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Schmuck: Though the Jordan McNair tragedy will always be attached to him, D.J. Durkin deserves a second chance

Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin walks off after defeating Minnesota in an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in Minneapolis.
Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin walks off after defeating Minnesota in an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in Minneapolis.

There are always going to be those who feel that former Maryland football coach D.J. Durkin should never stand on another sideline or coach another group of college football players.

Nineteen-year-old Terps offensive lineman Jordan McNair died on his watch from exertional heat stroke, and the circumstances were so damning and avoidable that it would be easy to justify exiling Durkin to part-time work out of the public eye.

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It’s hard to forget the allegations that he and his coaching staff allowed a “toxic” culture to develop at Maryland while the struggling football program was desperately trying to rise to respectability in the demanding Big Ten Conference.

Still, it’s also important to remember that while Durkin was placed on leave, reinstated and ultimately dismissed during the firestorm of controversy and criticism that enveloped the university and reached all the way to the Board of Regents, university president Wallace Loh and athletic director Damon Evans somehow kept their jobs.

McNair died on their watch, too, but they were allowed to remain to help return some accountability to the program and restructure the sports medicine component that badly mishandled McNair’s collapse.

The case could be made — and was at the time — that all three of them should have been fired, but only Durkin, conditioning coach Rick Court, assistant athletic director Steve Nordwall and head trainer Wes Robinson were relieved of their duties.

Since Loh and Evans got a second chance, it seems only fair that Durkin be allowed to return to full-time coaching. Whether he’ll ever get another head coaching position might be another story, but he should not be denied a chance to rebuild his reputation.

Even McNair’s father seemed to concede that when he spoke briefly with Don Markus of The Sun on Thursday.

“I’ll keep my comments [private] beyond I wish Durkin well and I hope he learns from his experience at Maryland," Marty McNair said.

It would have been totally understandable if Jordan McNair’s parents had publicly blasted the University of Mississippi for hiring Durkin, but they didn’t.

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There was plenty of that on social media, where the hiring was met with a withering barrage of tweets calling out the school and head coach Lane Kiffin for giving Durkin that second chance.

They had to know that was coming, but Mississippi athletic director Keith Carter defended the decision, claiming that the university had done an extensive background check and consulted with a number of college football coaches and administrators who vouched for Durkin’s character.

Durkin had faced similar, though less amplified public reaction, when he was hired by the Atlanta Falcons as an analyst this past season. He also worked in that capacity at Alabama after the 2018 season.

This, however, is his first opportunity to return to a full-time coaching role, which has yet to be defined. Before being hired at Maryland, he had served as a linebackers coach for several college programs and was defensive coordinator and linebackers coach under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan.

If you accept the social media narrative, Durkin has returned too soon after the McNair tragedy, as if there is some appropriate and definable waiting period he should have to serve before being allowed to come back to coaching.

Don’t see the logic there. Durkin will have to carry the weight of what happened to Jordan McNair around with him wherever he goes. It will probably keep him from ever getting another head coaching job in a major program.

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He already has been punished more than anyone else who shared responsibility for overseeing Maryland football on the day McNair collapsed.

If you want some historical precedent, when Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer died of heatstroke during training camp in 2001, the head coach was Dennis Green and the offensive line coach was Mike Tice.

Neither coach was disciplined, though both were named as defendants in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the Vikings by Stringer’s family. Green coached the first 15 games of that season before being replaced by Tice, who coached the Vikings through the 2005 season.

Stringer’s death, however, led to greater awareness of the threat of heatstroke and league-wide modifications in the way teams supervise workouts to prevent players from getting overheated.

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