University of Maryland president Wallace D. Loh and athletic director Damon Evans said most of the right things when they faced the media Tuesday afternoon to announce several developments relating to the heatstroke death of football player Jordan McNair.
They described a meeting earlier in the day with McNair’s parents during which they apologized and took responsibility for the medical missteps that led to the tragedy and an allegedly flawed football culture. They also announced the formation of an independent panel to investigate the damning allegations about the program revealed first in reporting by ESPN on Saturday.
But one big question they did not answer was why Evans is not on administrative leave along with football coach DJ Durkin?
This tragedy happened on Evans’ watch, too, and when he walked to the podium and introduced himself as the “new” athletic director, he forgot to mention that he used to be the deputy athletic director under Kevin Anderson with oversight of the football program. He didn’t just walk in the door.
“I want to be clear that I have not witnessed any behavior as what was described in the media,” Evans said, “but it is essential that we fully review these allegations and that is why we’re conducting an independent third-party review led by national leaders.”
If Evans never witnessed anybody getting bullied or intimidated during a Maryland football practice, he doesn’t get out much. That kind of aggressive behavior by coaches and the strength and conditioning staff isn’t the exception in major college football. The reason Maryland finds itself scorched by this negative spotlight is because a young man is dead.
Otherwise, all we’d be talking about right now is the season opener against Texas and just about everybody else — major college programs all over the country — would be going about the business of toughening up their players by pushing them to the limits of their endurance. The way they do that isn’t pretty.
Maybe this will be a national wakeup call that spurs a real conversation about player safety and the hardcore mindset of too many college football coaches, but probably not. The University of Maryland will learn its lesson here and pay dearly for it in a variety of ways — all of which pale in significance to a loss of life.
So far, strength and conditioning coach Rick Court has parted ways with the university and it’s difficult to imagine Durkin returning from administrative leave. It’s hard to argue with either of those outcomes. But the most damning revelation Tuesday was that the university’s athletic training and medical staff misread McNair’s symptoms and failed to perform the most basic recommended actions to deal with a dangerous heatstroke incident.
Loh and Evans did the right thing by going to see McNair’s parents and admitting that the university accepts responsibility for an avoidable tragedy, even if it makes it more likely that Maryland’s taxpayers will soon be handing a huge settlement check to the McNair family. Loh also is correct to commission a credible panel of independent experts to examine the school’s football culture and determine exactly how and why it occurred.
“There were no words that I could say to Jordan’s parents that would be good enough,” Evans said. “I looked into the eyes of a grieving mother and father … nothing is good enough. We will honor Jordan’s life and we will ensure that a tragedy such as this never happens on this campus again by working every day to provide the safest environment for our student-athletes on and off the field.”
Evans and everyone connected to the Maryland football program now will have to look in the mirror and not just talk about taking accountability. That’s why Evans should be on administrative leave along with Durkin — it was on their watch — but somebody still has to stick around to clean up this mess.
“I believe I’m the one to lead us through this very difficult time,” Evans said.