Roughly 24 hours after the University of Maryland announced it would reinstate its head football coach following a months-long investigation into the death of player during practice, the university president reversed course and fired DJ Durkin Wednesday. The announcement Tuesday that Durkin would return to his post as head coach and the sideline for the Terps this Saturday against Michigan State was met with near universal disbelief and scorn. Following the death of 19-year-old offensive lineman Jordan McNair in June after a football workout, where McNair collapsed after showing signs of extreme exhaustion and trouble standing up, a subsequent investigation found the coaching staff negligent in its handling of the situation. Two months later, ESPN reported a scathing investigative story on what already seemed pretty clear—that Durkin had created a toxic environment for young student-athletes at the Maryland football program, including humiliation, bullying, and even using food punitively.
If the Maryland football program was toxic then, it’s absolutely radioactive now. The university placed Durkin on administrative leave just before the start of this season, in order to conduct an investigation in to the program. The results of two investigations were damning. “Among the things investigators have heard: multiple tales of players plunged into depression; fear and humiliation wielded as weapons; players ridiculed, taunted and pushed past their limits; extreme workouts that resulted in players vomiting and passing out; and a team divided into a group favored by coaches and another that suffered their wrath,” the Washington Post reported. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to get back to the point that I was before I came to Maryland,” a former offensive lineman told the Post.
Still, somehow, the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents astonishingly came to the conclusion that Durkin must stay, reportedly strong-arming university president Wallace D. Loh, who wanted to fire Durkin, by threatening to fire Loh if he did so. “We believe that Coach Durkin has been unfairly blamed for the dysfunction in the athletic department,” USM board chair James T. Brady said at a Tuesday news conference. “While he bears some responsibility, it is not fair to place all of it at his feet.”
The 40-year-old Durkin’s return didn’t last long. The anger cascaded in from absolutely everywhere. Student groups began organizing protests, the governor expressed dismay, the state legislature started lining up hearings, and several players reportedly walked out of the team meeting where Durkin was reintroduced as coach. In response, Loh did what he should have done in the first place and fired his head football coach on Wednesday, in open defiance of the regents, who control the hiring and firing of the university president. Durkin will reportedly not be fired for cause, likely in order to prevent dragging the situation out in court even longer, and the university agreed to buy the third-year coach out of the $5.5 million remaining on the final two years on his contract.