Durkin return draws ire of students, politicians and players

The reinstatement of DJ Durkin as Maryland’s coach has drawn the ire of players, students and politicians.

Instead of resolving the issues facing the flawed program, the decision by the University System of Maryland board of regents on Tuesday to retain Durkin, athletic director Damon Evans and President Wallace Loh created a different set of problems in the wake of a player’s death and discontent engulfing the team.

Some state officials say Durkin should have been fired, and one called the decision an “embarrassment.” Students are outraged by his return and planning a rally to express their displeasure.

Now Gov. Larry Hogan has demanded the board and Loh participate in a public meeting to explain how they arrived at this conclusion.

“I am deeply troubled by the lack of transparency from the Board of Regents, and deeply concerned about how they could have possibly arrived at the decisions announced” Tuesday, Hogan said in a statement. “I share the concerns of many Marylanders and believe very strongly that more must be done to restore the public trust. I am calling on both the University System of Maryland Board of Regents and President Wallace Loh to reconsider their decisions and to schedule a public hearing to address these issues in an open and transparent manner.

“…The University System of Maryland has let down the University of Maryland community and the citizens of Maryland, and now is the time to fix it.”

Hogan is not the only politician looking for answers.

Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said the group will have a hearing on Nov. 15 in Annapolis to “shine more light” on the decision-making process that led to the retirement of Loh, while the coach and other athletic staff remained.

“Obviously the regents had their press conference, and it actually has raised a lot more questions and is getting quite a strong reaction from policy makers, legislators and frankly, even the public,” she said. “I’ve heard words like ‘perplexing,’ ‘shocking,’ and so I do think we need to bring kind of the decision-making process, shine more light on it, and see what happens.”

The decision also is not sitting well with students.

On Thursday, the Executive Board of the Maryland Student Government Association will hold an on-campus rally after saying it was “outraged with the decisions made by the board of regents.”

Durkin and Evans were on the job when offensive lineman Jordan McNair collapsed on the practice field on May 29 and died of heatstroke on June 13. The attorney for the family has said Durkin should have been fired and is reviewing legal options.

Maryland Congressman Anthony G. Brown was furious over the board’s decision.

“Coach Durkin should be fired. Director Evans should be fired,” Brown said in a statement. “The University of Maryland athletic staff failed Jordan McNair, and on Tuesday the USM Board of Regents failed him again.”

Durkin was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 11, and now he’s poised to be on the sideline Saturday for a Big Ten home game against Michigan State after the board ruled the coach had been “unfairly blamed for the dysfunction in the athletic department.”

His return comes after an external review of the football program, which followed an independent investigation into McNair’s death. The decision by the board of regents means Durkin will resume the third season of a five-year, $12.5 million contract he signed in December 2015.

Hogan’s opponent in the November election, Democrat Ben Jealous, wrote in a statement, “The University of Maryland has become a national embarrassment for putting the agenda of a few wealthy football boosters ahead of the health and safety of its student athletes.”

Maryland’s football players drew together under interim coach Matt Canada to compile a 5-3 record, but it’s hard to envision how the team will react to Durkin’s return in a season dedicated to McNair. Several media outlets reported that at least three players walked out of a team meeting with Durkin on Tuesday, and offensive lineman Ellis McKennie blasted the board of regents’ decision on Twitter .

During Tuesday’s news conference Loh announced his retirement in June 2019. Loh’s leadership was addressed in both investigations, and he did not emerge completely unscathed.

“He should stay and I’m urging him to do so,” said Senator Jim Rosapepe (D, College Park). “Academics need to come first. His decision can and should be reversed.”

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