ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt first addressed the controversy stemming from the June death of 19-year-old Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair in August, one week before the Terrapins’ season opener. While Van Pelt, a Maryland graduate, didn’t call for anyone’s jobs at the time, he criticized the school for taking so long to acknowledge its mistakes in failing to diagnose or treat McNair for exertional heatstroke.
“The fallout may be an entire reset of the culture across the university,” Van Pelt said on his “SportsCenter” program. “They talk about fearless ideas there in College Park. Right now, it requires that. Look in the mirror and be honest with what you see, and know that whatever it is they — and we — aspire to be as a university, it has to be better than this most recent chapter.”
Following an investigation into allegations of a toxic culture within the football program, the school opted against a full reset. The University System of Maryland Board of Regents announced Tuesday that head coach DJ Durkin, who had been on administrative leave since August, would rejoin the team and be back on the sideline for Saturday’s game against Michigan State. Maryland President Wallace D. Loh, who recommended to the board that the school fire Durkin, and Athletic Director Damon Evans were also retained, though Loh announced he will retire in June.
Van Pelt addressed the resolution to the controversy late Tuesday night.
“I love Maryland,” he said on “SportsCenter.” “It’s my university. That’s no secret. I wish I was prouder of it today. There might be a presumption that, given my ties there, I have some knowledge of how the board of regents landed here. I don’t. I don’t know anyone on the board, and I have no idea what agenda influenced this. I can say that the issues the university has struggled with for years were all on display throughout this process: political agendas and fiefdoms, tug of wars that only serve to further fracture, not strengthen, the university. I kept waiting for the adults to arrive and move in a direction with clarity and purpose. By all accounts, for the months this internal review has gone on and the regents have met, clarity is something that was never attained. In fact, it only seemed to become harder to find the longer it went on.”
Loh recommended to the board that the school part ways with Durkin during a meeting with the regents on Friday in Baltimore. Durkin then made his case for why he should retain his job. Board chair James T. Brady said Tuesday that the regents’ meeting with Durkin was “very instructive.”
“It’s complicated in ways that can’t easily be described and are only remedied when you start over and hit the reset button,” Van Pelt continued. “But that’s not what the board of regents has decided. Instead, they’ve recommended DJ Durkin be reinstated as coach. I have no idea how he’s supposed to do that. I have no idea if he even wants to. It’s clear President Wallace Loh was not supportive of this decision, and here we are. Through it all, the young men who play for Maryland, who have no fault in any of this, have gone out and fought for each other and honored themselves and their fallen teammate. They’ve won five games. They beat Texas. They’ve got a home game Saturday against Michigan State with a chance to become bowl eligible. They deserve praise, and they deserve support, for the resolve they have shown in the face of all of this uncertainty, and I hope they get it, because they have been remarkable. This process has been remarkable, too, but for far, far different reasons.”
Van Pelt’s ESPN colleagues, Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, addressed the regents’ decision on Tuesday’s episode of “Pardon the Interruption.”
“I cannot believe that DJ Durkin will be coming back to coach Maryland after some player died on his watch of negligence,” Kornheiser said. “I cannot believe the [athletic director], Damon Evans, will be allowed to be the AD when that same player died on his watch of negligence. DJ Durkin is 10-15 as a coach. He’s recruited well. They have a pretty good team. But you tell me how this works. Tell me how he’s going into the home of a family with a recruit and say to the parents, ‘I’m going to take care of your boy. Don’t worry about it, I’m going to take care of [him].’ How is he going to do that, and how are the other schools in the Big Ten not going to say, ‘You want to send your boy to Maryland? You know what happened at Maryland? You want to do that?’”
“There are reports of players walking out of Durkin’s first meeting back with his own team,” Wilbon replied. “Active players, out the door, so when you talk about who’s asking that question, I guarantee that those young men, I bet you some, if not all, of their parents are asking that question. This seems to me, to be — I heard this and I was shocked. As a trustee of a university in the Big Ten [Northwestern], another one of my reactions is get Maryland out if they can’t behave any more responsibly than this. DJ Durkin — the head coach, and I’m focusing on the head coach, because the AD doesn’t go into your recruits’ living rooms even though he may be responsible — the coach needs to be fired."
On ESPN’s “Get Up," former Maryland and NFL cornerback Domonique Foxworth, who now writes for the Undefeated, said his immediate reaction to Tuesday’s news was “disappointment and frustration and confusion.”
“I don’t get it," Foxworth said. “What is it about DJ Durkin? No disrespect to him, I’m sure he’s a nice guy. I don’t think he intended to hurt anyone, so I’ll take their word for it that he takes some responsibility. I’m not going to assume that he’s a terrible person. That doesn’t mean that he deserves to have his job. Being a good dude doesn’t mean you deserve to have your job. When something like that goes wrong on your watch, I suspect that there should be consequences paid.”
College football analyst Paul Finebaum suggested that the Maryland football program will never recover from Tuesday’s decision to reinstate Durkin.
“You see a lot of hypocrisy in college athletics," Finebaum said on ESPN’s “First Take." "You see Ohio State retaining Urban Meyer when perhaps he should have been gone, but in this case, it defies logic. We’ve seen one school, SMU, get the death penalty from the NCAA. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a university give itself the death penalty, because this school, as a football program — it’s not a power, it’s just a program, and not a very good one — is effectively done. They will not recover from this, because in a year or two, Durkin will be fired, and the biggest issue will be recruiting, because no one in their right mind will sign a letter of intent to go play football at the University of Maryland.”
A host of other national sports reporters and columnists expressed similar disagreement and shock over Maryland’s decision.
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