One day after reinstating football coach DJ Durkin — and unleashing a torrent of criticism — the University of Maryland reversed course Wednesday and announced his firing.
Durkin had spent the first two months of the season on administrative leave following the death of 19-year-old lineman Jordan McNair, who succumbed to heat-related illness suffered during an organized team workout.
The university Board of Regents’ decision to allow the coach back on the sideline had prompted outrage from players and the student government. The state’s governor had also raised questions about the move.
“The overwhelming majority of stakeholders expressed serious concerns about Coach DJ Durkin returning to the campus,” university President Wallace D. Loh said in a statement. “This is a difficult decision, but it is the right one for our entire university.”
Loh appeared to confirm reports that he had opposed the board’s initial recommendation, saying: “The chair of the Board of Regents has publicly acknowledged that I had previously raised concerns about Coach Durkin’s return.”
McNair began showing signs of heat-related illness May 29 after running sprints at a Terrapins workout and was hospitalized. He died June 13.
The university acknowledged “legal and moral responsibility” for mistakes made in his emergency medical care, parting ways with the team’s strength and conditioning coach and establishing an independent commission to study the incident.
Subsequent media reports alleged an abusive, perhaps dangerous, environment within the football program.
The independent commission’s investigation found what officials characterized as “troubling behaviors” in and around the team. It also verified that athletic trainers initially failed to diagnose and treat McNair’s symptoms.
The university pledged to implement a series of reforms to protect athletes and give them a platform to express their concerns, but the regents suggested Durkin had been unfairly blamed.
Widespread condemnation began within hours of his reinstatement.
“I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach and somebody spit in my face,” McNair’s father, Marty, told reporters.
The university’s student government announced plans for a campus protest and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan expressed his concerns. Several Maryland players took to social media.
“Every Saturday my teammates and I have to kneel before the memorial of our fallen teammate,” offensive lineman Ellis McKennie tweeted. “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.”
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 had led Maryland to 10-15 record the previous two seasons.
“It’s crazy what a little pressure will do,” McKennie stated in a series of tweets after the firing. “It’s never the wrong time to do what’s right.”
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