ESPN reports cast a shadow over Maryland football program

Cole Field House

UPDATE: University of Maryland athletic director Damon Evans announced that the school will place football head coach DJ Durkin on “leave,” citing “allegations of unacceptable behaviors by members of our football staff detailed in recent media reports.”

The third-year coach will be replaced by offensive coordinator Matt Canada while the school reviews the “culture of the program” and an external investigation is conducted into the death of 19-year-old offensive lineman Jordan McNair.

“The safety and well-being of our student-athletes is our highest priority,” Evans said in a statement. “These alleged behaviors are not consistent with the values I expect all of our staff to adhere to and we must do better.”

Friday marked a turbulent day for the University of Maryland football program. The Big Ten Network’s appearance at practice was suddenly overshadowed by two stories released by ESPN that intensify questions about what’s next for the program.

During the Big Ten Network’s annual bus tour of fall practices for each team of the conference, Maryland fans were given some access to the team. This access for fans has been limited in the offseason as the program has seemingly shied away from allowing media access to local outlets, likely related to the pressures of the investigation into the events that led to the death of Jordan McNair, a 19-year-old offensive lineman.

The initial story by ESPN detailed the events that led to McNair’s death. A timeline was provided of the conditioning test where McNair first fell ill, before players and team personnel noticed that McNair looked unwell. Before the Randallstown, Maryland, native was tended to, Wes Robinson, Maryland’s longtime head football trainer, yelled “drag his ass across the field,” according to the ESPN story that cited multiple sources.

While being treated by trainers, McNair suffered a seizure and was transported to Washington Adventist Hospital, the McNair family attorney said. Two weeks after that fateful workout, McNair died due to a heatstroke, according to ESPN. The reporting by Heather Dinich also indicates that the redshirt freshman was not properly cooled down, as his body temperature was found to be 106 degrees at the hospital.

While the player’s death is undoubtedly at the forefront of importance, the reporting by ESPN in the initial story was less of a shock to people that follow the program when compared to the second story by ESPN, which outlined a toxic culture within the program.

After arriving in College Park in 2015, head coach DJ Durkin quickly endeared himself with Maryland fans with the fiery persona he had while coaching. Now, just three weeks before the start of his third season at the helm, that same intensity has been called into question.

The problem isn’t coaching with intensity, as that is standard practice in college football’s preeminent powerhouse programs. Problems arise, however, when current players, people close to the programs, former players and former coaches allege some of the behavior detailed in ESPN’s story about the culture within the program.

In what was described as a “coaching environment based on fear and intimidation,” coaches allegedly belittled, humiliated and embarrassed players while also verbally abusing players during several occurrences.

With players and coaches just three weeks away from playing Texas at FedEx Field, the focus on Maryland football is now directed toward what led to the loss of McNair and the treatment of players within that environment.

Since the second ESPN story was published on Friday, the University has placed three staff members on leave — two trainers and the strength coach, according to ESPN.

The results of the external review of McNair’s death, led by Dr. Rod Walters, a former longtime collegiate athletic trainer, will be a pivotal part of any future personnel changes. The results of that review are expected to be released on September 15, ESPN cited.

McNair’s family has also hired Baltimore law firm Murphy, Falcon & Murphy to conduct its own investigation.