There were no remaining traces of DJ Durkin at Maryland Stadium on Saturday morning, save for his biography on the pages of the programs sold before the Terrapins' game against Michigan State. Just four days earlier, Durkin was back on this campus in College Park, reinstated as Maryland’s football coach after 80 days on administrative leave.
The next night, Durkin was told to leave the football field and the facility that shadows it, fired after two seasons in the wake of the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair and allegations of abuse in his program.
On Saturday morning, all that remained after Durkin’s stunning departure was a group of players bound together by tragedy and a fan base fractured by one of the most turbulent periods in the school’s history. For Maryland students, Durkin’s retention and firing led to a complicated question: Attend the game to support Maryland athletics or hold out in honor of McNair and his family?
Students said the decision to keep Durkin on board, followed by its reversal, further eroded trust in the institution. So much uncertainty still lingers on campus — including the status of President Wallace D. Loh, who has announced his retirement, and Athletic Director Damon Evans, who has retained his job. Two trainers, Wes Robinson and Steve Nordwall, remain on administrative leave.
And nobody knows who will coach Maryland’s football team after the season is over.
“I feel like a lot of people aren’t trusting of the administration,” said Maryland freshman Anjali Kalra, 18, who was on her way to the game around noon. “They feel like they sweep a lot under the rug and then tell us months later."
Two other 18-year-old Maryland students, Madi Donahue and Chloe Goldberg, said the Durkin decision added complication to an exhausting few months.
“I think people are just exasperated,” Goldberg said.
Donahue said she questioned whether to attend the game.
“I was getting CNN alerts the other day,” Donahue said, adding that family and friends checked in amid the campus turmoil. "My friends have been texting me.”
This scene, at least in the stands, did not feel all that different from other times Big Ten powerhouses have visited Maryland since the Terps joined the conference in 2014. A week after a season-low 30,387 fans showed up at home against Illinois, there were 31,735 in attendance Saturday. Large swaths of Michigan State fans filled the stands, which may have masked any potential drop in attendance related to this week’s controversy.
The program has had the third-lowest attendance in the Big Ten each of the past three seasons. A year ago, it was ahead of only Illinois and Northwestern. Maryland Stadium’s 54,000 seats were filled to just 76.5 percent capacity in 2017, a number bolstered by visits from the massive fan bases of Michigan and Penn State for the final two home games.
Maryland senior Vince Ciccone, 21, said it seemed as if the administration were blinded by the driving forces of college football — namely, revenue — rather than making the right decision from the outset.
“Firing Durkin, it was really not that hard,” he said. “It just shows that these were simple decisions that should have been made immediately. … Politics get in the way.”
The fallout from the scandal surely carries significant financial implications for the school, including donors who might opt to pull funding and season ticket holders who could drop their support. But there were also longtime season ticket holders who felt galvanized Saturday, including 62-year-old Mark Murphy, who lives in Chicago but still attends every home game.
Murphy flew in Saturday morning and felt an upbeat vibe from fans as he made his way to the stadium.
“Like you’ve cleansed it a little bit. But you still have work to do,” Murphy said. “I think people recognize that Maryland is larger than any one individual. And all of us have this deeply held belief that if we could ever get folks on the same page, you can win here.”
There were other season ticket holders working to ramp up support for the program in the wake of this week’s events, including 40-year-old Ben Page, a Maryland graduate whose nonprofit, Old Line Tailgating Club, has brought hundreds of youths to Maryland games this season.
“Ultimately, all decisions being made moving forward should be about those 100 kids on the field,” he said. “Not about the money, not about the administration, not about saving your own job. It should be about the well-being of those kids.”
Murphy said he is still concerned about the lack of student support for the football program, which was again evident at halftime, when hundreds of students left. About an hour before, they had stood in the bleachers to watch the Terrapins players run out of the tunnel and kneel to pray around McNair’s No. 79 logo painted on the field. Students looked on, mostly in silence.
In the wake of Durkin’s firing, students held a rally in support of McNair and student-athletes. But there were dueling factions over whether to attend Saturday’s game, said freshman student Joseph Weil, who decided to show up.
The student body, Weil said, just doesn’t agree on whether to attend games. But they did seem to find some common ground.
“I think everyone agrees it was handled incorrectly," he said.