Regents chair defends group's decision to keep Durkin, Evans in University of Maryland roles

The chairman of the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents defended on Wednesday 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.

University of Maryland president fires football coach DJ Durkin »

James T. Brady said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board that the regents went through an “exhaustive process” before deciding that coach DJ Durkin and athletic director Damon Evans deserved to keep their high-paying jobs at the top of the state flagship university’s most visible department.

The only high-level departure to stem from McNair’s death is that of university president Wallace Loh, who announced Tuesday he will resign in June. Brady said that decision was up to Loh, despite multiple reports to the contrary.

Brady’s comments came in the morning before Gov. Larry Hogan called on the board to reconsider its decisions in the matter.

Over the past 24 hours, outrage has bubbled on campus and in the political sphere, with many people questioning why officials most closely tied to the football team will remain on campus, while the university president is leaving. Brady said during a news conference that all three shared the blame for the athletic department’s widespread dysfunction, but he rejected the idea that this dysfunction led to McNair’s death.

“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,” Brady said in his interview with The Sun. “I think the process we went through was an excellent process.”

Brady strongly defended Durkin, saying the 40-year-old man is a young coach who was not properly trained by supervisors when he took over the Terps football team.

“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,” Brady said.

After the regents met with Durkin in person last week, they determined he is “a good man and a good coach” who is up for the formidable challenge of reuniting a fractured team. Brady said Loh brought up that Durkin is likely to face additional challenges in recruiting players and convincing their families to join the embattled program.

“That was an issue that we also had, but one we felt he could deal with,” Brady said. “We had that conversation with him and we were convinced he was prepared to take on that challenge and be successful in doing so.

“We want to give him the opportunity to get that right,” he said.

The regents oversaw a pair of reports — initially called for by Loh — that evaluated the football program after McNair died of heatstroke following a football practice in College Park.

The first investigation was commissioned to look into the athletic department’s procedures and protocols on the day McNair fell ill. That inquiry, led by Dr. Rod Walters, a sports medicine consultant, found staff made a host of errors — including failing to immerse McNair in cold water, which experts say is the best practice and could have saved his life. The report determined trainers had failed to move the immersion tanks to the field because the location of the practice changed at the last minute.

The second investigation looked into the football team’s culture, following an explosive ESPN article in August that deemed the atmosphere “toxic.” An eight-person commission later found the football program “fostered a culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out.”

The commission’s roughly 200-page report highlighted instances of the mental and physical abuse of players, and delved into two years of problems within the athletic department. The commission found that the department “lacked a culture of accountability” and was plagued by frequent turnover, dissension and infighting.

For a transcript of The Sun’s interview with Brady, click here.

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