The chairman of the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents, James T. Brady, on Wednesday defended the governing body’s decision to retain the University of Maryland’s head football coach and athletic director, despite the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair and a subsequent investigation into the university’s football program that found pervasive problems.
Below is a transcript of The Baltimore Sun’s interview with Brady, edited for length and clarity.
Brady’s opening remarks: The process we went through as a Board of Regents was quite exhaustive. We had many meetings and talked about the issues, all very important issues, extensively. From the beginning we knew that whatever answer we came up with was going to have some element of controversy connected with it. It’s a complicated issue and I understand everyone’s concern with everything connected to it. I think the process we went through was an excellent process. We had two reports done — we met with the investigators and we met with the principals. This was not something where any answer was blatantly obvious. We tried to come up with best answer for long and short term interests of the University of Maryland, which is what our responsibility is.
Jordan McNair’s tragic death was the result, as the medical report indicated, of a very unusual set of circumstances. As I said yesterday, the university will take responsibility for that, to the extent the responsibility is theirs. That’s something we’re very regretful of.
The issue of the dysfunction in the athletic department is a different story, and I don’t think it’s appropriate to tie the two together and come to conclusions in that fashion. That requires a separate analysis and that is what we did.
Editorial page editor Andy Green: You really don’t see a connection between Jordan McNair’s death and a dysfunctional athletic department?
Brady: The situation was very unusual. There is no connection drawn in any of the investigations done that say that the dysfunction in the athletic department was responsible for the tragedy of Jordan McNair’s death. That’s all I’m saying.
Green: You don’t think a more functional department might have been better prepared to handle something like this?
Brady: A more functional department would in any situation would be better than one that isn't as functional. For this particular situation, the Jordan McNair situation, I don’t think that connection is valid. We want to make the athletic department as functional as possible.
Green: If the athletic department is dysfunctional, why are we keeping the same leadership of it?
Brady: For several reason. A lot has happened over the last two to three years. In the case of Damon Evans, he ascended to the role very recently. I thin the dysfunctional nature of the athletic department created a situation where his job as associate athletic director and interim athletic director was made far more difficult than it should’ve been. We recognize that Damon was there, and we also recognize that he has come back to us with a very thoughtful plan and with a total understanding that things have to change, that this is not the way this has to be run.
We had several options. Do we blow it all up? That was something that certainly was on the table. Or do we evaluate the people that are currently in place and determine if they are willing and capable to effecting immediate, needed changes. We spent a good deal of time going through that evaluation.
We felt in the case of Damon that he had the capability and willingness and knowledge to go through that change. In the case of DJ Durkin, he was a very young coach, a first-time head coach. I think part of the dysfunction in the athletic department was that he did not get the on-boarding and training that you’d expect at any organization.
Could Damon have done more? Possibly. Maybe even probably.
When DJ came on board, he didn’t get all the help he needed. Being the head coach of a college football team in 2018, in a big conference like the Big Ten, is a big job. I don’t think the proper consideration was given to all of that. But we felt he is a good man and a good coach. We want to give him the opportunity to get that right, recognizing full well the challenge he has in front of him to do that.
We decided that was a challenge we were going to offer him.
I understand people are going to say that was a crazy decision or whatever. I understand completely and respect people’s opinions.
Green: We have reported that Wallace Loh was of a different opinion about Mr. Durkin and whether he should be retained as football coach. Is that true?
Brady: Wallace Loh expressed to us that DJ Durkin was a good man and he respected him. He did raise the issue as to whether he would be able to deal with the environment that he’s going to come back to and whether he’d be able to recruit young men and deal with their families. That was an issue that we also had, but one we felt he could deal with. We had that conversation with him and we were convinced that he was prepared to take on that challenge and be successful in doing so.
Green: We have also reported that Dr. Loh did not want to reinstate Durkin as the coach but was essentially told that if you don’t, we will find someone who will. Is that true?
Brady: I don’t know that. I think he made that decision based on our recommendation. He might not have liked our recommendation, but the decision he made was his decision — to retire in June of 2019.
Green: Was firing Dr. Loh part of the conversation? Was that on the table?
Brady: What was on the table was that we wanted to have conversation with him to deal with longterm role of president in College Park and the decision that he reached was that the best answer was to retire in 2019.
Green: How do you respond to the remarks that former Board of Regents chair Jim Shea made the other day, that the regents should be in the business of involving themselves in personnel decisions below the level of campus president?
Brady: We are the governing board and we take that responsibility very seriously. As with any board, it is totally appropriate for governing boards to make recommendations, to make observations, to the CEO of an organization. No only can we, but we should do that, under the circumstances we had here.
Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater: We’ve heard rumors from people who support President Loh that you’ve sought to remove him for some time. Is that true?
Brady: That’s totally inaccurate. This idea that I have a personal vendetta against Wallace Loh is ridiculous. Did we have things we disagreed on? You bet. That is the way things work. The fact of the matter is the decisions made in this case had everything to do, and only to do, with circumstances surrounding the football program. This is not about vendetta.
Baltimore Sun reporter Liz Bowie: How soon do you expect to begin the search for a new president? And will you appoint an interim?
Brady: Wallace Loh will be in that office until June 2019. That’s what he’s committed to do.
Bowie: So you expect to have somebody in place by the time he leaves?
Brady: That would be the hope. We’re going to begin the process for planning for a search to begin as soon as possible. I can’t tell you exactly when that’s going to be, but that’s certainly being discussed as we speak.
Baltimore Sun reporter Don Markus: Would the same decision have been reached regarding Coach Durkin and Damon Evans if they didn’t have rather large buy-outs as well?
Brady: Absolutely. I know the narrative that’s out there that this is all about saving money. Let me be clear: None of this decision had anything to do with what would be required to be paid out to individuals involved. That was not a discussion point. That was not, at any time, in consideration at all.
Broadwater: How much influence, if at all, did large sports boosters, have on the decision to retain Mr. Durkin?
Broadwater: We are in the midst of a heated race for governor. You guys chose to make this announcement a week before the election. Did you think about that at all?
Brady: We certainly were, surprisingly enough, aware we had an election coming up. This has been something that people have been waiting for for a long time. I don’t believe this should have any impact on the campaign at all, to be perfectly honest at about it. We felt that we needed to report as soon as we were in a position to report. And that was yesterday. Was it the most comfortable timing? Absolutely not. But waiting another week or so did not seem to be the answer that was appropriate in these circumstances. We needed to do this and move on.
Baltimore Sun reporter Talia Richman: You said earlier that Dr. Loh’s decision to retire was entirely his own. Are you supportive of that? Are you glad he will be wrapping up his tenure in June, and did you try to convince him otherwise?