Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday morning that he was “shocked” and “outraged” by the Maryland Board of Regents’ decision to reinstate football coach DJ Durkin and called school President Wallace Loh’s decision to defy the board and fire the coach a “big step” forward.
“I was sort of shocked at the decision they came up with. I can’t image how they arrived at that decision,” Hogan said of the regents’ decision on WBAL’s “C4” show. “It just didn’t seem to make any sense to me. I was as outraged as many people across the state and the country were.”
In a sudden turn of events, Loh fired Durkin on Wednesday night, a day after the university system’s Board of Regents reinstated the embattled coach. Loh said he took the action after meeting with the Student Government Association, department chairs and other campus leadership. The regents’ decision to keep Durkin after the death of player Jordan McNair had drawn blistering criticism from political leaders across the state, McNair’s family and others.
The move was announced less than two hours after Hogan called on the regents and Loh to reconsider decisions that Durkin and athletic director Damon Evans would keep their jobs and that Loh would retire in June.
“Whether or not we need to go further, the jury is still out,” the governor said Thursday. “This is not the end of the story. I don’t think this should be turned into a political football. Let’s catch our breath. Let’s push the pause button. Let’s make sure we get the right decision and not force something because of politics.”
Hogan called Loh a “great president of the university” but he said he has “some concerns about how this whole process was handled.”
McNair, 19, died in June about two weeks after suffering heatstroke during a team practice.
An investigation commissioned by the university found athletics staff made a host of errors the day McNair fell ill during practice — including failing to immerse the offensive lineman in cold water. Experts said that could have saved his life.
A separate investigation determined the football program “fostered a culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out.” It found a strength and conditioning coach attempted to “humiliate” athletes by throwing food, weights and, once, a trash can full of vomit. The coach was accused of using excessive profanity.
Loh’s firing of Durkin followed criticism Tuesday and Wednesday of the board’s decision to retain the coach, and of Hogan, who appointed 13 of the 17 unpaid regents. The governor’s appointees included the board’s chairman, James T. Brady, who was the governor’s 2014 campaign chairman and headed his transition team when he took office.
Democratic gubernatorial challenger Ben Jealous has blamed Hogan for the board’s actions: “The buck stops with the governor.”
“It’s his board and his chair,” Jealous said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun. “A child has died because of a toxic football culture and the two men most responsible for that aren’t being held accountable. Every member of that board who voted to prioritize the coach over the school president should be asked to resign, starting with Mr. Brady.”
Hogan said Thursday morning that he doesn’t have the authority to fire Brady or anyone else on the board. Members serve set terms after he appoints them, and they are confirmed by the state Senate.
“They can’t be fired by the governor. Mr. Jealous doesn’t understand how state government works sometimes,” Hogan said. “This is a serious matter about the tragic death of a young man. We can’t be playing politics with it.”