The University of Maryland has placed football coach DJ Durkin on paid administrative leave as it investigates allegations of abuse and disparagement in the program and the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair.
Athletic director Damon Evans announced the move Saturday, saying offensive coordinator Matt Canada will serve as the team’s interim coach. Canada is a first-year assistant hired in January after he spent a year as LSU‘s offensive coordinator. He had made coordinator stops at Pitt, NC State, Wisconsin, Indiana and Northern Illinois.
“I am extremely concerned by the allegations of unacceptable behaviors by members of our football staff detailed in recent media reports,” Evans wrote in a letter sent to university students, staff and alumni. “We are committed to fully investigating the program. At this time, the best decision for our football program is to place Maryland head football coach DJ Durkin on leave so we can properly review the culture of the program. This is effective immediately. Matt Canada will serve as interim head coach.”
Evans continued: “The external review into the tragic death of Jordan McNair continues, and we have committed to releasing publicly the report being prepared by an independent and national expert. The safety and well-being of our student-athletes is our highest priority. These alleged behaviors are not consistent with the values I expect all of our staff to adhere to and we must do better. You will be hearing from me as our work continues to rebuild the culture of respect in our football program.”
Later Saturday, school president Wallace D. Loh released a statement calling Friday’s media reports “disturbing” and that the “University will retain an external expert to undertake a comprehensive examination of our coaching practices in the football program, with the goal that these practices reflect — not subvert — the core values of our University.”
Loh continued: “The University of Maryland is committed to a football program that is safe and humane, and where our student-athletes are successful in their academic and athletic endeavors. This commitment will be carried out with accountability, fairness, and transparency.”
The school on Friday placed head football athletic trainer Wes Robinson and director of athletic training Steve Nordwall on administrative leave, sources told ESPN. Rick Court, Maryland’s assistant athletics director for sports performance, was placed on paid administrative leave Saturday, sources said.
Court was one of Durkin’s first hires at Maryland in 2015. Sources have told ESPN that Court in particular contributed to an environment based on fear and intimidation, including throwing objects and small weights in the directions of players when Court was angry.
Durkin oversaw Maryland’s practice Saturday morning. ESPN on Friday reported allegations from current and former players, and current and former staff members, of bullying, verbal abuse and humiliation directed at players. Coaches have reportedly endorsed unhealthy eating habits and used obscenity-laced epithets meant to mock players’ masculinity. One player reportedly was belittled verbally after passing out during a drill.
ESPN also reported Friday that McNair, 19, died of heatstroke after showing visible signs of distress during a workout May 29, including difficulty standing up and seizing. Court led the workout during which McNair became ill, but was not involved in treating him afterward. McNair died June 13. A formal report into his death by a university-hired investigator is expected Sept. 15.
During the period McNair was hospitalized, Durkin was receptive to players’ concerns about the coaching staff’s methods, according to sources, and voluntary workouts lessened in intensity. But when preseason training camp opened Aug. 3, the atmosphere largely resumed as it had been prior to McNair’s death, with some more attention paid to players showing fatigue or distress.
The Baltimore Sun reported Durkin sent a letter Friday to players’ families informing them of an upcoming ESPN story and asking them to send their concerns to the program.
“Our priority every day is the safety along with the academic, personal and athletic development of your sons,” Durkin wrote in the letter.
Durkin, 40, is set to enter his third season as Maryland’s head coach. He’s 10-15 at the school.