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Future of two University of Maryland athletic trainers remains uncertain after Durkin departure

It remains unclear whether two University of Maryland athletic trainers will follow football coach DJ Durkin out the door as part of the fallout from 19-year-old offensive lineman Jordan McNair’s death.

Football athletic trainer Wes Robinson and director of athletic training Steve Nordwall have been on administrative leave since August. An investigation into the day McNair suffered heatstroke revealed that athletics staff made a host of errors, including failing to immerse McNair in cold water, which experts say could’ve saved his life and is line with best practices.

Numerous high-level personnel decisions have been announced this week, stemming from recommendations by the University System of Maryland’s governing board. Durkin, who has been on administrative leave since August, was reinstated for one day, before university president Wallace Loh defied the Board of Regents and moved to fire him Wednesday night.

Loh announced plans on Tuesday to retire at the end of the year. Athletic director Damon Evans is, at this point, expected to remain in his position, as recommended by the regents.

A university spokeswoman said she can not comment on personnel decisions.

“The trainers put on administrative leave continue to be on administrative leave,” said spokeswoman Katie Lawson.

The Board of Regents recommended that the university retain both Nordwall and Robinson, a source told The Baltimore Sun.

A source familiar with the situation told The Baltimore Sun that they could not confirm whether the university would follow that recommendation.

Loh was asked about the status of the trainers during Tuesday’s news conference. He said personnel decisions within the athletic department are made by its director.

After McNair’s death, an investigation was commissioned to look into the athletic department’s procedures and protocols on May 29 — the day the teenager suffered heatstroke during an outdoor practice in College Park.

That report, led by sports medicine consultant Dr. Rod Walters, determined that more than an hour passed between the time McNair started displaying initial heatstroke symptoms and when university officials called 911. It also found that while cold-water immersion tanks are generally part of the field setup at Maryland, they were not there on May 29 because the football practice switched locations at the last minute.

The Walters’ report also included interviews with anonymous players who described McNair’s final practice. One player said Robinson yelled across the field to “get him the [expletive] up.” Another student said McNair could barely stand but was “walked” back to the drills, a reflection of the coaches’ “no-quit mentality.” A third player echoed that Robinson had shouted for McNair to “drag his ass across the field.”

A second investigation was later commissioned to review the football team’s culture in the wake of media reports that described a “toxic” atmosphere within the program. Its eventual report, assembled by an independent eight-person commission, includes interviews with several players and parents who expressed frustration with the way injuries were handled by trainers. One player anonymously said “under Durkin, you weren’t allowed to be injured. ... You weren’t injured unless you couldn’t walk.”

Other anonymous athletes said Robinson encouraged them to play despite their injuries, or downplayed their pain. In an interview with the commission members, Robinson disputed the players’ versions of events or said he could not recall them.

One staff member noted that some players who have been on the team for years believe Robinson changed his style “to match the intense styles of Mr. Durkin and Mr. Court when they arrived.”

“That sentiment was echoed by some of the players, parents, and coaches,” the report states.

The report also included that many players approved of the handling and treatment of athlete injuries.

“We received numerous comments from players and staff opining that Mr. Robinson was being unfairly scapegoated,” the report reads, and is “dedicated to the player’s health.”

The reports states that Robinson worked to establish an injury database so the department could analyze trends and identify strategies to decrease injuries.

An assistant coach also told the commission — “with strong conviction” — that he never witnessed Robinson taking actions that “gave him any concern when it came to taking care of the players.”

The report also found there was “discord” between Nordwall and the people he supervised, along with tensions with Nordwall’s own supervisor. He ended up “effectively unsupervised for an extended duration,” the report found.

Reached by phone, Nordwall hung up when he learned it was a reporter on the line.

trichman@baltsun.com

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