BALTIMORE — More than two months after being placed on administrative leave amid allegations of a “toxic” environment surrounding his football program, third-year Maryland coach DJ Durkin was recommended for reinstatement Tuesday and is expected to be back on the sideline Saturday when the team faces Michigan State.
According to sources, Durkin met with his staff and players before Tuesday’s practice, which was scheduled around the same time the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents held a news conference in Baltimore to announce its recommendation to reinstate the 40-year-old coach. It was later reported by a few news outlets that some players walked out of the meeting.
Maryland junior offensive lineman Ellis McKennie, a high school teammate of Jordan McNair, who suffered heatstroke during a May 29 practice and died two weeks later, tweeted after the news conference Tuesday that “a group of people do not have the courage to hold anyone accountable for (McNair’s) death.”
“Every Saturday my teammates and I have to kneel before the memorial of our fallen teammate,” McKennie wrote. “Yet a group of people do not have the courage to hold anyone accountable for his death. If only they could have the courage that Jordan had. It’s never the wrong time to do what’s right.”
Durkin was placed on administrative leave Aug. 14, one day after an ESPN article detailed charges of verbal and emotional abuse by Durkin and staff, particularly strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, who was placed on leave before accepting a settlement and resigning.
The regents will not move to take action on university president Wallace Loh, but the embattled president will retire at the end of the school year, he announced Tuesday. A source said this move was at the insistence of the board.
According to James Brady, the chairman of the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents, Durkin’s appearance before the regents Friday in Baltimore played a significant role in the third-year coach returning to the team.
“Our meeting with DJ Durkin was very instructive,” Brady said during Tuesday’s news conference in Baltimore. “His passion for the university, for the football team and for the players was absolutely impressive and very believable, and very consistent with what was mentioned in the commission report as well.”
The decision seemed to be against the wishes of Loh, who didn’t refer to Durkin by name during a news conference and directed a question about Durkin’s coaching Saturday to athletic director Damon Evans.
Brady referred to the 10 hours of testimony Durkin provided to the commission, in which, according to Brady, “his commitment to the players and to their success and their safety was absolutely genuine. And we had that same impression after we met with him.”
As for ambiguity regarding the responsibility Durkin had over Court, Brady said that much of it had to do with the overall instability in the athletic department during Durkin’s first two seasons, including athletic director Kevin Anderson, who hired Durkin, took a leave of absence last fall and resigned in April.
Anderson and Evans, who served as the senior staff liaison with the football program when Durkin was first hired and through much of the coach’s first two years before Evans was promoted to AD in June, were criticized in the report for a lack of oversight in guiding the first-time head coach.