety of its student athletes,” and that both Durkin and Evans should have been fired.

In a statement Tuesday night, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker said Loh’s departure was a loss not just for the university, but for the county and the whole state. He called it a “shame” that the Board of Regents “appear to have put the short-term interest of building the university’s football program ahead of continuing the progress of Maryland’s flagship university.”

Baker cited the partnership he built with Loh that he said helped both the county and the university.

“Throughout this situation, Dr. Loh displayed a level of candor and courage that are a testament to his character. I applaud him accepting moral and legal responsibility for Jordan McNair’s death. It was a sign of true leadership, guts and integrity,” Baker added.

State Sen. Jim Rosapepe, a Democrat representing Maryland’s 21st District, commended Loh and said he should reconsider his decision to retire.

“A lot of backroom athletic program politics has been trying to have the athletic program eat the university,” he said. “… The university is a huge economic engine for the state. He’s done a great job as the engineer of the economic engine, and it’s ridiculous for him to leave because some folks in the athletic department are mad at each other.”

WTOP’s Teta Alim, Kate Ryan, John Domen and Neal Augenstein contributed to this report.


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