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Former Maryland coach DJ Durkin, who was fired after death of Jordan McNair, is hired as Mississippi assistant

Maryland coach DJ Durkin looks on from the sideline during the Terps' first home game of the season in 2017.
Maryland coach DJ Durkin looks on from the sideline during the Terps' first home game of the season in 2017. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

DJ Durkin’s long wait to return to full-time coaching is over.

The former Maryland coach, who was fired in the aftermath of offensive lineman Jordan’s McNair’s death in the summer of 2018, has been hired as an assistant at Mississippi, the school announced Thursday.

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The job Durkin was hired for by new Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin is unspecified. Durkin coached linebackers, the position he played at Bowling Green, at several schools as well as serving as a defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Michigan before coming to College Park.

Durkin, who will turn 42 on Jan. 15, had served in an analyst role with the Atlanta Falcons for part of the 2019 season and had also spent time in a unpaid consultant at Alabama after the 2018 season as the Crimson Tide prepared for the College Football Playoff.

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In both instances, there was objection in the local community and among the fan base to Durkin’s hiring. Alabama coach Nick Saban’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, also represents Durkin and Kiffin.

In a statement released by the school, Mississippi athletic director Keith Carter said that the university did a “thorough background check" in vetting Durkin.

“We connected with several highly respected college football coaches, administrators and school officials about their experiences working with him," Carter said. "We received consistently strong feedback about Coach Durkin’s strong character and work ethic and his positive impact on the communities and institutions where he was previously employed. Once we had the chance to spend time with Coach Durkin, we were even more convinced that he is exactly the type of accomplished coach with strong football credentials who is also a proud and committed family man that will make him a great addition to our new staff.”

Jordan McNair’s father, Martin McNair, said in a brief telephone interview, “I’ll keep my comments [private] beyond I wish Durkin well and I hope he learns from the experience at Maryland.”

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The hiring of Durkin appears to be tied to Kiffin’s hiring of former Michigan safeties and specials teams coach Chris Partridge, who is reported to become the team’s new defensive coordinator. Partridge was part of Jim Harbaugh’s original staff in Ann Arbor, as was Durkin. Partridge was promoted from director of player personnel to linebackers coach after Durkin left for Maryland following the 2015 season.

Durkin could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Durkin was fired by Maryland on Oct. 31, 2018, after briefly being reinstated following more than two months on administrative leave after McNair’s death from heatstroke in June.

More than an hour passed between the time McNair started displaying initial heatstroke symptoms and when university officials called 911, sports medicine consultant Dr. Rod Walters said he presented the findings of his 74-page report in September 2018. The University System of Maryland’s governing body reviewed the findings from an external investigation into McNair’s death. University leaders said that the care they provided McNair, a former McDonogh School standout, was not consistent with best practices.

In the aftermath of McNair’s death following a team conditioning test in late May, ESPN reported that Durkin had created a “toxic culture,” citing unnamed sources.

Rick Court, the team’s director of football performance, was also placed on administrative leave and accepted a buyout. Assistant athletic director Steve Nordwall, who oversaw the training staff, was fired along with head trainer Wes Robinson.

In October 2018, an extensive independent review of Maryland’s football program determined it “fostered a culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out” — but stopped short of calling the program “toxic.” The eight-person commission tasked with examining the football team culture — which included former Gov. Robert Ehrlich, retired U.S. District Court judges Ben Legg and Alex Williams, and former prosecutor Charlie Scheeler — interviewed more than 150 people, including 55 student-athletes who played football under Durkin.

In August 2019, the university announced the hiring of a leader for its new sports medicine department, operating outside its athletic department. With the move, the university said it fulfilled the final recommendation from a panel of medical experts looking to improve the care of the school’s athletes after McNair’s death.

A Maryland athletic department spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.

Since Durkin was fired “without cause” by university president Wallace D. Loh, Maryland owed him a reported $5.6 million of the five-year contract he signed after being hired following the 2015 season.

In two seasons as Maryland’s coach, Durkin compiled a 10-15 record.

After winning their first four games under Durkin, the Terps went 6-7 in 2016, losing to Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl.

After beating then-No. 23 Texas in Austin to open to 2017 season, Maryland lost its two top quarterbacks, Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill, and went on to finish 4-8, losing seven seven of its last eight games.

The hiring of Durkin was first reported by Yahoo! Sports.

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