We’re in for some big Maryland football news soon. The school will decide to dismiss or keep DJ Durkin as the team’s head coach sometime between now and Oct. 30, once the larger university system has a chance to review the investigations into the football program.
We’ve all seen the results of that investigation, and they portray Durkin in a mixed light; coupled with recent media reports, it seems unlikely he remains Maryland’s head coach much longer. If Maryland does part with Durkin, here are a few things it’ll have to consider.
First, Maryland would have to decide whether it will fire Durkin *for cause*.
This largely depends on two things: whether the school views Durkin’s treatment of players as over the line or not, and whether the school is prepared to defend its decision in court. If it decides Durkin’s actions were over the line and it will defend that position in court, Maryland could fire Durkin for cause.
Here’s Durkin’s full contract with Maryland, obtained back in spring 2016. Section 12.c. is the part that lawyers for the school and for Durkin have undoubtedly combed over. Its first clause is the part that would likely play a role should Maryland decide to fire Durkin for cause:
Cause shall be defined as:
i) material misconduct, which is wrongful, immoral (meaning inconsistent with the professional standards of conduct of an intercollegiate head football coach) or unlawful conduct which adversely affects the Coach’s ability to meet the performance standards and performance commitment set out in sections 1 and 3 paragraphs of this Agreement;
iii)a material act of insubordination or repeated acts of insubordination
iv) failure to substantially fulfill the material duties and obligations established in this Agreement (and provided that Coach first receives written notice of the same, and a reasonable opportunity to cure); or
v) a finding by the NCAA that you have committed a major violation of any Governing Rule, whether while employed by the University or during prior employment at another NCAA institution, or a finding by the NCAA that the Program committed a major violation of any Governing Rule for which you are culpable.
Part i) would seem to be the most applicable here, though the vague language throughout could present problems should Durkin contest a for cause firing in court (more on that in a second). Basically, if the school decides “material misconduct, which is wrongful, immoral or unlawful” matches up with what the investigation found, it could use that clause to terminate Durkin without paying him any more money. But it won’t necessarily be that simple.
Investigators did cast blame on Durkin in their report, but much of this blame was centered on his failure to supervise strength coach Rick Court. Investigators faulted the entire athletic department for not giving Durkin the “tools, resources, and guidance necessary to support and educate a first-time head coach in a major football conference.”
Moreover, investigators mostly outlined Durkin’s behavior in broad strokes. While it was able to describe incidents where Court abused athletes, its conclusions about Durkin were not based on specific incidents of abuse. Rather, those conclusions were based on broader examples of a lack of accountability. Durkin claimed that it was not his responsibility to supervise Court, and did not appear to act when players complained to him about Court’s behavior. This lack of specific examples could be important if the school tries to prove “material misconduct.”
If the school decides a for-cause firing would likely end up in a long legal fight with Durkin, it could end up pursuing other avenues.
If the school does NOT decide to fire Durkin for cause, it has two options.
If the school decides it cannot keep Durkin but does not have enough confidence that its evidence for a for-cause firing would hold up against in court, here are two ways this can go:
- It could buy out the entirety of Durkin’s contract. The school doesn’t have to use a specific ruling to say it wants Durkin gone. Per the contract, the school can terminate their agreement “whenever the University determines that termination is in its best interests.” It would then owe Durkin 65 percent of his salary and supplemental income, a sum that is about $5.1 million. And that would be as the school prepares to pay a large sum to Jordan McNair’s family.
- It could reach a settlement with Durkin. This is what the school did with strength coach Rick Court back in August. Such a move would result in the school paying out a sum likely in the millions, but not the full $5 million, in exchange for avoiding a trial. Would Durkin admit to any wrongdoing as part of such a settlement? We’re not sure.
In the event of a buyout, Durkin would receive half of his payment in a lump sum within 60 days after the date of termination, according to his contract:
The University shall pay Coach one half of the total liquidated damages in a lump sum within 60 days after the date of termination, and shall pay Coach the remaining one-half in equal installments on dates that coincide with regular university payroll dates from the date of termination to the end of the Term, had Coach remained employed through the end of the Term.
The contract also says Maryland “will have no obligation to provide Coach with any additional compensation or benefits after the effective date of termination or to reimburse Coach for any alleged loss of outside income opportunities.”
It’s not totally clear who would be making the decision to fire Durkin.
University system hierarchy would appear to indicate that the Board of Regents does not have direct authority to make decisions on Durkin’s employment status. That power to dismiss the football coach, according to Durkin’s contract, lies with the athletic director. But given that university president Wallace Loh and athletic director Damon Evans could also be under fire from this investigation, it’s not clear who would make such a decision. According to ESPN, Loh is the one university employee who serves specifically “at the pleasure of the Board of Regents.”