One Day After Return, Durkin Fired at Maryland

Controversial head football coach is out at the state's flagship institution after retiring president Wallace Loh met with campus constituents, who were displeased with Tuesday's decision.

November 1, 2018
 
DJ Durkin

The University of Maryland at College Park has fired its embattled head football coach, DJ Durkin, a central figure in an athletics saga that has roiled the state flagship institution.

As of Tuesday, Durkin was to remain at the university at the urging of the state’s higher education governing body, the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents. This was despite a pair of regents-led investigations that revealed the institution was at fault for the death of redshirt freshman Jordan McNair in June, and that there was rampant abuse of players by the coaching staff.

President Wallace D. Loh, who also announced his retirement on Tuesday in wake of the scandal, wrote to the campus on Wednesday saying he had met with students and administrators who were deeply concerned about Durkin’s return. Reportedly, Loh told the regents he wanted to dismiss Durkin, but they informed Loh that they would simply fire him instead and replace him with someone who would keep Durkin.

Loh hinted at this clash in his statement to the campus. The Washington Post reported that while the board was informed of the decision to fire Durkin, its members were not consulted.

“A departure is in the best interest of the university, and this afternoon Coach Durkin was informed that the university will part ways,” Loh said in his statement. “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.”

The two inquiries, initially headed by the university but then taken over by the regents, found that athletics staffers were at fault for the death of McNair, who collapsed from heatstroke at a practice in May and then died the next month. The report on his death found staff members had failed to give him a cold-immersion bath, which would have all but assuredly saved his life.

The second investigation, the results of which were recently made public, revealed that strength and conditioning coach Rick Court belittled his players, often using homophobic slurs and inappropriate language. Court, who negotiated a settlement from the university and left in August, threw weights and food at them, and on one occasion, a trash can full of vomit.

The regents’ decision to side with Durkin had been particularly unpopular, and the backlash, among both students and state officials, was swift. The student government had organized a protest for Thursday against Durkin’s reinstatement.

Jonathan Allen, the student body president, posted a statement on Wednesday calling for Durkin’s firing. Allen said in his statement he had met personally with Loh and that the student government's Executive Board submitted emergency legislation asking for Durkin’s departure.

“The decision to not fire Coach Durkin indicates that the Board of Regents prioritizes profits over the lives of students,” Allen said in his statement.

The regents also earned the ire of Maryland governor Larry Hogan, a Republican up for re-election. Hogan said in a statement that he was concerned about a “lack of transparency” from the regents and asked for both the board and Loh to “reconsider their decisions.”

“While the university system is required by law to operate independent of political influence, and as such no governor has the ability to hire or fire any university personnel or members of the Board of Regents, I can and will demand that the university is held accountable for making the reforms they have pledged to put in place with the full transparency that the students, parents, and faculty expect and deserve,” Hogan said in his statement.

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