On Thursday night, over five months since University of Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair was hospitalized and later died after a preseason football workout in College Park, the chair of the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents became the latest leader to step down amid swirling controversy surrounding McNair’s death.
Chairman James Brady’s resignation came during a tumultuous week for the university and followed severe backlash over the board of regents’ decision to retain Maryland’s football coach. On Wednesday, Terps coach DJ Durkin was fired a day after the regents reinstated him as coach.
Here’s how we got here.
» Who was Jordan McNair?
McNair, 19, was set to be a redshirt freshman on Maryland’s football team this fall. The former McDonogh School standout was known for his infectious smile, easygoing personality, and work ethic on and off the field.
» How did he die?
McNair collapsed May 29 after a conditioning test that consisted of 10 110-yard sprints during an offseason workout at Maryland.
He was hospitalized and died two weeks later from exertional heatstroke at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
McNair was showing signs of heatstroke before he completed the 110-yard sprints.
Heatstroke complications can occur when the body overheats. McNair appeared to have suffered a seizure and struggled to breathe before he was hospitalized, according to 911 tapes obtained by The Baltimore Sun.
Medical experts have said McNair’s health could have hinged on Maryland’s adherence to medical guidelines for treating heatstroke, including cold-water immersion. Athletic director Damon Evans said at a news conference Aug. 14 that McNair’s treatment did not include cold-water immersion.
The judgment and organization of the university’s athletic training staff have been called into question. A memo obtained by The Sun showed that a proposal to place the athletic trainers under the supervision of the university’s medical school in Baltimore was never implemented.
» How has the university responded?
On Wednesday evening, Maryland parted ways with Durkin. Because he was not fired for cause, he is believed to be owed approximately $5.4 million of the remaining $8.4 million on his contract.
The dismissal came a day after Durkin was reinstated as coach, a decision that led to calls for protests by Maryland students and sparked outrage from state lawmakers. In a letter released Wednesday night, University of Maryland President Wallace Loh, who announced Tuesday that he would retire in June, wrote that the “overwhelming majority of stakeholders” on the school’s campus “expressed serious concerns about Coach DJ Durkin returning to the campus.”
Loh added that the decision to part ways with Durkin, who had been on administrative leave since Aug. 11 after media reports that outlined a culture of abuse, fear and intimidation that allegedly took place under his watch, “is in the best interest of the University.”
On Tuesday, the Board of Regents did not recommend that Durkin and Evans be fired, though the board said that they shared responsibility along with Loh for the dysfunction at the athletic department. But, former regents chairman Brady pointed out, the commission did not find a direct link between the department’s culture and McNair’s death.
On Aug. 11, Durkin and three members of his staff were placed on administrative leave by Evans amid allegations of a “toxic culture” within the football program. The school announced three days later that it had “parted ways” with strength and conditioning coach Rick Court.
Loh and Evans met with McNair’s family Aug. 14 in Baltimore to apologize and announced at a news conference in College Park later that day that the university would take legal and moral responsibility for the circumstances leading to the football player’s death.
“Care we provided was not consistent with best practices,” Evans said.
» Who reviewed the case?
In June, the university hired sports medicine consulting firm Walters Inc. to investigate the football team’s protocols.
Dr. Rod Walters, a former college athletic trainer, presented his findings in a 74-page report to a closed meeting of the Board of Regents at Towson University in September.
Included in the details made public after the session, Walters concluded the team’s athletic trainers did not follow an emergency action plan already in effect, including not bringing tubs for cold-water immersion to the practice fields after the conditioning test had been moved from Maryland Stadium. The athletic training staff also did not take McNair’s temperature, which is also recommended by the NCAA’s best practices for athletes suspected of suffering heatstroke. According to the timeline presented by Walters, more than an hour passed between the time McNair first started exhibiting signs of heatstroke and when university officials called 911.
In addition, the school launched an external investigation into the football program’s coaching practices. The commission comprised retired federal judge Ben Legg; former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Alex Williams; Charlie Scheeler, a former Maryland prosecutor who led the investigation of MLB steroid use and served as monitor of Penn State’s Athletics Integrity Agreement; and lso former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich, former Maryland basketball star and U.S. Congressman Tom McMillen and former Washington Redskins star and current executive Doug Williams.
» What did the commission find?
The commission interviewed more than 150 people, including 55 student-athletes who played football under Durkin, as part of its review. In a 192-page report, the group found the football program “fostered a culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out.” It detailed athletics department mismanagement, as well as Court’s physical and mental abuse of players, but stopped short of calling the program “toxic.”
The report did not make personnel recommendations, but divided blame among school officials. Loh, Evans and Durkin spoke at a closed meeting of the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents on Friday about McNair’s death.
» Who are the regents?
Most of Maryland's Board of Regents was appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan. Brady, who resigned Thursday, is Hogan's former campaign chair. A source told The Sun that the board pressed to retain retaining Durkin after McNair's death and, when Loh objected, pushed him to retire.
Brady’s resignation took effect immediately Thursday.
“In recent days, I have become the public face of both the board and its decisions,” Brady said in a statement. “In my estimation, my continued presence on the board will inhibit its ability to move Maryland’s higher education agenda forward. And I have no interest in serving as a distraction from that important work.”
Vice chairman Barry Gossett Jr. will assume Brady’s duties, according to two sources.
Some regents have strong ties to College Park and the Terps football program. Gossett, along with his late wife, Mary, gave $10 million in 2007 to build the football team house that now bears their name. Also on the board are Maryland Agriculture Secretary Joseph Bartenfelder and Robert Neall, Maryland health department secretary and a senior adviser to Hogan.
» How has McNair’s family responded?
McNair’s parents, Tonya Wilson and Martin McNair, hired Murphy, whose prominent firm also represented Freddie Gray’s family.
In an interview with “Good Morning America,” Martin McNair said he thought Durkin should be fired. “He shouldn’t be able to work with anybody else’s kid,” McNair said. “Of course he should be fired.”
They also started the Jordan McNair Foundation, which aims to reduce heat-related deaths among student athletes.
» How common are heatstroke deaths in football?
There were 145 cases of heatstroke-related deaths in football players at all levels from 1960 to 2017, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research. Of those deaths, 90 percent occurred during practices.
Among football players at Maryland colleges, there have been three serious heatstroke incidents in the past five years. Since 2013, Towson University and Morgan State University have also witnessed tragedies — or near-tragedies — stemming from football players’ heat illnesses.
» What’s next for Maryland football?
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada, 46, took over as interim coach. Canada, who had never served as a head coach, was in his first year at Maryland after he was fired following a one-season stint as LSU’s offensive coordinator.
The team began practicing Aug. 3, and Maryland’s first regular-season game was an emotional 34-29 win over then-No. 23 Texas at FedEx Field.
The Terps are 5-3 going into Saturday’s home game against Michigan State. For a day, Durkin was scheduled to return to the sideline. Now, Canada will return to his role as interim coach.
» How will the University of Maryland honor McNair?
On Aug. 20, Maryland football players announced their plans to honor their fallen teammate. Players are wearing a sticker with McNair’s No. 79 on their helmets throughout the season, and held a moment of silence at the Sept. 1 season opener against Texas and before the home opener against Temple.
No Maryland player will wear McNair’s jersey number for the next three seasons, and he will be honored on what would have been his Senior Day in 2020.
McNair’s locker at the Gossett Team House will be encased in glass and moved when the team moves to Cole Field House.
The offensive line meeting room will be named in McNair’s honor and a scholarship will be given in his name.
» What’s the upshot?
An independent monitoring group will be established for the athletic department and report to the Board of Regents, former regents chairman Brady said.
The University of Maryland College Park Foundation Board of Trustees worries the handling of McNair’s death could have dealt a fatal blow to the university’s $1.5 billion fundraising campaign. A major donor already halted her funding to the university.
The Middle States Commission on Higher Education is also reviewing the university’s accreditation.
Baltimore Sun reporters Jonas Shaffer, Don Markus, Catherine Rentz and Talia Richman contributed to this article.