The University of Maryland fired two high-ranking athletic trainers whose actions had come into question in the wake of Jordan McNair’s death in June.
Steve Nordwall, assistant athletic director of athletic training, and Wes Robinson, the head trainer for the football program, had been on paid administrative leave since Aug. 10. Both were informed Tuesday that their employment had been terminated, according to a person familiar with the situation.
On Wednesday, the University System of Maryland Board of Regents' newly elected chair conceded the group was wrong in its actions and recommendations. Linda R. Gooden said in a statement that the board “lost sight of its responsibility to the university system” and apologized “to the McNair family, the University of Maryland, College Park community, and to the citizens of our state.”
Gooden replaces James T. Brady, who resigned last week amid controversy over the board’s recommendations. Among other things, the board recommended the school retain coach DJ Durkin and, according to two people familiar with the situation, also the two athletic trainers.
A university spokeswoman declined to comment specifically on Robinson and Nordwall because it’s a personnel matter but said in a statement: “The trainers that were previously on administrative leave are no longer employed at the university.”
Steve Pachman, Robinson’s attorney, confirmed in a statement that his client was not longer employed by Maryland and that the university "has stated that there was no ‘cause’ for termination.” Pachman would not comment on a possible settlement between parties.
The departures mean that four people have now lost their jobs during the controversy. Durkin was fired as head coach a week ago and Rick Court resigned as strength and conditioning coach Aug. 13 after negotiating a settlement with the university. In addition, university President Wallace D. Loh announced last week that he would retire in June.
Nordwall and Robinson drew the bulk of the blame for failing to properly treat McNair at the May 29 team workout. Loh, the university president, has apologized for mistakes that resulted in McNair’s death, pinning those errors on “our athletic training staff, not the coaching staff.”
The Terps have shuffled staff and added new athletic trainers to help treat players. Greg Smith, the former head athletic trainer for the Washington Capitals, joined the team around the start of the football season and he later added Ben Reisz, who also worked for the Caps.
A commission that probed the culture of the football program has recommended that Maryland revamp its model for delivering medical care to athletes. The commission proposed the athletic department adopt an independent model, which would move the athletic trainers out from the department’s umbrella. They’d instead be employed outside of the athletic department and would report directly to outside supervisors, in theory giving them more autonomy. Loh has indicated that he plans to adopt the measure, even though he nixed a similar proposal in 2017.
McNair suffered from exertional heatstroke during team sprints and died 15 days later. An independent report into the circumstances surrounding his death outlined numerous missteps that were made by the school’s athletic trainers along the way.
According to the Walters report, the independent probe, Nordwall didn’t report the player’s condition to his supervisor, Valerie Cothran, a team physician, until an hour after the player began exhibiting symptoms of heatstroke.
Robinson, the football team’s longtime trainer, was on the field as McNair struggled with the sprints. One teammate told investigators that Robinson yelled, “Get him the ‘f---’ up.” Another player said Robinson yelled, “Drag his ass off the field.”
Robinson had been an athletic trainer at the school since 2006 and had worked with three head coaches in that time. Nordwall came to Maryland in 2014 after 14 years at Eastern Michigan.
Neither has spoken publicly since going on leave in August.
The Walters report also noted that there was no cold tub available on the field, no rectal thermometer on hand to check McNair’s temperature and a long delay in contacting emergency medical services.
Medical experts have said that patients have a 100 percent survival rate when heatstroke is quickly diagnosed and treated promptly. McNair wasn’t loaded into an ambulance until 94 minutes after he began experiencing symptoms, and according to hospital records, his temperature wasn’t lowered to 102, which is considered a much safer temperature, until nearly 2½ hours after he began experiencing symptoms.