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Amid review of Jordan McNair's death, Maryland places football staffers on leave as DJ Durkin remains in charge

The University of Maryland has placed members of football coach DJ Durkin’s support staff on paid administrative leave based on the initial findings of the external review examining the circumstances leading to the death of redshirt freshman Jordan McNair, the university announced Friday.

A school spokesperson declined to name the individuals who were placed on leave, pending the outcome of the review being conducted by Walters Inc., a South Carolina-based sports medicine consulting firm. That review is expected to be finished no later than Sept. 15.

McNair died June 13, 15 days after he appeared to suffer a seizure and had trouble controlling his breathing in the training room after a conditioning test in the heat. The 19-year-old was hospitalized.

McNair’s family said the former McDonogh School lineman died from heatstroke on a website the family set up to announce the establishment of a foundation in his honor.

After McNair’s death, the university commissioned “an external review of the procedures and protocols surrounding athletes’ health and safety,” the school said in a statement about the decision to place staffers on leave.

“Pending the final outcome of this review, the university has placed members of the athletics staff on administrative leave,” the statement said. “We will be able to speak in greater detail when the review is complete and shared with the public. Our thoughts remain with Jordan McNair’s family, friends and teammates.”

A source confirmed Durkin, who is going into his third season with the program, remains the Terps coach. On Friday, in his first interview since the start of fall practice, Durkin told Big Ten Network that McNair’s death was a “tremendous loss.”

"Every guy is at a different stage of a grieving process, and we are as a team,” he said. “So the one thing we’ve done here through camp, and we said this and we’ve done it, we’re going to talk about it. It’s OK to talk about it. We’re not going to just ignore it and pretend we’re going to move on. We’re going to talk about it. So we have guys get up and talk to the team at night, and that’s been brought up quite a bit.

“There’s not a day that goes by that anyone doesn’t think about it, talk about it. So, all in all, I think our guys have done a good job. They’ve handled things. We’ve had some really good practices, but it’s certainly present."

Durkin said at the Big Ten’s Media Days last month in Chicago — the only time he has spoken publicly since a June 14 news conference to announce McNair’s death — that the team would find a way to honor McNair’s memory throughout the season.

Aside from allowing the Big Ten Network analysts to watch practice Friday at the team’s indoor practice facility, Maryland has not made Durkin, his staff or his players available to the media since the team began preseason practice last week.

While Durkin remains head coach, a story published Friday by ESPN, citing former players and staff members, said he and strength and conditioning coach Rick Court orchestrated a culture “based on fear and intimidation,” and that "belittling, humiliation and embarrassment of players is common.”

The university declined to make team officials, including Durkin, or Wallace Loh, the university president, available to comment on the ESPN article.

In a letter sent Friday to parents of Maryland football players, Durkin acknowledged that the coming ESPN report, published later in the day, “may prompt questions” about the program. Durkin’s signed letter, provided to The Baltimore Sun by a source close to the program, said: “We do not know the exact details of the article but wanted you to be aware of its pending release.”

"The past few months have been very difficult for our program," Durkin wrote in the letter. "Based on feedback from our parent meeting in June, we want to keep the lines of communication open.”

He added later: "Our priority every day is the safety along with the academic, personal and athletic development of your sons. During this time of healing, our focus needs to be on each other and unity within our program."

Durkin wrote that the program is “cooperating fully” with the outside investigation, and told parents in the letter that he was "available to address any further questions or concerns you may have.” He referred those interested in speaking with him to David Wilczewski, the team's director of recruiting operations.

It’s not known whether former athletic director Kevin Anderson, who hired Durkin after the 2015 season, was aware of what was happening inside the program. Current athletic director Damon Evans, who was named Anderson’s successor in late June, acted as Durkin’s supervisor for most of his tenure and was responsible for monitoring all activities involving the team.

It also isn’t clear how Durkin responded to McNair’s struggles after the May 29 conditioning test. After initially not mentioning Durkin by name among the coaches and staff members present that day, the university released more details of the incident in mid-July, confirming Durkin was on the field when the conditioning test — consisting of 10 110-yard dashes — was being administered.

According to audio copies of two 911 calls and a county incident report, an unidentified caller described McNair’s breathing problems to a Prince George’s County emergency dispatcher just before 6 p.m. May 29. The calls and the report were released to The Baltimore Sun by the county’s Office of Homeland Security after a public-records request.

According to the tape, McNair appeared to have suffered a seizure and was “unable to control” his breath after the football practice that led to his hospitalization. In a second call, a first responder reported to dispatchers that McNair had a seizure.

McNair arrived at Washington Adventist Hospital, in nearby Takoma Park, at 6:36 p.m., according to the county’s report, before being transported to the Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where he remained until his death on June 13.

Durkin’s signed letter, provided to The Baltimore Sun by a source close to the program, said: “We do not know the exact details of the article but wanted you to be aware of its pending release.” Ultimately, ESPN published two articles Friday that cast the program in a negative light.

P2PEmbedThe first, citing anonymous sources on the team, said former Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair (McDonogh) had noticeable difficulty completing the May 29 workout that left him hospitalized. McNair, 19, died over two weeks later. The website of a foundation his parents created in his honor said the cause of death was heatstroke.

The second report, citing anonymous and on-the-record sources with knowledge of the program, including current and former players and staffers, characterized the program’s culture under Durkin as one with rampant abuse, name-calling and bullying by staffers.

"The past few months have been very difficult for our program," Durkin wrote in the letter. "Based on feedback from our parent meeting in June, we want to keep the lines of communication open.”

He added later: "Our priority every day is the safety along with the academic, personal and athletic development of your sons. During this time of healing, our focus needs to be on each other and unity within our program."

Durkin wrote that the program is “cooperating fully” with Dr. Rod Walters, whose sports medicine consulting firm the university has hired to investigate the protocols and procedures relating to McNair's death. The external review is expected to be completed by Sept. 15.

Durkin told parents in the letter that he was "available to address any further questions or concerns you may have," and referred those interested in speaking with him to David Wilczewski, the team's director of recruiting operations.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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