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Maryland puts football coach DJ Durkin on administrative leave in wake of Jordan McNair's death, report of 'toxic culture'

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.

Athletic director Damon Evans announced the move less than 24 hours after three members of Durkin’s staff were also placed on paid administrative leave pending a review of “procedures and protocols surrounding athletes’ health and safety” prompted by the death of 19-year-old offensive lineman Jordan McNair in June.

McNair, a former standout at McDonogh School, struggled to pass the team’s conditioning test May 29 and collapsed. The Randallstown man died June 13 at R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center. A foundation established by his family says he died of heatstroke.

The school 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 has never been a head coach. He could make his debut in three weeks when the Terps play Texas on Sept. 1 at FedEx Field.

The moves follow a pair of reports posted Friday by ESPN. One detailed McNair’s physical deterioration during and immediately after the conditioning test. The other alleged the “intimidation, embarrassment and humiliation” of players by Durkin and another coach.

An athletic department spokesman declined to make Durkin or the other staff members placed on leave available to comment late Saturday. The Baltimore Sun was unable to reach them independently.

Evans, in a letter to his staff, said he was “extremely concerned by the allegations of unacceptable behaviors by the members of our football staff detailed in recent media reports.”

“We are committed to fully investigating the program,” he wrote. “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.”

University president Wallace D. Loh said he directed Evans to take this action “to ensure the safety and success of our student-athletes.”

Loh said the university 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.”

A university spokeswoman said Saturday that she did not know whether Durkin’s leave was paid or unpaid.

Durkin, 40, in his third year at Maryland, earns $2.5 million annually on a five-year contract. The university can cease paying Durkin if he is fired with cause. It would have to pay him 65 percent of his salary if he is terminated without cause.

Durkin sent a letter to parents of the players Friday, saying an upcoming report might “prompt some questions” about the program, according to a source who sent a copy to The Baltimore Sun.

A source said Saturday that strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, longtime trainer Wes Robinson and Steve Nordwall, who oversees the trainers and strength and conditioning coaches, were the staff members placed on paid leave pending the outcome of an external review.

The external review by Walters Inc., a medical consulting company run by former college football trainer Rod Walters, is expected to be concluded by Sept. 15.

“The external review of the tragic death of Jordan McNair continues, and we have committed to releasing publicly the report being prepared by an independent and national expert,” Evans wrote Saturday. “The safety and well-being of our student-athletes is our highest priority. These alleged behaviors are not consistent with the values I expect all of our staff to adhere to and we must do better. You will be hearing from me as our work continues to rebuild the culture of respect in our football program.”

Evans was named the university’s athletic director in late June after serving eight months in an acting role. Before his appointment, Evans was the senior staff member who oversaw the football program.

With the departure of Durkin — temporarily or permanently — it will be up to a relatively young team acclimating itself to a new head coach and a potential reconfiguration of the staff. Canada joined Durkin’s staff in January. Maryland is Canada’s seventh stop in the past nine years.

“The circumstances, they were different everywhere we’ve been,” Canada said in March. “Early on there, we were going pretty well and then there’s been more change. Everyone’s been great. I’ve met great people everywhere and as I look around, my daughter said it best: ‘It’s been awesome everywhere we’ve been.’ ”

Durkin becomes the second Big Ten coach in the past two weeks to be placed on administrative leave. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who gave Durkin his start as a graduate assistant at Bowling Green State University, lied to the media at Big Ten Media Days about his knowledge of a former assistant's abusive relationship with his wife.

Before the Durkin’s leave was announced, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous on Saturday joined in growing calls for action.

Gov. Larry Hogan also weighed in, expressing his support for the university’s decision to suspend Durkin and expectations of a wide-ranging and thorough investigation into the program.

“We must have complete confidence that our student athletes are treated with dignity and respect and that they are supervised and coached responsibly,” Hogan said in the statement. “If the investigation confirms these reports, then strong and permanent corrective actions should be taken immediately.”

Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat, tweeted one of the ESPN articles Friday.

“This is NOT OK! I am so outraged that this continued and a young man is dead. So preventable! Outrageous. TerpsFootball coaches need to resign tonight. They should not be at another game.”

don.markus@baltsun.com

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