In a statement to the commission looking into allegations of a “toxic” culture surrounding the Maryland football team under coach DJ Durkin, former athletic director Kevin Anderson said the turmoil within his department after he went on sabbatical led to the death of football player Jordan McNair.
The report was released while Chancellor Robert Caret and regents were scrambling to decide the fates of Durkin, university President Wallace Loh and athletic director Damon Evans.
While much of the statement spoke about how unfairly Anderson felt he had been treated in the manner he left Maryland — he went on a six-month sabbatical last October and resigned in April — Anderson concluded by saying dysfunction within the athletic department had an impact on the death of McNair, who suffered heatstroke during a team conditioning exercise.
“I would be remiss if I did not share with you the extreme disappointment in the manner in which the University’s leadership horribly mishandled my departure,” Anderson said. “The way I was treated was undeserved, the process was a disgrace, my reputation has been permanently damaged and my family has suffered terribly. I believe there was and continues to be a calculated and orchestrated effort to damage my character and marginalize my leadership.
“It is also abundantly clear that the instability and void in leadership that was created by my abrupt departure led to a serious lack of institutional control,” Anderson said. “It is my sincere belief that the instability within the athletic department that began in September 2017 led to the devastating tragedy in May 2018. How the University leadership has handled the events of this past year will have a lasting effect on this University for years to come.”
A university spokeswoman wrote in an email late Monday: “We know now that the emergency response plan was not appropriately followed that day, the care provided was not consistent with best practices, and heat illness was not promptly identified or treated. The University of Maryland apologized to Jordan’s parents for the mistakes made by some of our athletic training staff.
“In addition, the Commission report confirms that culture did not contribute to Jordan’s tragic passing.”
Anderson was hired by the university shortly after Loh arrived at Maryland in the spring of 2010. Two months after Anderson resigned, Evans was promoted to athletic director after serving in an acting role since shortly after Anderson went on sabbatical.
During Anderson’s tenure, the athletic department was forced to drop seven sports because of budget cuts and the university left the Atlantic Coast Conference after 61 years to join the Big Ten. In addition to hiring men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon, Anderson hired and fired Randy Edsall as football coach before hiring Durkin.
“My 7 years at the University of Maryland were challenging, but successful,” Anderson said in the statement. “I inherited, and we were able to manage through the discovery of, severe budget deficits, potential NCAA violations and academic challenges in Football and Men’s Basketball. We had many coaching searches, most if not all had degrees of success.”
Anderson added that the move to the Big Ten “strengthened the University’s academic profile, benefited staff and faculty and energized the athletic department.”
Anderson said that when he left Maryland, teams had combined to win 25 Big Ten Conference championships, more than any other school in a similar span, as well as seven national championships.
Anderson’s critics told the commission that he was often distant with his staff members. One coach accused Anderson of “freezing out” those in the department who disagreed with him.
Anderson’s sabbatical began shortly after he hired an outside attorney to represent two football players and initially indicated that the lawyer’s fees were for a speaking engagement. Loh called it the “last straw” before he sent Anderson on the sabbatical from which he didn’t return.
There was also criticism for Anderson not establishing clear reporting lines in regard to strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, who, like Durkin and two others, was placed on administrative leave. Court eventually settled with the university and resigned.
Anderson said he made note in the performance review of then-executive athletic director Evans — who eventually took over as acting athletic director before being promoted to a permanent job in late June — that Evans was negligent in his overseeing the football program. The commission reported that it did not see Anderson’s comments in Evans’ final review for either 2016 or 2017.
Describing a managerial style that was criticized by the commission, Anderson said in the statement: “I believe I am demanding, but I also believe I am fair. I hold people accountable. I was leading and managing a multimillion-dollar business that provides the opportunity for student athletes to pursue their dreams and aspirations both academically and athletically.
“I am most proud that we developed outstanding young people and gave them the support and opportunity to be great global citizens. I left the University of Maryland with my head held high knowing that I abided by the rules and regulations of the University and the NCAA at all times. I also know that I left the athletic department and institution in a far better overall position than I found it.”