The University of Maryland System Board of Regents is about to be on the clock. After their meeting on Tuesday, the Board members expect to release the findings of the investigation into Maryland football and any resulting “initial moves” by Oct. 30.
We have no particular sense as to whether the news will come out closer to the Oct. 23 date or the Oct. 30 one. That results in another state of limbo, something Maryland fans might be used to at this point. So while everyone sits on pins and needles, let’s explore some questions that aren’t the obvious “will DJ Durkin be fired or otherwise dumped by the University of Maryland?”
1. How will the commission’s findings compare to what we’ve seen in media reports?
This is a general question, but its wide-ranging scope is important. I don’t just mean how this will apply to Durkin, because that’s the question we’ve all asked a million times since the ESPN reports dropped in August and Maryland announced an investigation into the football program.
Rather, will the commission find evidence of allegations that haven’t been reported in the media? Or will they find evidence that indicates the allegations from players, parents and former staff members outlined in multiple media reports from separate investigations are inaccurate or exaggerated?
2. Will any other school staff or coaches be implicated or exonerated?
Head football strength coach Rick Court is out of the picture for Maryland’s future, but he’s a name that should come up when we’re talking about the investigation and any allegations of wrongdoing. Football trainer Wes Robinson and athletic department head of training Steve Nordwall are, like Durkin, still on administrative leave. What will the committee say about them? Will it have anything to say about the rest of the strength and coaching staff, whether it’s about their presence on the day Jordan McNair died or their general player treatment practices?
This also extends to university president Wallace Loh and athletic director Damon Evans. Loh’s office first denied having received a letter from an anonymous parent in 2016 that accused Durkin of “orchestrating valorous suffering on the football athletes.” Loh’s office then modified its stance to say that it had received the letter but forwarded it to the office of the athletic director, occupied at the time by Kevin Anderson.
Evans’ role before his promotion to athletic director dealt directly with the football team, and he’s on his second chance after the way his tenure at Georgia ended. Neither Loh or Evans put anyone on leave until after the ESPN reports came out, making it fair to question what they would have done had nothing been reported.
Players’ concerns, at least the ones outlined in media reports, have not mentioned allegations of abuse at the hands of any assistant coach.
3. Ultimately, what do the findings and rulings have to say about the program’s culture in relation to Jordan McNair’s death?
Jordan McNair’s death is not at the center of the investigation that just concluded. The Walters report, which finished in September, dove into the procedural circumstances leading to his death. But Maryland decided to wait until the larger investigation concludes to make any moves beyond improving its safety protocols.
The McNairs are preparing to sue, and Loh already said the school has accepted “legal and moral responsibility” in McNair’s death.
Durkin’s role as it pertains directly to McNair’s death is a complicated one. The Walters report points to wrongdoing on the part of the medical staff on the day McNair died. It did not outline wrongdoing specifically on Durkin’s part. Durkin is not a medical professional, and is not responsible for proper treatment of heatstroke. Recognizing signs of heatstroke is where it appears Maryland erred, and recognizing signs of heatstroke is not under Durkin’s purview. But that’s a strictly medical view of the situation.
One argument is that Durkin is still responsible for the environment that allowed McNair to die. While trainers and medical staff did not directly report to the head football coach, it’s questionable whether Durkin had “informal” authority over them. This is not me making something up out of thin air. This is from Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann:
if Durkin had any formal or informal oversight over Robinson, Robinson’s conduct would reflect poorly on Durkin. Also, the same student-athlete who recalled Robinson issuing an order to drag McNair also expressed that the coaching staff preaches a “no quit” mentality. This kind of culture clearly reflects on Durkin, who is ultimately responsible for setting the culture of the team.
And any actions by Court, Durkin’s first hire at Maryland, are hard to separate from the head coach.
The Board of Regents doesn’t have to determine Durkin’s role in McNair’s death to dismiss him. If it finds his player treatment unacceptable, that would appear to be cause for dismissal by itself. It would seem the Board would have to specifically say Durkin was not responsible for McNair’s death to bring the coach back.