Roman Braglio, who served as one of the Maryland football team’s captains during DJ Durkin’s first season in College Park, on Saturday came to the defense of his former coach and some support staff members who have come under fire in the wake of offensive lineman Jordan McNair’s death after a team workout.
McNair, 19, died June 13 from heatstroke, according to the website of a foundation his parents started in his honor, which he suffered during a May 29 offseason practice.
“It is a tragedy that it happened,” said Braglio, who played his last season with the Terps in 2016 and, like McNair, graduated from McDonogh. “Jordan went to my high school. That hit my high school. I care about the situation as much as anyone.”
Braglio said former teammates who were quoted in an explosive ESPN story Friday detailing incidents of verbal abuse by Durkin, as well as by strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, were using McNair’s death as an opportunity to get back at coaches who considered them not good enough to play for the Terps.
“After the transition from Coach [Randy] Edsall to Coach Durkin [in December 2015], there were kids on the team that didn’t want to play football. They didn’t want to be part of a winning team, is the best way I can put that,” Braglio said in a telephone interview. "There were some kids there that were along for the ride.
“They get the gear, they get to say they play for Maryland football, but they don’t really get to put on the pads or play in a game. They don’t want to go through the work.”
One player quoted in the ESPN story, former Dunbar standout Malik Jones, said Durkin pulled him into an office after the coach noticed the defensive lineman smiling during a team meeting and told Jones to leave Maryland. (Jones later transferred to Toledo.)
Braglio, also a former defensive lineman who called Jones “one of my good friends,” said Durkin’s actions were justified.
“They did have an altercation, but Malik was sitting in the meeting room. He was an older guy, and he’s sitting back there laughing. He was on his phone or on his iPad watching videos during a team meeting,” Braglio recalled. “It’s a huge slap in the face to the head coach. You have to keep the players in check.”
Braglio said Durkin was more than just a football coach.
“He’s your life coach. He’s teaching you how it’s going to be when you get into the real world,” said Braglio, who works in a family business. “This is so much deeper than football. These kids see it as, ‘This is the reason I didn’t make it [to the NFL]. This coach was mean to me, and he didn’t like me. That’s why he didn’t play me. It’s not because somebody was better than me or I was outperformed or I didn’t put in the effort off the field.’ ”
Braglio acknowledged that Court’s reputation — unnamed players accused him in the ESPN article of throwing weights in players’ direction, calling them obscenities and smacking a plate of food out of one team member’s hands — was somewhat justified, but said he was also misrepresented.
Court, one of Durkin’s first hires when he arrived at Maryland, is “crazy,” Braglio said. “Say we work out from 8 to 9 a.m. — that dude is off his rocker.” But, Braglio acknowledged, “other than that, you walk into his office, he’ll help you with anything. That dude will take the shirt off his back to help you.”
Braglio said he was also upset with the portrayal of head athletic trainer Wes Robinson, who previously worked under former coaches Edsall and Ralph Friedgen. According to multiple anonymous sources in the ESPN article, Robinson told McNair’s teammates to “drag his [butt] across the field” after his 10th and final 110-yard sprint at the offseason workout.
That Robinson was one of the few Edsall staff members whom Durkin retained left an impression on Terps players at the time, Braglio said.
“We were all surprised that he kept anyone, and one of the people he kept was Wes Robinson, because of the job he does and the passion that he has for the job,” Braglio said. “Anyone that respects Wes and gets to know Wes in or outside of the training room knows that he’s a good person and knows he cares enormously about the job.”
Members of Durkin’s support staff have been placed on paid administrative leave based on the initial findings of an external review examining the circumstances surrounding McNair’s death.
Braglio said the team culture in his four years playing for Edsall, including a redshirt year as a freshman, was “the exact same” as the culture under Durkin in 2016, his final season.
Braglio recalled one incident stemming from a court date he had after a campus bus hit his car. After telling Edsall a few weeks in advance that he would have to miss a practice, Braglio said the coach took him into his office following the skipped workout “and screamed at me like I was in kindergarten,” then punished him with four 6 a.m. workouts. Braglio said he got into a screaming match after Edsall threatened to bench him.
“It was the first time I ever yelled at a coach,” Braglio said.
Braglio said that in conversations with former high school teammates and opponents who went on to play at other Power 5 conference schools, including those in the Big Ten Conference, his experiences under Durkin and Court were no different than others’.
“It’s football,” Braglio said. “Football’s a man’s game. It’s not for the weakhearted.
“You get to the NFL, and it’s no different. That’s an actual job. That’s your boss yelling at you because you didn’t do the right stuff. If you don’t want to push yourself at that level, they’re just going to fire you. They get rid of you and they get the next guy who’s going to push literally to the limit.”