The University of Maryland’s head football coach DJ Durkin has been put on paid administrative leave. This was done while the university investigates allegations of abuse in a “toxic culture” with Maryland football. This investigation covers a wide range of accusations including the tragic death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair.
Damon Evans, athletic director for the university, made the announcement on Saturday, and said Matt Canada, offensive coordinator, will work as the team’s coach in the interim. Canada was hired in January as a first-year assistant after spending a year as LSU’s offensive coordinator. He’s also done coordinator stops at NC State, Pitt, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Northern Illinois.
The announcement was done via a letter sent out to alumni, staff, and students of the university. The letter said, in part,
“I am extremely concerned by the allegations of unacceptable behaviors by members of our football staff detailed in recent media reports. We are committed to fully investigating the program. At this time, the best decisions for our football program is to place Maryland head coach DJ Durkin on leave so we can properly review the culture of the program. This is effective immediately. Matt Canada will serve as interim head coach.”
He went on:
“The external review into the tragic death of Jordan McNair continues, and we have committed to releasing publicly the report being prepared by an independent and national expert. The safety and well-being of our student-athletes is our highest priority. These alleged behaviors are not consistent with the values I expect all our staff to adhere to and we must do better. You will be hearing from me as our work continues to rebuild the culture of respect in our football program.”
On Friday, the school placed director of athletic training Steve Nordwall and head football athletic trainer Wes Robinson on administrative leave. In addition, Rick Court, the assistant athletics director for sports performance, was placed on paid administrative leave on Saturday.
Court, in particular, has been accused of having contributed to an environment based on intimidation and fear, even throwing small weights and other objects at players when he was angry.
Jordan McNair died of heatstroke after showing obvious signs of distress during a workout he was participating in on May 29th. Signs included seizures and a difficulty standing up. Court was in charge of the workout that day, but wasn’t involved in treating him afterwards, McNair tragically died on June 13th. A university-hired investigator, Rod Walters, is expected to release a formal report into his death on September 15th. McNair’s parents have also hired the law firm of Murphy, Falcon, & Murphy to investigate.
While McNair was in the hospital, the head coach listened to concerns from the players about methods used by the coaching staff, and the voluntary workouts became less intense. But on August 3rd, when preseason training camp opened, things went back mostly to the way they had been before McNair’s death.
Over the last few weeks, two current Maryland players, former players and football staffers, and several people close to the football program have spoken with ESPN about the toxic culture under the head coach. Rick Court, in particular, was named as having participated. Just a few of the complaints include the humiliation, belittling, and embarrassment of players; a coaching environment based on intimidation and fear; the endorsement of unhealthy eating habits and of staff having used food punitively; and extreme verbal abuse of players.
A former Maryland staffer even want so far as to say
“I would never, ever, ever allow my child to be coached there.”
For generations, tough-talking, extreme training was the norm for football programs throughout the country. All of us who have played football, have at one point or another experienced the excessive side of football practices. However, when death is a part of any football training or part of an overall football program, then things have gone from excessive or extreme to tragic. At this point, it’s not about toxicity, it’s about the safety of the young men playing this great sport.
Maryland has some serious issues at hand. This is not something that will be swept under the rug or quietly resolved. The tragic death of McNair has shed a light on the questionable coaching methods and football training philosophies at Maryland. If found guilty, the repercussions will be significant and they could have a ripple effect throughout the rest of college football.
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