Van Pelt questioned how school President Wallace D. Loh and Athletic Director Damon Evans can remain in their jobs, and called on the school to reach out to people who care about the university and can help it recover from this fall’s unrest, people such as former men’s basketball coach Gary Williams.
“Wallace Loh admitted the university failed Jordan McNair, which is a tragedy that cannot be undone, but the leadership and the board have failed the University of Maryland as well — all of us, throughout this entire process, often in the interest of self-preservation,” Van Pelt said. “The university belongs to many, and the process of taking it back needs to begin immediately. Commissions and studies now are just tail-wagging-the-dog nonsense, and it’s that type of political paralysis that has us here in the first place, and how a tragic situation that began in late May is still festering in November. This place matters a lot to a lot of people, and I cannot tell you how many spanning generations have reached out to me, embarrassed and brokenhearted about this entire chapter.”
The school has been besieged with local and national criticism after the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents recommended retaining football Coach DJ Durkin and Evans despite a scandal that erupted after the June death of McNair, a 19-year-old offensive lineman. Loh fired Durkin Wednesday. James T. Brady, the chair of the system’s board of regents, resigned on Thursday following a cavalcade of protest from students, alumni, media members and politicians.
Van Pelt, among the alumni most closely associated with the school’s athletic program, has mostly avoided calls to action during the months of debate about Maryland’s future. But his comments Thursday night questioned the continued viability of Loh and Evans as the faces of Maryland sports.
“For months, out of respect to the University of Maryland, which has been a part of my life my entire life, and a process that was ongoing, I have chosen my words very carefully when I’ve said anything at all,” he said. “That time is at an end, because I was hoping they’d get it right. But that didn’t work out. At each step of the way, from the moment Jordan McNair fell ill through the board of regents’ clumsy decision, Maryland has demonstrated the remarkably consistent ability to do the wrong thing at each step. The most tone deaf crisis management imaginable. As leadership, or the lack thereof, it’s hard to fathom how it could be bungled more completely. The scene that has played out over the past 72 hours in the wake of the board of regents’ decision to reinstate DJ Durkin, followed by the firing the very next day by President Wallace Loh, has simply been the next embarrassing chapter in a story seemingly without end.”
“Commissions and investigations have convened, during which many at the university I love have taken turns throwing each other under the bus,” Van Pelt went on. “Details were continually leaked to the press, all of which illustrates the complete systemic breakdown of leadership and trust. It seems everyone went into cover-your-own-ass mode and the worst type of crab-in-a-bucket behavior imaginable. Durkin is out; Thursday, James Brady, who was chair of the board of regents, stepped down, saying his presence would be a distraction. My question is given their roles in this, how can Wallace Loh and athletic director Damon Evans remain?”
Loh had announced Tuesday he would retire at the end of the school year, when the board had sided with the football coach over the university president. The turmoil has continued; the chairman of the University of Maryland College Park Foundation’s board of trustees said Thursday that the university’s fundraising campaign may have been dealt a fatal blow, students staged an on-campus rally and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education launched a review of U-Md.’s accreditation.
Van Pelt said the school needs to turn to leaders whose loyalty is to the school more than themselves.
“There are those who can help, on any number of fronts,” Van Pelt said. “People like Gary Williams. He wore the uniform. He’s a graduate. He’s a Hall of Famer and has a passion for his university that is unrivaled. He’d be willing to help. All you’d have to do is ask him. But that means someone from Maryland would have to ask him, doesn’t it? And that hasn’t happened though, because of the complete leadership void that currently exists. This is what Maryland needs now: People who love the university first, not themselves. People who want to shine a light on what is great about the state and the school and say ‘Maryland we’re all behind you,’ and mean it. People who can be the rudder the university needs to lead them out of this mess.”
Van Pelt had questioned the decision to reinstate Durkin, saying late Tuesday night, “I have no idea how he’s supposed to [resume coaching]. I have no idea if he even wants to.”
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