On Tuesday, Maryland declined to fire its football coach. On Wednesday, Maryland fired its football coach. That was really the only move to make, but should being the last people in the world to see the light – and the light in this case wasn’t some faint glimmer; it was bright neon – be rewarded with the sound of even one hand clapping?
On Tuesday, Maryland reinstated DJ Durkin, who’d been on administrative leave since August. The reaction was apoplectic that you had to figure a midcourse correction would ensue. After three players walked out of his hello-again meeting Tuesday and everyone from the governor of Maryland to the father of the deceased lineman Jordan McNair expressed their disgust, was there any scenario in which Durkin could succeed?
This was the statement from U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown of Maryland’s Fourth Congressional District before Maryland did its about-face: “The University of Maryland athletic staff failed Jordan McNair, and on Tuesday the board of regents failed him again. They did not treat Jordan McNair like a person. They did not treat Jordan like someone’s child.”
Then: “Rather than take necessary action, the board of regents’ highest priority was to reinstate head football coach DJ Durkin. This is appalling and unconscionable. Board chairman James Brady shamefully accepted Durkin’s excuse that he was not responsible or accountable for anything going on in his football program. Chairman Brady outrageously believed athletic director Damon Evans was blissfully ignorant of how student athletes were being wronged. The only person chairman Brady held to account, was (school president) Dr. Wallace Loh - the only leader who had enough moral clarity to accept responsibility for Jordan’s death.”
Well, yes. That was the reaction of everyone except Brady and his fellow regents. McNair died after collapsing in a May workout that saw Maryland staffers wait nearly an hour to call 911. In August, some of his teammates described to ESPN, in excruciating detail, the way in which Durkin, entering his third year as head coach, and his strength coach Rick Court had turned the program into something “toxic.” The school itself launched two investigations – one into McNair’s death, for which Loh said the school accepted legal and moral responsibility, the other into the toxicity. Neither report was in any way exonerating. And yet …
Maryland chose to keep Durkin! (Court was paid $311K to go away back in August.) It chose to keep Evans, who in July 2010 resigned in disgrace as Georgia’s AD after his midnight ride through Buckhead, for which he was charged with DUI and found with red panties in his lap. In a particularly byzantine twist, the board – which lacked the power to fire anyone but the president – pressured the president into firing nobody. And then, on cue, Loh announced he would resign effective next June.
Wrote Barry Svrugla of the Washington Post: “Guess (Brady) missed the part (of the report) about bizarrely motivating players with food, or showing them savage videos of animals killing each other, or creating a caste system of haves and have-nots, or humiliating them by throwing trash cans full of vomit across the room.”
Maryland’s defense of Durkin is that he wasn’t up to the job, which is tantamount to no defense. From the report: “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.”
If there weren’t an actual death involved, that might have been funny. Alas, there was an actual death involved. A man who’d apprenticed under Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh and Will Muschamp – a man who’d sold himself to Maryland as being ready to run a program – needed adult-education courses in “How To Be Head Coach” to do the job he’d pursued? And this is reason to keep him? And reason to keep Evans, who was the football liaison before being bumped up to AD-in-full?
If ever a program needed to start over, it was Maryland. It has now chosen to do so, but only after turning itself into a worldwide source of derision, as yet another object lesson as to how collegiate athletics can blind supposedly educated overseers. This was no hairline call. The way to go was obvious to anyone except those charged with upholding the integrity of the University of Maryland, which emerges without a shred of integrity whatsoever.
Really, now. If not for the unanimous lampooning of the decision to keep doing; if not for planned student protests on campus – both the Young Democrats AND Young Republicans planned to join in, and when last in our polarized society have the two parties agreed on anything? – if not for everyone on the periphery screaming so loud that even Brady and Co. could no longer turn a deaf ear, wouldn’t Durkin still have a job? (He probably wouldn’t have had much of a roster, though.)
What apparently nobody on the board could see was that there would have been no way for Durkin to succeed. What parent would send a son to play for a man under whose watch one player had died and others had had a trashcan full of vomit thrown at them by the coach’s hand-picked strength coach? As Loh said in a statement released Wednesday night: “The overwhelming majority of (university) stakeholders expressed serious concerns about coach DJ Durkin returning to the campus.”
Those concerns existed 24 hours earlier. Difference was, Maryland’s board paid no heed. Only after the university had been subjected to a public shaming did it wise up. Still, in getting something so big so wrong, Maryland can claim no credit for finally getting it right.