The University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents might have another talking point in Thursday’s scheduled closed door meeting to discuss two ongoing investigations of the school’s football team after the June death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair and allegations by ESPN of a “toxic culture” under third-year coach DJ Durkin.
In a letter hand delivered to every board member, as well as Gov. Larry Hogan, 13 members of The Champions Club, a group of high-level donors to the university and its athletic program, as well as eight current and former presidents of the Terrapin Club, expressed their support for Durkin.
Durkin was placed on administrative leave Aug. 11 by athletic director Damon Evans, a day after the ESPN story was published.
Rick Jaklitsch, a member of the Champions Club, made a copy of the letter available to The Baltimore Sun.
“We take great issue with the Maryland football program under Coach Durkin being labeled as any type of ‘toxic environment’,” the letter read in part. “Many of us have had the opportunity to regularly attend numerous football practices, team workouts, team dinners and team events, to travel with the team for away football games and be on the sideline for home football games.
"Others have sponsored and interacted repeatedly with football players that greatly respect DJ Durkin. We have all been witnesses to the exact opposite of a toxic environment. What we have witnessed is the exact opposite of any toxic environment. What we have witnessed is a coach and coaching staff deeply committed to obtaining excellence from every player on the field, in the classroom and in life.”
In asubsequent interview, Jaklitsch said that the description of Durkin’s behavior being abusive toward his players was not what he has witnessed or heard from his players.
“We want the Board to know what a gem they have in DJ Durkin,” Jaklitsch said Wednesday night. “They can learn from people intimately involved with the football program that would never tolerate a toxic atmosphere and can absolutely vouch to the Board of Regents that this man cares about his players as much as he cares about his own kids. The goal of the Champions Club is to get DJ Durkin back as the Maryland football coach because of his character, because of his morals, because of everything he stands for is a positive to get the best out of these kids.”
Jaklitsch said that two longtime members of the Champions Club, made up of about 15 to 17 individuals, Barry Gossett and Don Scheeler, couldn’t put their name on the letter because of a conflict of interest. Gossett is a member of the Board of Regents and Scheeler’s brother, Charles Scheeler, is serving on the eight-person commission looking into allegations of a “toxic culture.”