The Maryland football team took the field Saturday afternoon under threatening skies, which seemed appropriate for a team and a fan base still waiting for something to chase away the dark cloud hanging over the university and its athletic department.
The long-awaited independent report on the football program’s allegedly “toxic” culture that was leaked to the media Thursday stopped short of using that term, but acknowledged serious dysfunction throughout the athletic department.
What the eight-person commission did not do was settle the question of who should be held responsible for that, perhaps reflecting the same variety of opinion on the subject displayed by fans who showed up to see the Terps defeat Illinois on Saturday at Maryland Stadium to keep their bowl hopes alive.
If there is unanimity among the fans on anything, it would appear to be the desire for the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents to do the rest of its due diligence and do it quickly. The program has been shrouded in uncertainty for five months since the tragic death of Jordan McNair from heatstroke and there are just a few weeks remaining in the football season.
“I think getting on with it would be nice,” said Wayne Wiley of Denton. “I feel like they’re handling it. They’re taking it seriously. At this point, there are changes that have to be made. I don’t see how they can go back to where they were.”
Much of the attention has been focused on the future of football coach DJ Durkin, who remains on administrative leave while interim coach Matt Canada runs the team. But the job security of both athletic director Damon Evans and university president Wallace Loh also remains in doubt.
“From what I’ve read, I think Loh has completely mishandled it,’’ said Durkin supporter Ralph Roberts of Urbana. “I think it would be a shame to get cut loose because somebody wrote an article on ESPN without any facts. That was a one-sided article from the very beginning.”
Still, the two investigations that were initiated by the university outlined serious problems with the way the training staff handled McNair’s care and with what the second report described as an overall lack of accountability throughout the athletic department.
Durkin’s future at Maryland probably depends on whether the Board of Regents expects the coach of its cornerstone college football program to be responsible for whatever happens on his watch or accepts his contention that he was not responsible for supervising former strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, whose alleged bullying of players was a major component of the ESPN expose.
Tim Brandt, the parent of a University of Maryland student, seemed surprised that Durkin would abdicate that responsibility.
“The bottom line is, as the head coach of a major college football program, you pretty much have your finger on everything that’s going on,’’ Brandt said. “You know what your coaches are up to, how they’re treating players and just what’s going on.
“When you’re sitting across from his parents, you’re telling them how you’re the head coach and you’re going to take care of this kid while recruiting him. For that alone, no matter how you claim you didn’t know what was going on and you didn’t have an idea that this treatment was taking place. I’ve got to say, just for that alone, I’m sorry DJ, you’ve gotta go, man.”
Some fans aren’t as interested in who stays or who goes as they are in how seriously the university takes its responsibility to protect the health and safety of its students going forward.
“I’m not an expert in the field,” said Mary Dell Jackson, another university parent, “but I do think that the university needs to do something and they’ve gone a little bit of the way by acknowledging that they need to have adequate medical care for all sports for all practices. That’s huge.”
Becky Berger of Annapolis agrees.
“I’m glad that they are taking this seriously so that things like this don’t happen in the future,’’ she said.
Perhaps all of the remaining personnel questions will be answered soon. Durkin, Evans and Loh all appeared before the regents Friday.
“Just with everything going on, I don’t see any way that Durkin can come back at this point, just with everything that’s happened,’’ said Steven Wiley of Denton, who attended the game with his father. “It’s going to be a mess if they try to bring him back, I think.”
If the main problem is inadequate supervision of football, it might be difficult to separate Durkin and Evans, who both were responsible for direct oversight of the program over the two years leading up to the McNair tragedy.
“The report came back that it wasn’t a toxic culture, but we do have problems,’’ Roberts said. “I agree with that and they should be fixed. I don’t know enough about Evans. It seems to be he was supposed to be in charge of the football program as assistant AD. If they let Durkin go, I don’t see how they can keep him.”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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