The day after university president Wallace Loh fired football head coach DJ Durkin, provost Mary Ann Rankin authored a letter signed by the deans at the university urging Loh to call off his retirement.
“We believe Dr. Loh’s leadership is critical for the university at this challenging time and we call upon the Board of Regents and the Chancellor to publicly affirm its support for Dr. Loh’s continued leadership of the state’s flagship university,” the letter said.
Rankin is right that the university needs strong leadership during this time. The only problem is that since Jordan McNair died and long before, Loh has provided anything but that.
Loh wanted Durkin to go, but didn’t initially make that choice. According to The Washington Post, Loh gave in to the Board’s demand after he was issued an ultimatum that he would lose his job if Durkin wasn’t reinstated. If that happened, a source close to the situation told Rick Maese that Loh told the Board bringing Durkin back would be a disaster.
“In the meeting he told the board that all hell would break loose,” the person said. “He told the board it would be serious problem with the campus community and the public at large, but they were bound and determined that [Durkin] come back. They basically put a gun to his head and threatened him saying if he wouldn’t do it, they’d find a president who would.”-
If he knew this would happen, why didn’t he just reject the Board’s recommendations in the first place? It’s because throughout this whole investigation, Loh and others in charge at this university have only spoken up when it’s in their best interests. When he actually had the chance to make a statement, Loh decided to keep his job over making actual change.
This also happened in August, when he only announced that the university accepted “legal and moral responsibility” in Jordan McNair’s death in a press conference days after ESPN reported on the missteps by medical personnel. Loh and athletic director Damon Evans tried to distance themselves from that too, saying that the training staff was to blame and they were implementing necessary reforms instead of telling people why this was allowed to happen in the first place.
Even with years of infighting in the athletic department, Loh only tried to mediate the problem instead of finding a strong solution. The result was a six-month “sabbatical” for former athletic director Kevin Anderson, placing more uncertainty into a department that already lacked direction. He’s been a big supporter of Evans throughout this whole process, even as he failed to take charge of the situation as interim and now permanent athletic director.
For a university that has a long way to go to win back its reputation, trusting those who helped caused many of the problems would be foolish. Only a school with a mess of an athletic department could turn this decision, which took months to make, into a debacle.
Yes, DJ Durkin is gone. But every turn that led to that decision caused more problems. The people who called the shots were mainly watching out for themselves, and not the university as a whole. For that, they should get no credit.