DJ Durkin Fired as Maryland Head Coach Amid Player, Fan Protest

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistOctober 31, 2018

FILE - In this Nov. 25, 2017, file photo, Maryland head coach DJ Durkin watches the first half of an NCAA college football game against Penn State in College Park, Md. An external investigation of the Maryland football program under coach Durkin has determined that the team
Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

DJ Durkin is no longer the head coach of the Maryland Terrapins football team after a controversial decision to reinstate him on Tuesday was met with backlash.

Maryland fired Durkin on Wednesday, a school spokesperson confirmed to ESPN's Adam RittenbergPresident Wallace Loh released a statement explaining the decision to reverse course, via Rick Maese of the Washington Post"This is a difficult decision, but it is the right one for our entire University. I will devote the remaining months of my presidency to advancing the needed reforms in our Athletic Department that prioritize the safety and well-being of our student-athletes."

Durkin is not being fired for cause and will receive a buyout of his contract, according to Maese. After Maryland Athletic Director Damon Evans told the team the news, the players were "very happy," according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports.

This comes after the school's Board of Regents announced its recommendation that Durkin return as head coach following independent reviews into the football program's culture after the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair. "While the Commission's work did not find a toxic culture, it is clear in reading the report that there were some inappropriate and unacceptable behaviors," the announcement read.

The announcement also revealed Loh accepted the recommendation but announced his impending summer retirement. 

McNair collapsed after suffering heatstroke during a May 29 workout and died on June 13, which prompted the placement of Durkin on paid administrative leave during the ensuing investigations.

"We believe that Coach Durkin has been unfairly blamed for the dysfunction in the athletic department," board chair James T. Brady said during a press conference on Tuesday, via Heather Dinich and Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com. "While he bears some responsibility, it is not fair to place all of it at his feet."

Dinich and Rittenberg reported Loh—who didn't mention the coach by name during his comments following the decision—risked losing his job if he didn't accept the recommendation.

The decision to keep Durkin as head football coach prompted widespread criticism, and offensive lineman Ellis McKennie tweeted, "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."

Ellis McKennie @emck_cubed97

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. https://t.co/AaZVmLGTtS

Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic reported three players walked out of a meeting with Durkin after she reported on Oct. 16, "At least a half-dozen parents of Maryland football players have banded together to speak out against Durkin."

Jordan McNair's father, Marty McNair, said, "I feel like I've been punched in the stomach and someone spit in my face," per Tom Schad of USA Today.

Hassan Murphy, who is the attorney for McNair's family, had even harsher words, per Rittenberg: "How can a student-athlete be called a p---y as he is in the early stages of death, dying before their eyes, with no action taken, and yet no one be held accountable? The university had an obligation to keep its students safe, and it failed."

The outrage wasn't limited to the football players and families, as Emily Giambalvo of the Washington Post reported the executive board of the university's student government planned a rally to express its anger at the decision.

Maryland governor Larry Hogan expressed his concern over the reinstatement on Wednesday:

Governor Larry Hogan @GovLarryHogan

Today, I issued the following statement on the University System of Maryland Board of Regents’ announcements yesterday: https://t.co/ihpoZnEp9v

Maese added:

Rick Maese @RickMaese

To be clear, the decision to part ways with DJ Durkin came from College Park, including Wallace Loh and Damon Evans. The board of regents obviously recommended the university do the exact opposite. The backlash, including the governor’s comments, were loud and overwhelming today

An August report from Dinich, Rittenberg and Tom VanHaaren of ESPN.com revealed a "toxic coaching culture" under Durkin, and specifically highlighted former strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, who the head coach hired.

The report described "a coaching environment based on fear and intimidation," as well as "extreme verbal abuse of players."

A former Maryland staffer even said, "I would never, ever, ever allow my child to be coached there."

Maryland hired Durkin prior to the 2016 campaign after it fired Randy Edsall in 2015 and didn't retain interim coach Mike Locksley following what was a 3-9 season. The Terrapins went a combined 10-15 during Durkin's first two years and were 5-3 under interim head coach Matt Canada in 2018 prior to the board's decision to reinstate Durkin.