DJ Durkin returns to Maryland’s football program

By: Eric Myers

University of Maryland President Wallace Loh announced Tuesday that he accepted the Board of Regents’ recommendation to reinstate DJ Durkin as head coach of the university’s football program.

Board of Regents Chairman James Brady announced the recommendation to reinstate Durkin after over 10 hours of interviews with the third-year head coach. While Brady said that Durkin accepted shared responsibility with Loh and Evans for dysfunction within the athletic department, the Board ultimately decided to recommended Durkin’s return.

“We made a decision based upon a very strong belief amongst the regents that [Durkin] is absolutely prepared to move in a direction that is totally consistent with the values of the university,” Brady said.

The Board of Regents’ recommendation needed to be approved by university leadership and that was done so by Loh– who also announced that he would retire in June 2019.

Durkin returned to the team Tuesday after an 80-day stint on paid administrative leave. Upon his return, three players walked out of an afternoon meeting with Durkin, according to Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic.

Loh said that Athletic Director Damon Evans reached out to all of the players and coaches earlier today to notify them of Durkin’s impending return.

“They are the students who are affected and if we are true to our mission that it is the well-being and welfare of students, they are the first ones who deserve to know,” Loh said.

Since Durkin was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 11, there has been frequent speculation about Durkin’s job status after Jordan McNair’s death on June 13– after collapsing at a conditioning workout on May 29– and reports of a “toxic culture” within the program.

In an Aug. 16 appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” with Michael Strahan, McNair’s parents weighed in on Durkin’s status.

“He shouldn’t be able to work with anybody else’s kid,” said McNair’s father, Martin McNair. “Of course he should be fired.”

Approximately an hour after the Board of Regents’ recommendation and subsequent approval from Wallace Loh at Tuesday’s press conference, McNair’s parents gathered with their lawyers at the Murphy, Falcon & Murphy law firm to address the media and respond to the decisions made by University of Maryland’s leadership.

“I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach and somebody spit in my face,” Martin McNair said.

Hassan Murphy, the managing partner at Murphy, Falcon & Murphy, called the decision to reinstate Durkin “callous and indefensible.”

“Today, the board ratified and validated the heartbreaking actions by coach Durkin and his staff towards Jordan in May by continuing the employment of the man who failed in his primary responsibility to Jordan,” Murphy said.

Murphy declined to comment Tuesday on any potential litigation.

It was determined by an independent evaluation, prepared by Walters Inc. – Consultant in Sports Medicine, that shortcomings by the athletic training staff on May 29 resulted in McNair’s death.

A separate commission that examined the program’s culture found that the culture was not toxic, but rather one that saw problems fester, according to Brady.

A key figure in that report was former Strength and Conditioning Coach Rick Court, Durkin’s first hire when he arrived at Maryland. Court’s verbally abusive actions and intense demeanor were laid out in the 198-page report and outlined some of the those “festering problems” within the program.

Other components of the culture review included: a lack of direct supervision and accountability for Court, disorganization within the athletic department and a lack of resources given to Durkin upon his December 2016 hire to help him transition to being a first-time head coach.

Both reports seemed to stop short of saying that Durkin committed a fireable offense, which would have meant that Durkin would be owed approximately $5 million for a buyout. Attempting to fire Durkin for cause, and without a buyout, could have resulted in litigation from Durkin. While that is now out of the question, there is still the possibility of a lawsuit from McNair’s family.

Brady said that the fear of potential litigation from anybody involved in the process was not considered during the decision making process on Durkin’s fate.

Durkin is expected to return to the sidelines on Saturday for Maryland’s game against Michigan State at 12 p.m., according to a report from 247 Sports.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to rejoin the team and very much appreciate having the support of the Board of Regents,” Durkin said in a statement Tuesday night. “Our thoughts have and will continue to be with Jordan’s family.”