The long awaited report following an independent investigation into the culture of the Maryland Terrapins football program has finally been released, ultimately resulting in the removal of D.J. Durkin as Head Coach of the Maryland Terrapins.
University of Maryland student-athlete Jordan McNair died in June of exertional heat stroke which he suffered at a Maryland football practice. An investigation into his death, led by Dr. Rod Walters, revealed that numerous mistakes were made by the University’s football coaches, athletic training staff, and physicians that contributed to the death of Jordan McNair.
The latest investigation commenced on August 14, 2018 to investigate the reports of a “toxic” culture within the University of Maryland football program. The University System of Maryland Board of Regents oversaw the investigation, and in their report stated that the Commission’s goals were to “(1) to determine whether the culture of the football program was “toxic” as alleged in media reports; (2) to investigate the specific incidents of player abuse as alleged in media reports, and any other incidents we might uncover; and (3) to make recommendations for improving the program.” However, the report also clarifies that it was not the job of the commission to recommend or decide “whether any University employees should be retained or terminated.”
What Did the Investigation Reveal?
The report generated from the investigation was nearly two-hundred pages, but would not go as far as to say that the culture was “toxic”, instead saying that by definition it was not toxic. The rationale in the report that refuted the “toxic” label was that the investigation did not uncover “malicious or harmful” activity that prevented Head Coach D.J. Durkin from earning “the loyalty and respect of many of his student-athletes and coaches.” Additionally, the report states that some players considered Durkin’s coaching style to reflect that of a “big time football program”, adding that some parents were able to share stories of Durkin’s “generosity and commitment” to his player’s welfare. The Commission also reported that they believed Durkin holds a genuine concern for the welfare of his players, and came to this conclusion “after more than ten hours of interviews with Mr. Durkin”.
Though the culture of Durkin’s Maryland program was not found to be “toxic”, it was determined, however, that issues with the culture of the program “festered because too many players feared speaking out”. The two main individuals responsible that were identified by players, parents, and coaches through interviews with the Commission were Head Coach D.J. Durkin, who was initially placed on administrative leave by the University of Maryland, and former Strength and Conditioning Coach Rich Court, who resigned. The report notes that Durkin had an “open door” policy in regards to player and coach concerns about the program, but the feeling within the program was that this policy was not extended to “those whose opinions did not align with Mr. Durkin’s”.
The Walters Report released in September, noted that Durkin and Court had “favorites” and these players received special treatment. The most recent investigation revealed that coaches feared sharing criticisms about certain players and other coaches, particularly in regards to Court, due to the fact that Durkin and Court were so close. Players echoed these concerns, stating that they viewed Durkin and Court as “the same person” and for this reason it was not beneficial to approach Durkin with their frustrations.
Goals of the Commission Accomplished?
With all of this information in mind, the question must be asked whether the Commission accomplished the goals they set out to accomplish with their investigation. The first goal of the Commission was “to determine whether the culture of the football program was “toxic” as alleged in media reports”, which the Commission believes by definition it did not.
The second goal was “to investigate the specific incidents of player abuse as alleged in media reports, and any other incidents we might uncover”, which the Commission appears to pin mostly on Rick Court. Many of the incidents reported by the media were confirmed by the investigation, including homophobic slurs, throwing food, throwing weights, throwing a trashcan filled with vomit, and many other acts “unacceptable by any reasonable standard”.
The third goal was “to make recommendations for improving the program”. Their recommendations include reforming the standards and supervision of the Strength and Conditioning Coach, encouraging the University to employ an Independent Medical Care Model suggested by the Walters Report that ensures no outside influence over student-athlete health decisions from the coaching staff or Athletics Department, and improvement in the accountability of the Athletics Department.
Durkin’s Last Stand Could Not Defeat the Warranted Outrage
D.J. Durkin was reinstated as Head Coach of the Maryland Terrapins on Tuesday, October 30, and before being fired, was expected to be coaching on the sideline this Saturday, November 3rd when Maryland takes on Michigan State. This initial decision was attempted be justified by the University System of Maryland Board of Regents Chair Jim Brady, who stated “We believe Coach Durkin has been unfairly blamed for the dysfunction in the athletic department, and while he shares some responsibility, it is not fair to put it all at his feet.”
Durkin’s players, however, did not share the same sentiment as the Board of Regents. It has been reported that three players walked out on a meeting with Durkin that took place only a few hours before the announcement of his reinstatement. Additionally, junior offensive lineman Ellis McKennie posted a message that sent waves around Twitter. McKennie tweeted “Every Saturday my teammates and I have to kneel before the memorial of our fallen teammate. Yet a group of people do not have the courage to hold anyone accountable for his death. If only they could have the courage that Jordan [McNair] had. It’s never the wrong time to do what’s right.” How did McKennie feel upon learning of Durkin’s dismissal? Shortly after the Durkin firing, McKennie tweeted “ITS NEVER THE WRONG TIME TO DO WHATS RIGHT!”.
Jordan McNair’s parents and their attorney, Hassan Murphy, also issued statements conveying outrage about Tuesday’s initial decision to retain Durkin. Marty McNair, Jordan’s father, stated “I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach and somebody spit in my face”. Murphy shared this outrage, wondering “how can a student athlete be called a “pussy” as he is in the early stages of death, dying before their eyes, with no action taken, and yet no one be held accountable?”
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan sided with the players and parents, stating “I share the concerns of many Marylanders and believe very strongly that more must be done to restore the public trust. I am calling on both the University System of Maryland Board of Regents and President Wallace Loh to reconsider their decisions”. Reconsider, they did. President Loh released a statement Wednesday night announcing the move. Loh stated “Yesterday, the University System of Maryland Board of Regents announced numerous recommendations, including employment decisions about specific personnel on our campus. I accepted the Board’s recommendations. At the same time, I announced my retirement as president in June 2019. Since returning to campus after yesterday?s press conference, I have met with the leadership of the Student Government Association speaking on behalf of numerous student organizations; the Senate Executive Committee; Deans; department chairs; and campus leadership. The overwhelming majority of stakeholders expressed serious concerns about Coach D.J. Durkin returning to the campus.”
What Is Next for the University and Durkin?
As UB Law Sports & Entertainment Forum noted in the first two parts of the Maryland Terrapins situation, which can be found here and here, Jordan McNair’s parents could file a lawsuit arguing wrongful death, negligence, and other causes of action. Additionally, the Prince George County State Attorney’s Office is also considering criminal charges against Maryland Staffers.
It has been reported that the University is not firing him “for cause”, which means he will be owed sixty-five percent of his remaining salary, $8.5 million dollars, which comes to just over $5.5 million dollars. Sixty-percent of this remaining amount will be paid out to Durkin in the first sixty days following his dismissal.
Matt Canada will resume his role as Interim Head Coach of the Terrapin football team when they take on Michigan State this Saturday, and the team will continue to honor their fallen brother, just as they have every Saturday this season.
Photo Courtesy: Patrick Semansky/AP
My name is Joe Notartomas and I am a 2019 graduate from the University at Buffalo School of Law, with a particular interest in Corporate and Sports Law. I grew up in Southwest Florida, and before law school, earned my Bachelor's Degree from the University of Florida in 2014. Thanks for reading. - Joe