COLLEGE PARK, Maryland — Less than an hour after they were informed that DJ Durkin had been fired as Maryland’s football coach, more than 100 Terrapins players spilled out of the team’s facility Wednesday evening and pondered their new reality. Some were stunned, and some had scoffed at Athletic Director Damon Evans when he delivered the news shortly after their practice, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation.
The future of Maryland football will remain in flux beyond this season, but the current team must find a way to navigate uncertainty with four games remaining on its schedule. The previous 48 hours had only heightened a sense of whiplash.
The chairman of the university board of regents resigned Thursday following furor over the decision to reinstate Durkin.
“In my estimation, my continued presence on the board will inhibit its ability to move Maryland’s higher education agenda forward,” board chairman James Brady said in a statement. “And I have no interest in serving as a distraction from that important work.”
The Terrapins’ locker room had been roiled when Durkin was stunningly reinstated by the university and returned to practice Tuesday after 80 days on administrative leave, only to watch three players walk out in protest.
At that day’s practice, two other players, one who has been described by teammates as pro-Durkin and another as anti-Durkin, engaged in a physical confrontation.
Conflicting accounts of the incident emerged Thursday. A person with knowledge of the situation said junior Matt Barber was assaulted by a teammate during Tuesday night’s practice, which Durkin attended. In a statement released Thursday on Twitter, junior punter Wade Lees acknowledged he was involved in an altercation with Barber, his backup.
Barber had been accused by some teammates of being a whistleblower who had interviewed with investigators probing the culture of the program, and he was allegedly confronted near the end of practice by Lees, who has publicly endorsed Durkin. Billy Murphy, an attorney for the McNair family, alleged in an interview with WUSA-TV on Wednesday night that Barber needed stitches and an MRI exam for a separated shoulder as a result of the altercation.
Barber did not practice with the team Wednesday or Thursday. It was not immediately clear whether Lees practiced.
Lees said Thursday in a statement posted on Twitter, “The altercation had nothing to do with Coach Durkin’s reinstatement.”
University police said an officer was on site at the time of the altercation and that there was video of the incident. An investigation is underway, according to a spokeswoman.
Evans released a statement saying: “This is an incredibly difficult time for our football student-athletes. However, we take any matters involving physical altercations extremely seriously. Our priority is to understand fully what transpired and we have referred this matter to the Office of Student Conduct to look into the detail.”
In the hours after Durkin was reinstated, some staffers wondered how they would be able to trust Durkin again and recruit players in the wake of Jordan McNair’s death and allegations of abuse within the program, let alone how they were going to be able to coach Saturday’s game against Michigan State.
So there was at least some sense of relief from players and coaches when the school reversed course and fired Durkin shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday. “It’s a blessing,” one assistant coach texted a person close to the program who was granted anonymity to freely discuss the situation. A number of players felt not only that the move had provided a degree of closure after watching their season become hijacked by controversy but also that justice had been served for McNair and his family.