This story was initially published before Maryland fired DJ Durkin on Wednesday.
Investigators probably could have been harder on DJ Durkin, but they still outlined multiple failures on his part as a head coach in their report, which stretched to almost 400 pages with appendixes. Durkin told investigators he wasn’t responsible for the conduct of strength coach Rick Court, yet, as The Diamondback’s James Crabtree-Hannigan notes, Durkin had no problem asking for whatever he wanted when he thought it was in service of player health. When Durkin thought something wrong was going on, he’d try to change it. And he didn’t do anything about Rick Court’s behavior.
There are football-specific reasons Maryland could have chosen to move on from DJ Durkin, sure.
A quick run of those would be something like:
- How is Durkin supposed to sit in the living room with a recruit’s parents and say he’ll treat their son like his own child after this?
- Player transfers are a possibility, especially if immediate eligibility elsewhere is granted by the NCAA.
- You thought fan support was low? It can get lower, and it isn’t going to magically boomerang back up.
- Durkin didn’t seem to get along with the athletic department staff Maryland had in place, including the AD. Is that just magically going to change?
Durkin returns to a team that has played well without him — the Terps are nearing bowl eligibility with a 5-3 record under acting coach Matt Canada. Where does Maryland go from here? How will Durkin attempt to rebuild relationships and unite the team? And, from a practical standpoint, how will he persuade parents to send their kids to play for him in the future after the publication of a nearly 200-page report that included examples of psychological and physical abuse within his program?
“You know everybody else is going to use this on Maryland. Everybody,” a private coach who has worked with multiple Division I players, including several currently at Maryland, told The Athletic on Tuesday. “The Temples and UConns can now use that. … The biggest thing about it is kids talk. Kids talk. These kids want to get out of there. There are kids who have no NFL grades at all who are talking about declaring. They do not want to play for this man.”
But those are secondary reasons. I don’t think we even need to go there.
Some players didn’t want Durkin back. What’s the acceptable number of players who don’t want him to be the head coach for the school to decide he shouldn’t be the head coach?
This was apparent before Tuesday, when three players left Maryland’s team meeting after Durkin came back.
Over the course of the investigation into the program, some players said uniformly positive things about Durkin.
“Coach Durkin has given me tremendous opportunity. I have been able to work while being a member of the team to help my future career after football. I have the utmost respect for him, he has always been a great coach to me.”
“Knowing Durkin on a personal level, it was heartbreaking. I know he cares about his players. I know he had a lot invested in those guys.”
But other players said things like:
“If he didn’t want you to start he would do everything for you to quit and make you look bad to make you think you suck.”
“If you’re not a superstar he doesn’t really care about you. You are just a number on the roster. He needs to learn how to control his staff and become a decent human being. He should not be our head coach.”
What I’m saying is: how many players have to be against a head coach for it to matter? How many players have to say their school “chose a paycheck over [someone’s] life” for the school to reconsider its decision?
The *exact* role DJ Durkin played in Jordan McNair’s death might be colored in shades of gray. But that’s far from the only issue here.
The role Durkin played in McNair’s death is at least more complicated than what investigators concluded. They decided because Maryland’s culture did not match the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary definition of “toxic,” it was not toxic, and “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.”
We can note that if trainers present had correctly diagnosed McNair’s signs of heat stroke, McNair would likely still be alive. That still doesn’t necessarily excuse Durkin. He’s the program CEO, and this happened at a workout he attended. Durkin and other coaches were there when head trainer Wes Robinson yelled something along the lines of “drag his ass across the field” to other trainers while McNair struggled. If the head trainer feels empowered to act like that in your presence as a head coach, it’s hard for me to say that you escape blame.
(Investigators found that Durkin pleaded with AD Damon Evans to hire a completely new training staff before camp started in August, which Evans denied for reasons that remain unclear. That still doesn’t undo Durkin’s conduct beforehand.)
But if you’re of the opinion that McNair’s death was strictly a failing on the part of the training staff, that doesn’t absolve Durkin of other wrongdoings outlined in Maryland’s own report mentioned above.
- He dodged responsibility for Court’s actions even though college strength coaches absolutely do serve their head coaches. Saying that the first guy you hired upon taking this job is not under your purview just strains the imagination.
- Durkin’s coaching environment was one where players who weren’t starters often enough felt that he didn’t give a shit about them.
To just explain those things away by saying Durkin had never been a head coach before, that the school didn’t prepare him properly and that he’ll just do better next time is profoundly disappointing.
Every Saturday my teammates and I have to kneel before the memorial of our fallen teammate. Yet a group of people do not have the courage to hold anyone accountable for his death. If only they could have the courage that Jordan had. It’s never the wrong time to do what’s right. pic.twitter.com/AaZVmLGTtS— Ellis McKennie (@emck_cubed97) October 30, 2018
Durkin was just one part of a larger system of disarray and ineffectiveness in the Maryland athletic department, but did contribute to that system.
Investigators outlined an athletic department one school official described as filled with “chaos and confusion.” Investigators determined the athletic department shared responsibility for Court’s actions due to its general disarray, and for not preparing Durkin to be a head coach.
Just because Maryland’s athletic department was a dumpster fire doesn’t mean Durkin is absolved from responsibility for the way he operated in it. He’s been a football coach for his entire adult life, and he knows how to treat people with respect. It should actually be that simple.
I guess I get why this happened.
Maryland doesn’t want to piss off some of its bigger donors, whose opinions on this whole matter are well-known, and thinks winning football games will ultimately make people forget about this. I don’t think that’s going to happen. Do you?