The Washington Post on Thursday obtained a copy of a long-awaited report on Maryland football, prepared by an independent commission tasked with reviewing the culture of the program.
Tough questions about Maryland football emerged after the death of 19-year-old Jordan McNair, an offensive lineman who suffered exertional heatstroke during a team workout in May and died days later. An ESPN report highlighted concerns of a “toxic” culture, and troubling reports have continued as the investigation has progressed.
What does this report not tell us?
The commission makes clear on the first page of the report that it was not tasked with making recommendations on personnel decisions, and so it does not directly spell out what should happen to any of the officials included in the review.
While the findings appear damning, on multiple levels, for University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh, Athletic Director Damon Evans and Coach DJ Durkin, the document itself does not provide a clear road map on how the University System of Maryland Board of Regents and school might approach their futures — or potential departures.
Were other Maryland coaches mentioned in the report?
Not really, beyond Rick Court, who has already resigned as the team’s strength and conditioning coach. The rest of the coaching staff does not appear to be implicated by the commission’s findings. That includes Matt Canada, Maryland’s offensive coordinator who has been the interim coach leading the team all season.
Wes Robinson, the head football athletic trainer, and Steve Nordwall, the director of athletic training, were both mentioned in the report. Both Robinson and Nordwall are on administrative leave.
How did the commission gather the information?
The commission interviewed 165 people. Here’s how that broke down:
- 55 athletes who played under Durkin
- 24 parents of players
- 60 current and former athletic department staff members and coaches.
- 12 university officials
- 14 others with relevant expertise
The investigation anonymously surveyed 94 current football players and relied on prior survey data from both the 2016 and 2017 seasons. The commission obtained “thousands of documents,” which included emails and text messages, and spoke with Randy Edsall, who was Maryland’s football coach from 2011 to 2015.
Is the culture at Maryland is markedly worse than at other football programs?
It appears clear that the commission wrestled with that before concluding in its report that “the Maryland football team did not have a ‘toxic culture,’ but it did have a culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out.” One quote in the report from a current player, who was asked if he witnessed verbal abuse or “unduly harsh language,” speaks to that, and confusion about whether what happened at Maryland was specific to the school:
“I don’t know how to tell what’s wrong and right,” he said. “That’s normal all over the country. Curse words and words like p----, everyone uses. I don’t see it as demeaning. I don’t know honestly if it’s demeaning or just regular.”
A former player called Maryland’s program “not all that different."
“I know people who played elsewhere in Division I,” he said, according to the report. “Coaches yell at you, dog you, etc. That’s just the culture of football. Even with Little League. Not saying that it’s right, but it’s part of the culture of football.”
Did the problems extend beyond the football program?
Yeah, things appear to be fairly dysfunctional in Maryland’s athletic department. For an example, look at the confusion over who was responsible for supervising Court.
Court’s contract stated that he reported directly to Durkin, but Durkin told investigators that it was his understanding, from then-Athletic Director Kevin Anderson, that Court was supervised by David Klossner, another official in the department.
Court told the commission it was never clear to him who his supervisor was, which the report calls a “striking illustration of the athletics department’s disarray.” In his time at Maryland, Court never got a performance review.
Furthermore, the commission found that Anderson and his top lieutenant and eventual successor, Evans, only had sporadic contact with Durkin. The report also states that — in part because of a “rift” between Anderson and Evans, who was at the time the deputy athletic director — “Court was effectively accountable to no one, and the training staff went relatively unsupervised for extended periods in time."
Court’s behavior appears to be a problem for the commission. Does it believe Durkin should be held responsible for that?
Yes. This report detailed how players were allegedly mistreated by Court, who was accused of using homophobic slurs, throwing objects and choking a player by pressing the bar on a weight room machine into his neck. The commission concluded Durkin and athletic department leadership “share responsibility for the failure to supervise Mr. Court.”
In the survey of current players, one mentioned that Durkin “needed to get Rick Court out, because a lot of the things he did was without Coach Durkin’s knowledge.” Another current player, though, said he “heard from a friend that people would go into Durkin’s office to complain about stuff that Court was doing, and he didn’t do anything about it. He wasn’t hearing it.”
Some players told the commission that they felt they could not approach Durkin with complaints related to Court because they viewed the two coaches as “the same person.”
What can you tell me about Durkin and his work with the program, off the field?
Durkin was successful with some of his initiatives and not so successful with others. He implemented a new dietary program and reshaped policy for administering pain medication, so players would be less likely to become addicted. He repeatedly requested that a physician be assigned to every practice but was unsuccessful.
He pushed for the school to hire a psychologist solely for his team; when the school did hire one, Durkin was unsatisfied because the psychologist was also tending to other programs. Durkin also tried to unsuccessfully form a group to examine the school’s marijuana testing policy, “attempting to transform it from punitive to a therapeutic model.”
Are there other examples of problems within Maryland’s athletic department?
The report makes reference to a sexual misconduct case that has been previously reported on by The Post. You can find that story here, but essentially, The Post reported that Anderson, as Maryland’s AD, worked to provide an attorney for two football players who were being investigated in a sexual misconduct case.
The commission’s report takes note of that 2017 Title IX case, and Anderson’s role. (That section starts on page 62 of the report.) And the story of what unfolded seems to highlight some of the larger issues and concerns within the department.
An internal university investigation into the matter found that Anderson or Durkin (or perhaps both Anderson and Durkin) “solicited and facilitated payment to a law firm to represent the accused players.” Protocol wasn’t followed for the attorney’s representation, the report states.
Rather, the report continues, “in late August 2018, the law firm submitted a request for payment for $15,000 for ‘upcoming speaking’ fees after having received an email from an Assistant AD (from his spouse’s personal email account) asking for an invoice for ‘your fee for speaking at Maryland.’ "
The internal investigation found that an employee flagged the payment to Evans, who took it to Loh. Loh told Anderson to end the relationship between attorney and players, but it continued.
The invoice was eventually revised, and Evans said that Anderson told him to pay the attorney quickly, using money from the University of Maryland College Park Foundation. The use of foundation money, the report stated, was “questionable at best."
Anderson has denied creating the “speaker's fee” arrangement, according to the report.
"Mr. Durkin, a relatively new coach, was described by Dr. Loh as a 'babe in the woods' regarding the complexities of a Title IX investigation of this nature,” the report says. “Still, Mr. Durkin’s failure to question a plan that characterized [the attorney's] services as “speaker’s fees,” which was plainly pretextual, is troubling."
Loh saw Anderson's failures with the botched Title IX case as “the last straw,” the report states. He ordered an investigation and suspended Anderson, but believed the situation was “irreparable."
Maryland and Anderson later reached an agreement, under which Anderson would resign after six months. The period was publicly called a sabbatical, though both Loh and Anderson knew the AD would not come back to Maryland.
There were two reasons for the six-month grace period, the report explained. Some within the university were worried that a resignation would be interpreted incorrectly, and instead look as if Maryland was involved in a corruption scandal that had engulfed college basketball.
“Second, the grace period allowed Mr. Anderson to continue to hold the title while he searched for another athletics director position,” the report stated. After Anderson officially left Maryland, he served as interim athletic director at Cal State Northridge.
How does this all relate to the death of Jordan McNair?
The purpose of this investigation was to examine the culture of the football program. Another report, which has already been released, provided an in-depth look into the failings of the school’s medical staff in the treatment of McNair.
This report, however, found that the program’s culture did not lead to McNair’s death. Additionally, the commission’s report stated frustration with the program had been building and the death of McNair “seemingly served as a catalyst for bringing their concerns to light.”