DJ Durkin Returns & Is Then Fired; Reaction & What Comes Next For Maryland Football
I never met Jordan McNair. I don’t know his family. I live across the street from the McDonogh School where Jordan went to HS; but I have no connection to that school. I didn’t attend College Park. I do run a site which covers University of Maryland Basketball & Football, and have been a fan of the Terrapins my entire life.
I provide that preface solely for those of you reading my thoughts for the first time, so you have some background on where I’m coming from.
Maryland fans (myself included) were excited about Jordan choosing to attend College Park because he was exactly the type of player the Terrapins have to have to build their program. Football teams (particularly Big Ten Football teams) are often built from the lines out. Jordan was a highly talented, highly sought after recruit. He was coming from a prestigious HS program. A local kid that exemplified the concept of, “The DMV to UMD.”
When he died, my immediate reactions were the same as anyone else. That it was a horrific tragedy that a 19 year old was leaving this World too soon. I felt terrible for his family, friends, and teammates.
Paying attention to Collegiate Athletics as you get older is interesting.
When Juan & Co. were winning the National Title, or Scott McBrien was winning the Gator Bowl; those teams were comprised of my peers.
Every player on the Terrapins this year, was born after I was out of HS.
When they were ‘peers’, they felt like Adults about to rule the world.
Now at age 39, they feel like kids.
Jordan (and his family), and the rest of his teammates (and their families), entrusted Maryland to be their home and to guide them through the transition into adulthood.
Jordan was let down by Maryland’s leadership, and he lost his life.
Jordan’s family lost their Son, and that loss will be with them forever.
There are no words that can bring him back.
There are no dollars that can make things ‘right.’
In response to Durkin’s reinstatement, Jordan’s father Marty was quoted as saying, “I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach, and somebody spit in my face.”
Can you blame him?
He lost his Son.
He’s hurting. He’s always going to be hurting.
Him having a visceral reaction is understandable.
When University of Maryland President Dr. Wallace Loh stated on August 14th that Maryland, ‘…accepts the moral and legal responsibility,’ for the series of events which led to Jordan’s death – the end game for Maryland and Jordan’s family became clear.
The University of Maryland is eventually going to pay out the ass (tens of millions of dollars?) to Jordan’s family.
Those dollars aren’t going to eliminate the hurt Jordan’s family feels.
Those dollars aren’t going to absolve Maryland from their culpability.
But it is the minimum of what Jordan’s family is owed.
Were they also owed Durkin being fired? That’s a question I’ve struggled with during this process.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
The Timeline & My Sentiments Throughout
The Initial Report
The initial ESPN reporting in August tied together a narrative that a toxic culture existed with the program, and that toxic culture helped lead to Jordan’s death.
My first response to that report was that I thought the reporting was light.
Substantial enough for a full investigation. Light enough with on the record sources, that there needed to be a 3rd party investigation that determined if there was negligence. That determined if Durkin instituted a culture which contributed to what happened.
That the 3rd party investigation needed to interview the roster as a whole; as that was the only way a clear picture would emerge.
What came out in those initial days were plenty of people tied to the program, coming out on the record saying the notion of a toxic culture was inaccurate, and showing support for Durkin.
On August 12th, Jordan’s family attorney called for Durkin to be fired.
I thought that was premature. You had an on-going investigation, and firing him before that was complete did not make sense to me.
The one path I thought existed for Durkin remaining the HC at MD was for the players on the roster to loudly come out in support of him, and repudiate the ESPN article and the notion that there was a toxic culture.
That was it in my opinion, imo, and if they did that, it would make sense for Durkin to return.
And if the players indicated the reporting was accurate, the obvious flip side was that he had to go.
Perception wise I stated that the genie wasn’t going back into the bottle, and for many Durkin would always be tainted no matter what. That in that sense, a clean slate would be optimal, even if the players were saying they’d like him back.
In those first days, you had two former players on record saying there was a toxic climate.
Their take mattered. They were there. They’ve said it on record.
I just thought you needed to interview every current player and have them refute or collaborate what was said.
I’ve never been a fan of Heather Dinich, but thought it was tin-foil hat territory to suggest her reporting was done with an agenda.
I’m jumping around a bit here, and I’m not rehashing every substantial item (MD taking responsibility, Rick Court resigning, etc); but am pointing out things during this process which particularly caught my eye. The ESPN report came August 10th. By the 12th there were investigations and suspensions. By the 14th, you had the University accepting responsibility. You had the family’s lawyer calling for Durkin’s firing. You had players and families connected to the program on the record refuting the toxic allegations.
Then by the 16th you had Jabrill Peppers saying Durkin’s tactics felt extreme at times at Michigan, and ex-Stanford players calling Durking a ‘horrible human being.’ (Michigan and Stanford being former stops for Durkin.)
These on-the-record comments from players who had direct experience with Durkin resonated for me.
August 17th Washington Post Article & USM Board of Regents Took Control Of The Investigation
On 8/17, the Washington Post posted an article titled, “A year before Jordan McNair’s death, Maryland president nixed plan to overhaul athletes’ health care.”
The Post article was certainly not a good look for Dr. Loh; and another point to why MD rightfully had to take moral and legal responsibility for Jordan’s death.
Also on the 17th, Chick Hernandez (late of CSN Washington) was reporting that the Board of Regents came away from Friday’s meeting believing school president Dr. Wallace Loh, AD Damon Evans, head coach DJ Durkin should all be relieved of their positions.
August 21st Former U-MD Player on “Toxic” Allegations, Medical Mistreatment, McNair’s Father on Loh, Parents of Maryland’s Players Seem Mostly Supportive Of Durkin
I grew up in Catonsville, and attended Catonsville High. So I was pleased when another former Comet – DeAndre Lane – joined the Terps. In this IMS article, Lane had some interesting comments on his experiences. Those were balanced comments. It wasn’t a scorned former player looking for revenge. It was the thoughtful opinions of someone weighing what he saw. I think Lane’s comments here, did a great job of clarifying the initial ESPN article.
In an SI article that day, Jordan’s Father made strong statements that Loh’s leadership going forward was paramount, and that Loh should not be removed from his position.
Also that day, The Baltimore Sun posted an article, which showed that the parents of Maryland’s players mostly seemed supportive of Durkin.
My overall feeling at this point was that it seemed apparent the program was not toxic, but that Durkin could still not return. That MD’s lack of care for McNair was enough for Durkin’s dismissal, given that he (Durkin) was in charge of the football program. Also, with the comments from the former Michigan and Stanford players, you had to raise an eyebrow to the similarities raised by the ESPN article.
August 21st Continued – With Cause
By the 21st, I was strongly of the opinion Durkin was not returning, and that MD was simply completing their due diligence to fire him with cause to get out form the contract.
I did feel that it was telling (in-terms of if there was a toxic culture) that with Durkin holding zero leverage; there were still players and families out there supporting him.
I stated that I thought Maryland was responsible for Jordan’s death based on their actions that day and before. I thought MD’s initial response to McNair’s death was also poor, but not criminal. More bad judgement / incompetence vs. cover-up.
I thought Durkin was going to be fired in-part for McNair’s death, and more spuriously the correlation ESPN made between the existence of a toxic culture leading to McNair’s death.
August 26th The Board of Regents For The USM Appoints Panel To Investigate
The board of regents for the University System of Maryland announced Friday the five additional appointments who will be charged with examining the football program and allegations that coaches fostered an abusive culture. The group is heavy on star power with connections to football, to the university and to the political arena. They include:
Former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich, who played football at Princeton;
Doug Williams, the former Redskins quarterback who serves as the senior vice president of player personnel for the team;
Tom McMillen, the former Maryland basketball star who served three terms in Congress and formerly served on the system’s board of regents;
Bonnie Bernstein, an alumnus of the school who has worked in sports broadcasting for nearly 20 years with ESPN, ABC and CBS;
Frederick M. Azar, the chief of staff at Campbell Clinic Orthopaedics in Memphis, who also serves as a professor and director of the sports medicine fellowship program in the University of Tennessee Campbell’s clinic department of orthopedic surgery and biomedical engineering.
August 30th High-level donors group sends letter to Maryland’s Board of Regents in support of DJ Durkin
September 2nd Eric Bickel (Sports Junkies, 106.7 The Fan) sent out a series of tweets regarding the investigations
“FWIW re MD: Hearing the MD investigators aren’t find any evidence to fire Durkin for cause. Puts em on the hook for like $7 million. Most players all supporting Durkin. Not finding evidence of this brutal/bullying/demeaning culture that was reported.
Hearing from multiple people that the family was super supportive of Durkin before calling for his firing. Thanked him for being at the hospital every day etc. Even let him eulogize McNair. Then the lawyers got involved. Supposedly there are texts of the fam thanking Durkin.
Loh is the one losing credibility. MD power brokers outraged that Loh accepted moral/legal responsibility b4 investigation was complete.
MD looking at potentially paying $10 million + to fam. $7 mil to Durkin. $4 mil to Evans. Needless to say it’s a disaster on every level.”
September 4th Jeff Errman (Inside MD Sports) tweeted
“The more sources I talk to, more I’m convinced the ESPN story alleging a “toxic culture” in #Terps football program was largely exaggeration/ anecdotes framed to suit a predetermined narrative. I’m not alone. Going to get interesting.”
At this point, I think sentiment was growing that Durkin was going to be reinstated, and that he had the backing of the majority of Maryland Boosters.
September 30th Washington Post: Motivation or abuse? Maryland confronts football’s fine line as new allegations emerge
The initial investigation into the program’s “toxic culture” was set to conclude, and these new allegations on misconduct with Durkin and his staff emerged.
Based on everything I was hearing, I was expecting Durkin to be back as MD’s coach. With these additional allegations, and another news cycle of this, I thought that would end his tenure.
Even with the additional allegations, it still wasn’t clear what the culture was.
You had some smoke. You had those still with the program for the most part refuting the ESPN report.
But you also had the two ex players in the initial ESPN report. You had the Michigan and Stanford players. You had the additional departed players in the above Washington Post article. And you had those direct sickening quotes attributed to Durkin.
Some of it becomes he said / he said… but regardless, it was out there. My feeling was that even if Durkin was ‘innocent’ of running a toxic program, too many people will never get past that. That’s why – even prior to any completed investigation – I was back to thinking you had to move on.
I do think MD was about to reinstate him, but maybe I had that wrong.
In-terms of above Durkin (hierarchy wise) if you (be it you personally, the University, the committee investigating the toxic charges) believe the program was ‘toxic’, realistically you had to look above him at Loh.
Were the charges / allegations that The Post reported on actually looked at, or were they disregarded?
How was the AD search impacted by what was already known internally prior to what was reported by ESPN and The Post?
At this point, there were enough people on the record making enough similar allegations that I wanted no part of Durkin returning.
Some of the quotes in The Post article were really ridiculous.
Being demanding can be a great thing, but if you can’t treat people (and especially young adults under your care) with basic respect…. that’s on you.
I was glad there were no quick decisions either way. It allowed for more information to come out.
I really did think during the week prior to this Post article that Durkin was on the verge of returning, and frankly I would have supported that with what was known at the time.
But with additional players coming out with collaborating stories of their own experiences, the overall allegations can’t be disregarded as just the comments of a couple of disgruntled former players.
I was not sure I believed there was an overall toxic culture (frankly it seems like the culture was fine…. for the players deemed good enough to remain in the program). But it does seems clear that a handful of kids had a really terrible experience because of Durkin, and that was completely unnecessary.
In-terms of if there is a direct 1 x 1 correlation between what those kids experienced and McNair’s death? I thought then, and think now that’s for a court to determine.
October 16th: The Athletic: A group of Maryland football parents is strongly against DJ Durkin’s return
At least a half-dozen parents of Maryland football players have banded together to speak out against Durkin in recent weeks, including more attempts to speak to the commission that is investigating reports of a toxic culture under Durkin’s watch and in a recent parents’ meeting with athletic director Damon Evans.
“We’re terrified,” one of the parents said. “We feel like we’re alone. I said to (another parent), ‘Honey, you and I, we are the resistance. This son of a bitch is not coming back.’ I don’t care what we have to do. He’s not coming back to hurt our babies again or anybody else’s baby, period. He will not.”
“We’re worried that it is all predetermined,” one parent said. “That this is a whole charade meant to appease the people who feel like they have to say something.”
There were enough people on the record with allegations against Durkin, I again stated that you can’t bring him back. I said Maryland should make the call official. I was correctly reminded at our board, that MD was still likely working to find enough evidence to remove Durkin with cause, so that they could get out from the contract without having to pay.
However, what I said is that I questioned if Maryland was going to be able to show cause, if they didn’t think they could by now.
October 25th: Report: Culture inside U. Md. football program not ‘toxic’
A 200-page report commissioned by the University of Maryland and the University System Board of Regents has found that the culture inside the football program at College Park is not what should be considered “toxic,” according to multiple people who are familiar with the report.
A source said at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, a majority of the board was in favor of seeing the school move on from both football coach DJ Durkin and athletic director Damon Evans. How that will come about — and at what cost — still needs to be worked out.
It also still appears that University of Maryland President Wallace Loh will eventually be departing as well. However, at the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting, his exit from the school wasn’t expected to be imminent. A source says a plan could be worked out that would see Loh step down in the spring of 2019.
It would have been far easier for Maryland if the independent report came back saying the environment was toxic, as MD could have used that as cause to fire Durkin.
But the independent report came back saying it wasn’t.
Keith Cavanaugh / Terrapin Times was on 105.7 The Fan, and reported his sources said that the recommendation provided to Loh would be for Durkin’s reinstatment (but not actively coaching), where his record does not show the toxicity, but Maryland moves on from Durkin with a buyout.
Cavanaugh pointed out that the board could make that recommendation to Loh (and they can fire Loh), but they could not actively handle decision making on Durkin.
The Washington Post summary of the report:
The report highlighted these conclusions:
– “During Mr. Durkin’s tenure, the Athletics Department lacked a culture of accountability, did not provide adequate oversight of the football program, and failed to provide Mr. Durkin with the tools, resources, and guidance necessary to support and educate a first-time head coach in a major football conference.”
– “Mr. Court, on too many occasions, acted in a manner inconsistent with the University’s values and basic principles of respect for others.”
– “Both Mr. Durkin and leadership in the Athletics Department share responsibility for the failure to supervise Mr. Court.”
– “The University leadership bears some responsibility for the ongoing dysfunction of the Athletics Department;
– “Maryland should institute 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.”
All of that led to yesterday, and Durkin officially being reinstated.
I think a young man died unnecessarily.
I don’t think Durkin is personally responsible for Jordan’s death.
I do think you can make the case that as the head of the program; he should be.
I think the allegations that the program was out of control is opinion.
I think regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of Durkin’s direct blame; the chances of him returning after the Sept. 30th Post story were very low.
I think occam’s razor comes into play here. Maryland didn’t have cause to fire Durkin, and it was decided with the large payout coming to Jordan’s family, Maryland wasn’t going to also reach a buyout on Durkin (and his staff), and additionally hire a new staff. Overall this is short-sighted, find the money somewhere.
What Comes Next?
On Saturday Maryland (5-3 overall, 3-2) has one of their bigger games in several years when they host Michigan State. It’s a swing game for the Terps in the Big Ten East.
Who knows what MD team shows up?
Are the kids motivated to play?
Do they have focus?
Are they distracted and apathetic?
We will learn something from what we see.
What players will be looking to leave the program?
What players will be staying?
Maryland entered this year having stacked back to back Top 30 Recruiting classes. They are in a talent rich area. The new Cole Field House is the best on-campus training venue in the Country. They were doing what was necessary to build a program capable of competing in a very strong division.
After those back-to-back Top 30 classes, the 2019 class is currently a disaster as this crisis has played out. As of tonight, MD is 71st in the 247 Sports Team Rankings.
The commentary across the interwebs today is that Durkin will have no chance to recruit.
It certainly seems like it will be a challenge.
We will see.
Part of the negative recruiting which will be used against Maryland are scare tactics. Constant reminders of Jordan’s death.
Every time Durkin is in the living room with some player, and their family; he’s going to have to convince them their safety is paramount to him. Again, that’s going to be a challenge. (Though realistically, I think we can reasonably expect that MD’s safety protocols going forward might be safer than anywhere else.)
How many relationships are beyond repair?
How many people will give Durkin a chance to rebuild the relationships which have been fractured?
Selling corporate boxes?
On the other-hand, Maryland can look to Penn State for a reminder that you can get past your darkest days as a program. Joe Paterno was fired in November 2011, and the NCAA gave the Nittany Lions a 4 year post-season ban, and reduced their available scholarships. They reached the Rose Bowl in 2016, and won the Fiesta Bowl in 2017. Yes, Penn State has a far greater football history to pull from; but still. If MD can find a way to repair the local relationships, and get enough of the local DMV talent to College Park; MD can build a program that competes.
Does that happen? The obstacles are clear.
With the thoughts of Maryland needing that DMV talent, we again get back to thoughts of Jordan.
Gone too soon.
We wish the best to his family, with the understanding their grief will always be there.
UPDATE: As I was going to post this, news has just come out the University of Maryland has now fired Durkin.
Given the reporting of the day, this feels like a logical outcome. Of course the reporting of today seemed likely before he was reinstated, and that happened… so even though his eventual dismal seemed logical, you still had to see it happen.
We talked above about the idea that you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.
All of the negative stories about Maryland Nationally in the last day don’t go away because MD has now fired Durkin.
What it does do, is give Maryland a chance to reset.
Who leads MD Football going forward? Based on the job Matt Canada has done this year (and his career resume); he becomes the favorite.
In addition to Canada, here are some other potential options:
Phillip Montgomery, Tulsa HC
Frank Wilson, UTSA HC
Mike Norvell, Memphis HC
Tony Gibson, WVU AHC
Jimmy Lake, Washington DC
Mike Yurcich, Oklahoma State OC
Scott Milanovich, Jacksonville QB Coach
Pep Hamilton, Michigan QB Coach
Everett Withers, Texas State HC
Sonny Cumbie, TCU OC
John Henson, Oklahoma State OL
Jason Jones, Ole Miss Co-DC
Jeff Tedford, Fresno State HC
Brent Venables, Clemson DC
Bret Bielema, New England Consultant
Jason Candle, Toledo HC
Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, CBS 1300, Q1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. He has also been interviewed by The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Business Journal, and PressBox (TV). As Owner, his responsibilities include serving as the Managing Editor, Publicist, & Sales Director.
You can reach him via email at [email protected].