Durkin on leave during inquiry
University of Maryland football coach DJ Durkin was placed on administrative leave Saturday after a pair of explosive media reports alleging abusive treatment of the players in his program.
Athletics director Damon Evans announced the move less than 24 hours after three members of Durkin’s staff were also placed on paid administrative leave as a result of their actions on the day that offensive lineman Jordan McNair struggled to pass the team’s conditioning test May 29.
The 19-year-old McNair, a high school star from the Baltimore area, died June 13 at R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, where he had been transported after first being taken to a hospital near the Maryland campus in College Park.
According to a website announcing a foundation established by his family in his honor, McNair died of heatstroke.
The school also announced that new offensive coordinator Matt Canada will take over as the team’s interim coach. Canada, 46, is in his first year at Maryland after being fired following a one-season stint as LSU’s offensive coordinator. Canada, who has never been a head coach before, could make his debut in three weeks when the Terps play Texas on Sept. 1 at FedEx Field.
“I am extremely concerned by the allegations of unacceptable behaviors by the members of our football staff detailed in recent media reports,” Evans wrote in a letter to his staff. “We are committed to fully investigating the program.
“At this time, the best decision for our football program is to place Maryland head football coach DJ Durkin on leave so we can properly review the culture of the program. This is effective immediately.”
School president Wallace D. Loh also issued a statement to the University of Maryland community, explaining he directed Evans to take this action “to ensure the safety and success of our student-athletes.” Loh also announced that Maryland will retain an external expert to conduct a “comprehensive examination” of the football program’s coaching practices “with the goal that these practices reflect — not subvert — the core values of our university.”
On Friday, ESPN posted two different stories, one detailing the specifics of McNair’s physical deterioration during and immediately after the conditioning test, and another on widespread incidents of what was termed “intimidation, embarrassment and humiliation” of players by Durkin and strength and conditioning coach Rick Court.
Court, who was one of Durkin’s first hires when he came to College Park from Michigan after the 2015 season, was reported to be running the conditioning test. It was also reported that longtime trainer Wes Robinson was heard telling players to “drag [McNair’s butt] across the field.”
A university spokeswoman said Saturday that she did not know whether Durkin’s leave was paid or unpaid.
According to a contract obtained by the Baltimore Sun, Durkin — a former assistant at Florida — earns $2.5 million annually on a five-year contract.
The university can cease paying Durkin if he is fired with cause and would have to pay him 65 percent of his salary if he is terminated without cause.