University of Maryland fires DJ Durkin

- One day after he returned to the practice field when the board of regents recommended reinstating him, University of Maryland head football coach DJ Durkin was fired, school officials say.

On Tuesday, the board recommended restoring both Durkin and athletic director Damon Evans to their positions in the wake of separate investigations into the death of football player Jordan McNair and the culture of the football program.

University of Maryland President Wallace Loh announced Durkin's departure in a letter Wednesday evening:

"Dear University of Maryland community,

"I am writing to inform you of actions I am taking that are in the best interest of the University of Maryland.

"Yesterday, the University System of Maryland Board of Regents announced numerous recommendations, including employment decisions about specific personnel on our campus. I accepted the Board's recommendations. At the same time, I announced my retirement as president in June 2019. 

"Since returning to campus after yesterday's press conference, I have met with the leadership of the Student Government Association speaking on behalf of numerous student organizations; the Senate Executive Committee; Deans; department chairs; and campus leadership. The overwhelming majority of stakeholders expressed serious concerns about Coach DJ Durkin returning to the campus.

"The chair of the Board of Regents has publicly acknowledged that I had previously raised serious concerns about Coach Durkin's return. This is not at all a reflection of my opinion of Coach Durkin as a person. However, a departure is in the best interest of the University, and this afternoon Coach Durkin was informed that the University will part ways.

"This is a difficult decision, but it is the right one for our entire University. I will devote the remaining months of my presidency to advancing the needed reforms in our Athletic Department that prioritize the safety and well-being of our student-athletes."

The decision to fire Durkin comes after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued a statement asking the board of regents and the university's president to reconsider their decision on Durkin. The Student Government Association's executive board also submitted emergency legislation calling for Durkin's firing. Jordan's father, Marty McNair, has also previously stated that he wanted Durkin fired.

"I feel like I've been punched in the stomach and someone spit in my face,” McNair said on Tuesday after the announcement was made that Durkin would be reinstated.

One day later, the news of the coach's firing was overwhelming to the late football player's father.

"Still overwhelming and still sinking in that a decision was made of that magnitude yesterday and obviously something totally different in the right direction today," he said.

McNair is grateful to his son's teammates who spoke out against Durkin.

"These are the same young men of great character and integrity, that if this happened to someone else's child, I would encourage Jordan to be in that same bunch speaking up and telling the truth about what happened," said McNair. "So I commend these guys. These are just great guys with bright futures and here is an opportunity for them to really see how the world works."

Loh met with student government leaders, the Senate Executive Committee along with other campus leaders, including deans and department chairs, before firing Durkin.

"I think today is an example of how powerful student advocacy can be and what we can accomplish when we have a united student body and united campus community," said Allen.

Loh announced on Tuesday that he will be retiring in June.

Durkin was placed on administrative leave in August after McNair collapsed during practice and subsequently died of heat stroke along with allegations of bullying by the coaching staff.

The University System of Maryland's Board of Regents released a detailed report on Monday on the culture of the university's athletics department following the death of McNair.

The 200-page report details several incidents of abuse by coaching staff, including former strength and conditioning coach Rick Court based on feedback from a Sept. 9 survey of 94 current football players.

While the report does not go so far to call the university's athletics culture "toxic" as reported by ESPN, however, the survey received accounts of players being forced to eat to excess and being physically attacked and humiliated by coaching staff. Accounts say Court threw weights in anger and reportedly forced an overweight player to eat candy while other players were working out.

While some players took issue with Durkin's leadership, others say that he cared about the players and was supportive. The coaching staff said they did not believe Durkin had knowledge of the extent of Court's behavior. Durkin denies having knowledge of Court being abusive toward players.

The board of regents said in the report they recommended installing video cameras in the weight room, available for regular review by coaches, university administrators and medical and training staff. It also recommends greater public access to team practices and that the university authorizes a qualified, independent third party to conduct reviews for the program once every two years.

Court resigned from the university with a buyout in August. As of Tuesday night, two other members of the athletic training staff were still on administrative leave.

Board of regents chairman James Brady said Tuesday that Durkin has been unfairly blamed for the dysfunction in the athletic department. He called McNair's death tragic and heartbreaking, but said there was not a toxic culture within the football program as some have alleged.

The attorney for the McNair family, Billy Murphy, says this ordeal is still not over.

"We believe that chairman Brady should be immediately dismissed for steering the ship in this horrible direction – contrary to public sentiment, contrary to fairness, contrary to what was legally, spiritually and morally correct," Murphy said.

Durkin's dismissal comes while he was in the third season of a five-year, $12.5 million contract he signed in December 2015. He will be owed about $5.5 million, according to buyout terms of his contract.

Matt Canada is expected to resume the role of interim coach. Maryland is 5-3 heading into Saturday's home game against Michigan State.

Hired after serving one season as defensive coordinator at Michigan, Durkin had a 10-15 record at Maryland. The Terrapins went 6-7 in his first season, losing to Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl, then fell to 4-8 in 2017 while coping with injuries to three different quarterbacks.

Durkin began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Bowling Green in 2001 after playing four seasons there as a defensive end and outside linebacker.

He served three years as an assistant coach at Stanford from 2007-09 and was at Florida from 2010-14, spending the last two years as the Gators defensive coordinator.

Information from the Associated Press used in this report.

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