Since Maryland effectively sidelined him in August, Coach DJ Durkin has earned more than $575,000 in salary. He pockets an additional $9,600 with each week that passes without the school making a decision on his future.
But while an investigation into the culture of Maryland football nears its conclusion, there are increasing signs that no action will be taken on Durkin’s standing as head coach until later this month, likely at least seven games into the season.
Amid news reports about abuse and bullying in his football program, Durkin was placed on administrative leave Aug. 11. He received a quarterly payment of $500,000 at the start of the season three weeks later but has had to watch his team compete from afar.
The University System of Maryland Board of Regents is overseeing an investigation that will likely help determine Durkin’s fate. The eight-person commission running that review began its work eight weeks ago, and though officials had hoped it would be wrapped up at the end of September, investigators are still working on the report they will submit to the regents.
The full board of regents isn’t scheduled to meet again until Oct. 19 in Hagerstown. If the commission’s report is complete at that time, the board will likely take up the matter during that meeting.
The full board is not scheduled to meet again after that until Nov. 28, though it could call a special meeting to consider the commission’s findings if the report is ready after Oct. 19.
There is no assurance the board will take immediate action once it does review the commission’s findings. For starters, personnel decisions could require negotiations and discussions that extend beyond the board members. The system’s flagship university in College Park employs Durkin and others who could be implicated in the report and technically has the authority to make employment decisions.
It is also possible the board simply will not be ready. In a statement issued Sept. 26, a system spokesman noted that decisions were unlikely to be made until the conclusion of three concurrent investigations: one conducted by an independent firm into the events surrounding the June death of 19-year-old football player Jordan McNair as a result of heatstroke suffered during a team-related workout; a separate probe into the culture of the program; and a third review by the state attorney general’s office that is also related to McNair’s death.
“We will not speculate, make judgments or attempt to apportion responsibility until all of these investigations are concluded and the Board of Regents has sufficient information to make the decisions necessary to better safeguard the well-being of student athletes,” the spokesman said last month.
Findings of the first investigation, into McNair’s death, were released Sept. 21 , but it’s not known when the attorney general’s office might finish its review or what it entails. That investigation was triggered by attorneys for the McNair family filing notice with the state of their intent to sue the school. The state’s top prosecutor doesn’t generally make public any details of its ongoing investigations.
Robert L. Caret, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said last month that he expected the attorney general’s office to “look at everything separately” and that “they’ll go in any direction they need to go.”
That could mean interviewing some of the same people and reviewing the same materials as the commission that’s digging into the program’s culture. People familiar with the commission’s work said that investigators were still conducting interviews last week, circling back to some people who had been interviewed previously. A person familiar with the process said Rick Court, the school’s former strength and conditioning coach, was among those who had a follow-up interview scheduled.
People familiar with the commission’s investigation say there are several reasons it has lasted this long. Among them: the scope of the review was vast and somewhat nebulous; commission members tried to reach as many of the Maryland players who competed under Durkin as possible, a timely undertaking; and as investigators have discovered new information, they have had to re-interview some people they met with early in the process.
The commission could also be following up on new leads. For example, The Washington Post reported Sept. 30 the existence of a letter sent from a parent in December 2016, warning school officials about abuse and bullying in its football program, 1½ years before McNair’s death. School officials said university President Wallace D. Loh did not initially recall the letter but that it was shared earlier this month with the commission.
“I have no idea what the report will be. I’m as eager as you are in seeing what that report says,” Loh told the university’s student newspaper, the Diamondback, last week. “Horrific as these allegations may be, you presume somebody is innocent until the process is over.”
There was never a formal timeline for the commission to complete its work. Loh initially announced the independent investigation and appointed three members on Aug. 14. The university system’s board of regents took over control days later. Upon adding five members to the commission on Aug. 24, board chair James T. Brady said: “We will give the commission members the time and independence necessary to do the job right. They have been directed to follow the evidence wherever it may lead.”
In the lone public update since then, Caret told the regents at their Sept. 21 meeting that the commission’s investigation was “proceeding very quickly” and could be completed by the end of September. That did not happen, though people familiar with the process say investigators are now close to wrapping up.
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada has served as interim coach since Durkin went on leave in August. Saturday’s game at Rutgers will mark the team’s sixth contest without Durkin on the sidelines.
Win or lose, the Maryland coach stands to receive his next biweekly check from the university next Friday, the same day the regents meet in Hagerstown, and another quarterly payment of $500,000 on Dec. 1.
Roman Stubbs contributed to this report.