Several Maryland football players voiced strong support Wednesday night for the university’s decision to reverse course and part ways with head coach DJ Durkin.
“Don’t let anyone tell you your voice doesn’t matter!” offensive lineman Ellis McKennie posted on Twitter.
“Pressure busts pipes doesn’t it??” linebacker Tre Watson tweeted.
Wide receiver Michael Cornwell quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in a tweet: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it’s the presence of justice.”
On Wednesday evening, offensive lineman Johnny Jordan, who was one of McNair’s roommates, told reporters that he thought Durkin’s firing was the “right decision” for the program. Linebacker Bruce Miller posted that “Justice for our brother was served.” Some other players tweeted messages of team unity.
Team members were informed of the decision after Wednesday’s practice by Athletic Director Damon Evans, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Wide receiver DJ Turner criticized the timing of the decisions in a tweet saying how that “makes it hard for me to believe that the best interest of the team was in mind at all throughout this whole process.” Durkin’s reinstatement came just before the players began practice Tuesday.
“It’s funny how we have all this ‘support’ now, but I haven’t seen the stadium full since I got to the University of Maryland!” Turner wrote in another tweet. “Please keep all the fake love, we’re good! We stuck together when this mess started, and we will stay together now that it’s over!”
One day after the school reinstated Durkin from administrative leave, it parted ways with him amid backlash from lawmakers, student leaders and some members of the team. Durkin, the Terrapins’ head coach since 2016, had been under scrutiny since 19-year-old offensive lineman Jordan McNair died in June as a result of heatstroke suffered at a team workout, and particularly after media reports outlined the program’s culture of fear, intimidation and abuse.
McKennie, Watson, Cornwell and others had voiced their displeasure with the reinstatement of Durkin on social media. McKennie, along with tight end Avery Edwards and offensive lineman Brendan Moore, walked out of Durkin’s first meeting with the team on Tuesday.
“They feel like somebody is listening now,” McKennie’s mother, Jodi, said Wednesday evening. “This is justice for all the boys that felt like they’ve been abused. It’s definitely justice for Jordan. It’s back to football, football as it should be at the collegiate level.”
Another parent of a current player said she is happy that justice has been served and the players will now be able to move forward.
“A departure is in the best interest of the University, and this afternoon Coach Durkin was informed that the University will part ways,” school President Wallace D. Loh wrote in a letter to the University of Maryland community. “This is a difficult decision, but it is the right one for our entire University.”
Maryland’s student body president, Jonathan Allen, said he was pleased with the news of Durkin’s departure. Allen was among those outraged over Durkin’s reinstatement and had posted a statement about the matter on Twitter earlier in the day.
"I think it says a lot about the power of student advocacy,” Allen said.
Allen said he was thankful that other stakeholders united behind a common goal. When the campus community pulls together, Allen said, it can have a large impact and influence.
"When the system failed us yesterday, we were able to move past that and ultimately do the right thing,” he said.
The independent investigation tasked with examining the football program stopped short of claiming it had a “toxic” culture, but it did have a “culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out.” The investigation found that Durkin was responsible for overseeing strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, who engaged in abusive behaviors.
The report cited a survey of current players, who had wide-ranging comments on whether Durkin should be Maryland’s coach. While some players strongly opposed Durkin’s return, others labeled him as innocent. The report found that players and assistants feared speaking out to Durkin if their views did not align with his. One current player said in the report that Durkin knew of someone who complained about Court to Durkin, and Durkin would not listen.
In August, McNair’s father, Marty, said on national television that Durkin “shouldn’t be able to work with anybody else’s kid.” Upon hearing the news that Durkin would return to his role, McNair’s father said Tuesday evening that he felt as though he had been “punched in the stomach and somebody spit in my face.”
Before Durkin’s firing, one parent of a current player said that in the head coach’s absence, players realized they didn’t have to put up with Durkin’s philosophies. Players also appreciated offensive coordinator and interim head coach Matt Canada’s efficient approach in running the team.
“I don’t think there’s anything special I’m doing,” Canada said Tuesday at his weekly news conference, which took place before news of Durkin’s reinstatement surfaced. “I think our entire building has done a great job of sticking together. … Our players are the focus and they’ve been the focus. That’s how it always has to be and always has been.”
In Durkin’s two seasons with the Terps, he had a 10-15 overall record and a 5-13 record in the Big Ten. Since Aug. 11, when the university placed Durkin on administrative leave, Canada has led the team to a 5-3 record with a game against Michigan State on Saturday. The Terps are one win away from becoming bowl eligible.
“Ellis tells me the locker room seemed good and everybody seemed relieved,” McKennie’s mother said. “Of course, he’s elated. This is what he wanted for Jordan. … All this has ever been about is Jordan. Jordan deserved a voice and now he has one.”