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Maryland paid $50K to consultant during search for new football coach

The University of Maryland had $50,000 worth of outside help in the search leading to the hiring of head football coach DJ Durkin, according to school documents obtained in a public records request.

The university paid a $50,000 consulting fee to Chuck Neinas, president of Colorado-based Neinas Sports Services, according to a December invoice he sent to the school. Durkin, the former Michigan defensive coordinator, was hired on Dec. 2.

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Neinas is a former acting commissioner of the Big 12 Conference who once negotiated television contracts for the now-defunct College Football Association.

For years, Neinas has been a football headhunter familiar with the national coaching landscape. He's worked with Florida, LSU, Oklahoma and Texas, among other schools, on football hires.

The records, obtained under a Public Information Act request, show Neinas worked with Virginia on its December hiring of Brigham Young's Bronco Mendenhall as football coach.

"Most athletic directors have a short list of individuals that they're interested in and then it frequently gets augmented from various sources," Neinas said Wednesday.

"My assignment is to confidentially contact people to find out if they have any interest at all," he said. "If there is interest I can serve as a conduit between the director and prospective candidate to provide information both ways."

The flat $50,000 fee charged by Neinas is less than many competitors assess in the consulting and search firm business. Some firms charge tens of thousands of dollars more to help identify top coach or athletic director candidates and gauge their interest. USA Today reported that Texas paid a search firm $266,990 during the process of hiring football coach Charlie Strong in 2014, and that Colorado State paid nearly $320,000 during its 2011 coaching search.

A second invoice bills Maryland for airfare — about $1,500 — for meetings in College Park on Nov. 2 and 3 and Dec. 1.

It was a critical football coach hire for Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson. His first hire, Randy Edsall, went 22-34 before being dismissed in October.

Durkin's hire was challenging because Maryland competes in the same Big Ten Conference division with big-name coaches such as Ohio State's Urban Meyer, Michigan's Jim Harbaugh and Penn State's James Franklin.

Durkin has served on staffs with Harbaugh and Meyer. He was named Rivals.com's Recruiter of the Year in 2012 while at Florida.

Sources familiar with Maryland's thinking said the school was looking for information to supplement its own research. They said the assistance supplied by Neinas provided "a bridge" between the time Edsall was fired — six games into the year — and the end of the season, when the hottest coaching commodities became available. The consultant's "leg work" helped the school move quickly when the year ended, the sources said.

"There was good interest in the position," said Neinas, who declined to identify other candidates or say whom he contacted about the job. Mike Locksley, then Maryland's interim head coach, and San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich were among the other candidates considered.

While many coaches could not be interviewed until the season was over, "you can sample interest," Neinas said. "That always happens."

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