So, that’s it?
The University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents has completed its study of the “dysfunctional” University of Maryland athletic department, and the only members of that department to face actual consequences were an out-of-control strength and conditioning coach and a former athletic director who was gone long before the tragic heatstroke death of Jordan McNair?
Head football coach DJ Durkin has been reinstated, so apparently the board took him at his word when he said he was not responsible for supervising strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, who he was responsible for hiring.
Athletic director Damon Evans gets a pass after overseeing football in his previous position as assistant athletic director in charge of — wait for it — football.
University president Wallace Loh confirmed that he is going to retire at the end of this school year, but he seemed to be moving in that direction already. In the meantime, he and Evans will be in charge of fixing what ails Maryland athletics.
In short, though there was a lot of talk about accountability, there wasn’t much about actually holding anyone accountable.
Well, the university and whoever actually pays the ridiculous salaries commanded by Division I college football coaches and ADs are going to save a lot of money not hiring a new Big Ten-quality coach and Maryland’s third athletic director in less than a year … and not having to pay off the old ones.
Board president James T. Brady denied Tuesday that financial considerations played any role in the decision to bring Durkin back from administrative leave, instead pointing out that Durkin did not get enough support and guidance from university officials after he accepted his first head coaching position.
That’s a head-scratcher, and one of many to come out of Brady’s public presentation of the findings of the eight-member commission charged with determining whether the football program suffered from a “toxic culture,” as described in a damning ESPN article published in August.
When Brady was asked who exactly could be held responsible for failing to teach the school’s multi-million-dollar head coach how to be a Big Ten head coach, he pointed to Evans, who has been put in charge of teaching himself and the rest of the dysfunctional athletic department how not to be dysfunctional anymore.
The board apparently was impressed with the way Durkin and Evans held themselves accountable for the shortcomings of the football program and the athletic department during appearances before the regents last week.
Trouble is, neither Durkin nor Evans displayed that accountability earlier in the process. Durkin told the commission that he was not responsible for supervising Court, whose abusive treatment of players was central to the ESPN expose. Evans took the podium at a news conference in August and introduced himself as the “new” athletic director, making it sound like he had just showed up to save the athletic department.
What seems to have happened is that Loh stood up for Evans and persuaded the regents to keep him in place and Durkin simply charmed them into overruling Loh’s desire to make his departure from the sideline permanent.
“We believe that Coach Durkin has been unfairly blamed for the dysfunctioning athletic department,’’ Brady said, “and while he shares some responsibility, it is not fair to place all of it at his feet. Coach Durkin was incredibly forthright with the Board of Regents during our meeting. … We believe he’s a good man and a good coach.”
Loh should get credit for stepping up in August and accepting “legal and moral” responsibility for the death of McNair, a public act of contrition that included the announcement of an earlier version of the independent commission, whose report was leaked to several media outlets last week.
After that August news conference, the regents assumed control of the inquiry and added five members to the commission, which made a series of recommendations that Brady said would be adopted. Most notably, the athletic department will be “closely scrutinized” for several years by an independent monitoring group to make sure it conforms to the values of the university.
“There will be no third chance for any of those involved to get this right,’’ Brady said.
That’s just fine, but it still doesn’t make a lot of sense to give the responsibility for fixing Maryland athletics to the people who are admittedly responsible for helping to put the university in this unflattering light.
Let’s be clear. Neither Durkin nor Evans was responsible for the tragic death of McNair, but the decision by the regents to take no immediate action against anyone currently associated with the football scandal remains difficult to comprehend.
Unless, of course, you follow the money.
This was a moment for the board to make a bold statement that would have reverberated throughout college athletics. Instead, the regents took the path of least painful resistance and fumbled away that opportunity.