Despite a team spokesman prefacing a regular Tuesday news conference by requesting that reporters stick to asking interim football coach Matt Canada strictly about football, Canada was peppered with questions about a news conference scheduled by the University System of Maryland Board of Regents later in the day in Baltimore.
In a press release earlier in the day, it was announced that Board of Regents chairman James Brady will discuss the findings of a commission hired by the university and later expanded by the regents that looked into allegations of a “toxic” culture surrounding the football team under third-year coach DJ Durkin. The commission was formed after the death of Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair of heatstroke.
It isn’t clear whether Brady will announce any personnel decisions regarding Durkin, university President Wallace D. Loh and athletic director Damon Evans. Chancellor Robert Caret was reportedly set to talk with the three separately on Monday, but a source said that the interview with Loh was canceled and the other two were called by Caret to explain the situation.
Three questions into the news conference Tuesday, Canada was asked if he expects Durkin, who has been on administrative leave since Aug. 11, to be reinstated and coaching the team on Saturday, when the Terps play Michigan State at Maryland Stadium.
“I’m focused on our football team right now,” said Canada, who was brought in by Durkin in January to be the team’s offensive coordinator.
The next question was about whether there might be concern about disruptions or the team being divided if Durkin returns.
“Right now we’re focused on practice, we had a great meeting this morning," Canada said. “Everybody was there, everybody was excited. We’re practicing outside today. It’s a nice day. It’s a great day to be outside. Everybody seems pretty excited to me.”
After a brief interlude talking about Rocky Lombardi, the freshman quarterback who led the Spartans to a win Saturday over Purdue in his first start, Canada was asked how he planned to manage the team given that the news conference in Baltimore will begin around the same time that the Terps are scheduled to start practice.
“That’s all we that we’ve done as a staff, we’ll have a 2:30 meeting like we always do every day and we’ll be on the field at 3:45 and we’re going to practice,” Canada said. “We’re going to do what we do. That’s all we can do. That’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to keep going.”
Then came a question about contingency plans depending on the outcome of the news conference in Baltimore.
“Not planning on it,” Canada said. “Obviously whatever I need to know, whatever we need to do, I'm sure will be relayed to me. Right now we’re excited about going to practice and we’re excited about playing a game.”
Even though the Maryland players have been dealing with the scrutiny, as well as the uncertainty surrounding Durkin, they’ve found a way to win five games and are on the brink of becoming bowl eligible, giving Canada confidence that they won't be distracted by whatever happens.
“I have great confidence, I think we’re focused on what we can focus on, they’re leaning on each other, excited about playing and I don’t think there’s anything else they’re worried about right now," he said. “They went to class yesterday, they had their academic meeting and they’re excited to practice today.”
The lack of fan support — including a season-low home crowd announced at 30,387 for last Saturday’s 63-33 win over Illinois — doesn’t appear to concern Canada.
“I think our players are focused on each other,” Canada said. “I’ve said that a lot, and I really mean that. We have really closed off our room and said it’s about us. That’s not being disrespectful. The fans that are there, we appreciate. The people who are supporting our players we appreciate. We’re not getting into that. We can’t control that.
“We can control how we respond, how our kids respond to each other and I think that’s something they’ve done a great job of. From all the way back to how we’ve mourned, to how we’ve dealt with adversity, how we’ve dealt with losing games. I think they’ve leaned on each other. I think they’re focused on each other. They’re excited that they played well Saturday and they want to play well again.”
NOTES: Canada said the team’s second-leading rusher, senior running back Ty Johnson, will be a “game-time decision" for Michigan State. Johnson sat out the second half against Illinois with a calf bruise, but Canada said Johnson told him Tuesday that he would be ready. Canada said the two players who missed last week’s game with injuries, junior running back Jake Funk and junior wide receiver DJ Turner, will be out again Saturday.