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Commission report on Maryland football cites problematic, but not ‘toxic’ culture

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The findings from the lengthy investigation into the program are now available to the public.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Two and a half months after initial reports of a “toxic culture” within the Maryland football program, the investigation into the team is complete and released to the public. The Washington Post obtained a copy of the report Thursday and has shared it in full here.

This report was first shared with the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents on Friday, Oct. 19, and the Board met again Tuesday to discuss the findings. Its members are conducting a conference call Thursday afternoon, and long-awaited decisions regarding the future of prominent university officials could be close.

The report is nearly 200 pages, and while it stops short of labeling Maryland football’s culture as “toxic,” it paints a troubling picture both within the program and the athletic department as a whole.

It’s an extensive report, with 155 interviews conducted. The commission interviewed 55 student-athletes who played football at Maryland under Durkin; 24 parents of former players; 60 current and former members of the Maryland Athletics staff; 12 school officials not in the athletic department; and 14 “other people with college football expertise, and miscellaneous individuals.”

The commission reaches these eight conclusions regarding head coach DJ Durkin, strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, the culture of the team and Maryland’s athletic department. The conclusions start on page 158, and the report expands upon each:

  • “The players who spoke up—both initially and in response to our investigation—should be commended”
  • “During Mr. Durkin’s tenure, 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.”
  • “Mr. Court, on too many occasions, acted in a manner inconsistent with the University’s values and basic principles of respect for others.”
  • “Both Mr. Durkin and leadership in the Athletics Department share responsibility for the failure to supervise Mr. Court.”
  • “The University leadership bears some responsibility for the ongoing dysfunction of the Athletics Department;
  • “The Maryland football team did not have a ‘toxic culture,’ but it did have a culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out”
  • “Maryland should institute a strong “medical model” for student-athlete care to improve health outcomes and ensure that the University is a leader in collegiate sports medicine best practices.”
  • “There is common ground to be found amongst all the constituencies we heard from, providing a basis for moving forward together”

Opinions on the team culture are predictably mixed, and the report says team culture did not contribute to Jordan McNair’s death.

The connection between the alleged “toxic” culture and McNair’s June 13 death, which resulted from heatstroke suffered at an organized team workout May 29, was a crucial element of the initial ESPN report that brought this story into the spotlight. The report does not find a link between the two. “In light of our conclusion that Maryland’s football culture was not toxic, we do not find that the culture caused the tragic death of Jordan McNair,” it says.

Still, there’s a variation in respondents’ assessments of Maryland’s culture, which is understandable given the debates that have played out in public over the last two months. Some of the negative quotes:

  • From the player survey: “[The culture was] miserable. I was very miserable the whole time. I was depressed, tired, and most importantly, I hated football. I felt like all the other players hated it as much as me. I felt like several position coaches hated it as well. No one was enjoying it for the two seasons I was here under Durkin it seemed like.”
  • From a current staffer: “Appreciation for everyone is a very important thing, which was the case at [last school] but isn’t here. At [last school], people noticed [the staffer] and how hard people worked, and that was really important to be there for people. You’re around these people more than you’re around your own family, so you should be able to get to know each other and have respect and admiration for people there.”

And a couple positive ones:

  • From a current player: “The culture is one that promotes competition and those who work hard are rewarded. That is the way it should be. In the real world when you do not perform well, you get fired. The same principle is necessary in football. If not, you will not succeed.”
  • From a former player: “I enjoyed my last year with Durkin. The good parts of the culture, the expectation of winning, not always the demand of it, knowing we are getting better as a team. ... Durkin coming 110 from big programs, myself and other players thought, ‘this is the way a program should be run.’”

Now the Board of Regents has decisions to make.

This report includes critical portrayals of seemingly every key figure involved, from Durkin to Court to athletic director Damon Evans and university president Wallace Loh. However, the commission does not make recommendations regarding personnel decisions. That responsibility will fall on the Board, even though it only has direct power to fire Loh.

In a statement last week, the Board expressed intent to release the findings and initial recommendations “within one week” of Tuesday’s meeting. The report is now out for the public to consume, and the decisions are likely coming soon.