- - Wednesday, October 31, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

My wife, a University of Maryland alumnus who doesn’t follow sports, had what I imagine was the consensus reaction nationwide upon hearing that DJ Durkin will remain in place as the Terrapins football coach.

“What? So nobody is being held culpable for that kid’s death? Wow.”

Wow, indeed.

We live in an age and climate where shocking pronouncements are losing some sting, leaving us numb, because they arrive seemingly daily. But the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents punctured our punch-drunk senses Tuesday. The board quickened onlookers around the country with a jolting decision to retain Durkin despite his significant role in Jordan McNair’s totally preventable death.

After being roundly criticized from all corners — and rightfully so — the regents were forced to reconsider and fired Durkin Wednesday night.

Like most of us, I never met McNair, the 19-year-old lineman who collapsed during a May workout and died two weeks later. Yet, I can relate to his father’s feelings about Maryland’s original decision to retain the man charged with oversight of his son.

“I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach, and somebody spit in my face,” Marty McNair said after the decision was announced.

How could anyone feel otherwise? Maryland had punted on the notion of accountability and responsibility. The school had clotheslined the idea of integrity and decency. Honor and respect – for McNair, his family and his teammates – had been pancake-blocked.

“We will forever – FOREVER – be guided by the memory of Jordan McNair,” regents chairman James T. Brady said during Tuesday’s news conference.

His empty piety was unimpressive.

We all know what he was guided by, and it wasn’t McNair’s legacy.

Durkin had nearly $8 million left on his contract. Athletic director Damon Evans (who should join Durkin on the unemployment line) just began a six-year deal that pays him upward of $800,000. Parting ways with those two men and hiring replacements was going to be quite costly for the financially-strapped athletic department.

The board’s original goal of keeping Durkin was all about saving money.

But it was going to cost the school plenty in credibility.

This wasn’t Ohio State reinstating Durkin’s mentor, Urban Meyer, who might have covered up/ignored domestic abuse by an assistant coach. This was the Terrapins retaining a head coach who might have covered up/ignored a culture that led to a player’s death.

“We believe that coach Durkin has been unfairly blamed for the dysfunctioning athletic department,” Brady said Tuesday, “and while he shares some responsibility, it is not fair to place all of it at his feet.”

On the contrary, it was absolutely fair to point the finger at Durkin and conclude he had to go. He wasn’t in charge of the athletic department; he was CEO of the football program. If he was unaware of conditions within his program (implausible), that was a fireable offense as much as “if” he knew, sanctioned and condoned the conditions.

Following the lead of its hand-picked commission, which last week released a spineless report on Maryland’s football culture, the regents offered a litany of excuses for Durkin. You would think they know nothing of how major college football operates.

Durkin worked under Meyer and Jim Harbaugh, yet the report claimed he didn’t have the proper training to do his job. Brady said Durkin wasn’t given the “tools, resources and guidance necessary to support and educate a first-time head coach.” The regents bought Durkin’s defense that he wasn’t responsible for supervising strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, already sent packing.

They must’ve been kidding.

Durkin knew what he was doing. Court was his first hire. Durkin is on record multiple times regarding the importance of a team’s strength coach. He once told Sports Illustrated that “Rick and I are about as in line with how we see things as you can possibly be.”

This is how they saw things: Berating and intimidating players is OK. Humiliating and embarrassing players is fine. Cruel and unusual punishment is necessary; it increases toughness and weeds out soft underperformers.

“We believe (Durkin) is a good man and a good coach,” Brady said Tuesday.

If that’s true, he can prove it elsewhere. He wasn’t owed a second chance to get things right, at least not at Maryland.

Leave that for some other school willing take a flyer on damaged goods. Durkin couldn’t be kept in place as a constant reminder of his abject failure. He couldn’t be given another opportunity to represent Maryland while meeting parents, prospective recruits, and community members.

School president Wallace D. Loh’s instincts were correct Tuesday — he wanted Durkin out then — and he was right in August, when he said Maryland “accepts legal and moral responsibility” for its role in McNair’s death.

Despite Wednesday’s about-face by the regents, Tuesday’s revolting, tone-deaf display raises questions as to whether those 17 board members are themselves fit to represent the University of Maryland.

Thankfully, saner minds righted the wrong, but, like Jordan McNair, the state deserves better.

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.


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