DJ Durkin reinstated as Maryland football coach, will reportedly resume duties this week

Maryland football coach DJ Durkin and athletic director Damon Evans will resume their duties after president Wallace Loh accepted a recommendation from the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents that both men be retained to their current positions.

During a press conference on Tuesday discussing the results of the independent investigation into the culture of the football program, regents chair Jim Brady said that “the board accepts that during football coach DJ Durkin’s tenure, the athletic department lacked a culture of accountability, did not provide adequate oversight of the football program and did not provide Mr. Durkin with the tools, resource and guidance necessary to support and educate a first-time head coach in a major conference.”

He continued: “We believe Mr. Durkin failed to adequately supervise strength and conditioning coach Rick Court but that this failure is shared by the university’s athletic department. We believe that Coach Durkin has been unfairly blamed for the dysfunction in the athletic department, and while he shares some responsibility, it is not fair to put all of it at his feet. He has acknowledged his role in the athletic department’s shortcomings as he served as head coach, and he has committed to reforms.”

Despite the announcement of the recommendations, a final decision on Durkin and Evans was Loh. Though Loh did not have to follow the wishes of the board, he chose to endorse Evans.

“I am pleased that the board has confidence in athletic director Damon Evans, in his leadership, because he, since he became appointed athletic director in early July of 2018, he has put that department on the path towards becoming more united, more cohesive and more thriving,” Loh said. “He is, in my judgment, one of the finest athletic directors in this country, and I’m proud to call him my colleague.” 

Curiously, Loh did not mention Durkin by name during his remarks. According to the Washington Post, Loh, who announced he retiring next June, was not in favor of bringing Durkin back but felt as if he had no option. Loh later confirmed Durkin has been reinstated. Evans will decide whether Durkin will coach the Terrapins’ next game against Michigan State on Saturday.

According to ESPN and The Athletic, multiple players walked out of Durkin’s first team meeting back on the job.  

Durkin had been on administrative leave since Aug. 11. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada has been serving as the interim coach during the first two months of the regular season, leading the Terps to a 5-3 record.

Durkin, who is 10-15 in two full seasons at Maryland and 5-13 in Big Ten play, was placed on leave following a damning ESPN report detailing a “toxic” culture within the Terrapins’ program in light of the offseason death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair. The report used interviews with both current and former players, as well as former football staffers and people close to the program. It took particular aim at Durkin and former Maryland strength coach Rick Court. 

In response, Maryland issued two reports: one detailing the transgressions involved in McNair’s death and the other about the culture of the program. 

According to the latter report, which can be read in its entirety here, a culture of fear was prevalent under Durkin. The probe featured interviews with former players, the parents of current players, current and athletic department staff members. However, the investigation stopped short of using the word “toxic,” which was the key adjective used by ESPN’s deep investigative reporting back in August. 

“The commission found that the Maryland football team did not have a ‘toxic culture,’ but it did have a culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out,” the report states. A conclusion was that while Durkin had an “open-door policy” for his players, it only applied to those whose views aligned with his. 

The report also reflected a large grey area in describing Durkin as a coach who cared about his players’ well-being but who also failed to properly oversee and manage his strength and conditioning coach, Rick Court, who parted ways with the program on Aug. 14. The report states that Court was “effectively accountable to no one” and that Durkin “claims it was not his responsibility to supervise” Court. 

Like Durkin, the investigation paints a mixed picture of Court that features good and poor reviews. However, among the more disturbing details in the report include instances in which Court would attempt to humiliate players through verbal abuse and by throwing items at them, including a trash can with vomit in it. Court denied this specific incident. 

“This included … behavior unacceptable by any reasonable standard,” the report says. “These actions failed the student-athletes he claimed to serve.”

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