Nearly five months will have passed since Jordan McNair died from heatstroke when an eight-person commission looking into the football culture under University of Maryland coach DJ Durkin briefs the Board of Regents on Friday.
The fate of Durkin, who has been on leave since August, hangs in the balance, and it remains unclear when the university will make a decision. The issue has become a source of frustration for many.
While McNair’s death looms large, those involved with Durkin and the football program have said they’re tired of waiting and are eager to get clarity on the situation. Several parents of Terps football players said they want a resolution.
“I think they need to give a resolution soon. I think it’s carried on too long for the good of not only of Jordan’s parents but for the boys on the team, for the coaches that are there,” said the parent of an upperclassman who requested to remain anonymous. “Everyone needs a closure on this, and sooner rather than later on DJ Durkin.”
The commission, which also looked into how the university and athletic director Damon Evans addressed the allegations about the football culture, will brief the University System of Maryland’s regents on its findings at a meeting Friday in Hagerstown. The board will discuss the findings in a closed session Tuesday and is expected to announced the results of the external investigation with one week.
Board of Regents chairman James T. Brady said in a statement Wednesday that the commission was “determined to get all the facts possible before acting.”
“While the final stage of that process begins on Oct. 19, members of the board will need appropriate time to study the findings, ask follow-up questions, come to conclusions, and consider any potential outcomes,” Brady said in the statement. “As public servants, we have an obligation to take the time necessary to get this right. Once the board has had the time it needs to review the findings, the information will be shared with people of Maryland in a fully transparent fashion.”
Considering that the Board of Regents has the power to fire university president Wallace Loh, and has no real jurisdiction over the futures of Evans and Durkin, it is unclear what move — if any — will come first.
In August, McNair’s father, Martin, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that Durkin should not be able to able to return to the sidelines. “He shouldn’t be able to work with anybody else’s kid,” he said. “Of course he should be fired.”
Lawyers for both the McNair family and Durkin declined to comment for this article. Out of respect for McNair’s parents, many of the parents of current Maryland football players declined to comment about their frustration with the pace of the investigation.
If there is one thing most parties agree on — even those on opposite sides when it comes to whether Durkin should be fired — it’s that the external review took way too long. The Terps already are six games into the season with a record of four wins and two losses.
“It's not fair to the players, it’s not fair to DJ, it’s not fair to the stakeholders,” said Harry Geller, an elected member of the Board of Trustees. “It’s not fair to anyone. Why is this taking this long? The poor kid collapsed in May.”
Lorenzo Harrison Jr., the father of Terps junior running back Lorenzo III (who is out for the season with a knee injury), called the commission’s investigation unfocused.
“If you don’t have a focused investigation, it leads to stuff like this," Harrison said. “In law enforcement, if you have an allegation, and then every week somebody brings an additional allegation, you have to organize it and streamline it into a focused investigation because if you don’t, you’re just running and chasing your tail over and over again. Any little thing essentially is thrown into the fire, and I think that’s hurting the program, the kids, the community, the coaches, everything.”
Maryland’s football program could take some time to recover, experts said.
Dan Beebe, a former commissioner with both the Ohio Valley Conference and Big 12 Conference who also served as an investigator for the NCAA, said schools with established football brands can survive or rebuild better over the long-term than those such as Maryland, which already are treading water.
“If you’re in a position of always fighting to become Michigan or Ohio State or whatever, then whatever unsettles you is going to make it that much harder than if you’re already there and you fall off a little bit,” said Beebe, who now runs the Dan Beebe Group, which he calls a human-relations risk-management consulting firm.
“That’s going to be the situation with any program if they have an academic problem, if they have a coaching misfire,” he said. “You might be able to get away with that for a few years at an Alabama and climb back up quickly rather than at a Vanderbilt.”
Beebe oversaw the NCAA investigation into the Terps men’s basketball program’s infractions under Bob Wade in the late 1980s. Wade, a legendary Dunbar coach, was hired a few months after Maryland superstar Len Bias died from a cocaine overdose in June 1986. Wade was fired three years later.
The combination of Bias’ death and the NCAA probation as a result of the infractions made it difficult for coach Gary Williams to rebuild the program. But he did, going to back-to-back Sweet 16s in his fifth and sixth seasons, and eventually to the Final Four in 2001 and 2002, winning the 2002 national championship.
In this case, Maryland football was 10-15 under Durkin, but made progress with two strong recruiting classes. Matt Canada, who was hired as Maryland’s offensive coordinator in January and took over as interim coach when Durkin was among four people put on administrative leave, said he doesn’t get too consumed with the time it has taken for the commission to investigate.
“Whatever anybody wants doesn’t matter,” Canada said. “We’re taking it day by day. We said that from the beginning. I think that was a good plan at the time. That’s what we’re doing. We’re pushing, we’re pushing, we’re pushing. I’ve continued to say how proud we are as a staff of our players for focusing on football, on each other, going through a grieving process. All those things are what really matter. That’s all we can do. … We’re just working.”
Asked if the football team seems to be handling the situation better than many expected, Canada said, “I’m certainly not an expert on the grieving process. I think everybody does it differently. I think our football players have worked very hard to manage all of this, manage the loss of a friend and a teammate, lean on each other, stick by each other, help each other through that. … That’s what we’re most proud of.”
The unidentified parent said the team, while continuing to honor McNair, is focused on the season.
“I think they are able to compartmentalize,” the parent said. “I think they’ve pushed it out of their minds to do what they have to do on the field — I know my son has. They are concentrating on the season. I can’t help but to think that somewhere in the back of their minds it’s there.”
As is the slow-moving investigation in the program’s culture and Durkin’s future with it.
“An independent investigation was needed to look at our football program and its culture after allegations were made earlier this year,” the Maryland athletic department said in a statement on the matter “We welcome the board’s leadership and seek a timely resolution to provide clarity for our student-athletes, knowing the commission must take the necessary time to conduct a thorough investigation.”
An earlier version of this article misidentified the type of injury suffered by Lorenzo Harrison III. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.