The University of Maryland will hire a new head team physician to work with its student-athletes through the school’s heath center and outside the athletic department, athletic director Damon Evans announced Thursday. That physician will oversee all of the school’s sports teams.
The university will conduct a national search that could take up to “several months,” according to Evans.
The hiring of a head team physician who will answer to the university’s vice president for student affairs and ultimately to the university’s president was the last of the 20 recommendations made by Rod Walters, a former college athletic trainer who conducted an independent review of medical protocol involving athletes after the death of football player Jordan McNair last June.
The school also officially announced it will transition to a model where its athletic medical staff, including the the new head team physician, athletic trainers, nutritionists and mental health practitioners, will be employed outside the athletic department, as part of the Division of Student Affairs in the University Health Center.
Evans has also hired two more athletic trainers — including Brian Simerville as head football trainer — as well as a mental-health professional to work with student-athletes. Simerville enters his second stint at Maryland after spending the past year as Appalachian State’s head football trainer. He previously spent four years at Maryland after working at Navy as assistant trainer for the football team and head trainer for hockey.
The announcement came exactly three weeks before the one-year anniversary of McNair’s death.
McNair, a former standout offensive lineman at McDonogh School who was entering his redshirt freshman season with the Terps, suffered heatstroke during a team conditioning test May 29 and died June 13.
“Obviously as all of you know, this has been a year of reflection for our department as we remember Jordan McNair,” Evans said in his opening remarks during a teleconference with reporters.
The 19-year-old McNair struggled to finish a conditioning test of 10, 110-yard sprints. Athletic trainers failed to provide McNair with cold-water-immersion therapy — typically large tubs filled with ice water — that is used to help bring the body temperature down of apparent heatstroke victims. Experts said that could have saved his life.
Evans, who was promoted from interim athletic director to a permanent position soon after McNair’s death, said in March that the university had implemented all but two of the 20 recommendations made by Walters.
After the formation of and consultation with an independent medical review board — the next-to-last of the recommendations by Walters that was implemented — Maryland focused on the type of medical model it was going to adopt.
“We have devoted considerable time to this effort, and getting to the right recommendation for the health, safety and well-being for our student-athletes,” Evans said. “Our driving force or factor behind this is simply to enhance the autonomy of our patient health care services for our student-athletes.”
Said Walters, who also served on the medical review board: “The sports health program, we want to make sure it makes physical health, safety and mental well-being of the student-athletes its top priority. … We felt that student-athlete health care should live outside athletics.”
The conclusion was similar to one former athletic director Kevin Anderson recommended two years ago that was rejected by university president Wallace D. Loh — that team doctors and trainers should be supervised outside the athletic department. Under Anderson’s proposal, trainers and doctors would’ve been accountable to the Maryland School of Medicine, not to the University of Maryland College Park.
“We didn’t feel like from what Dr. Loh informed us that there was enough information to make that move at that time,” Walters said. “Obviously geography was a concern. Our recommendation was to make this a College Park-based program. Consultants are one thing, but day-to-day care, we wanted to make sure there was some locality with that and proximity to the campus.”
Dr. Matt Leiszler, the head team physician for Notre Dame football who was a part of the independent medical review board, said on the teleconference Thursday that Maryland’s decision to use its campus heath center is “unique,” and he applauded the move.
“Nationally I would say this is somewhat of a trend for athletic departments moving forward,” Leiszler said. “I'm really pleased that the University of Maryland is leading this trend within college athletics. It is a little unique at this point. I think it’s going to serve the University of Maryland really well. I think it’s going to improve the excellent care for the student-athletes, which is the priority.”
Among the other recommendations already in place was making sure ice-water tubs or other cold-water-immersion devices were available at all practices, that temperature readings were done at each practice location, that emergency plans were updated and posted at all practice and team activity sites, and that staff members were educated on those emergency procedures.