Durkin’s job at Ole Miss, which was not specified in the release, is his first full-time position since his firing. He resurfaced this summer as a guest coach for the Atlanta Falcons during training camp.
“As part of our standard vetting process for all hires, the university conducted a thorough background check on Coach Durkin, and we connected with several highly respected college football coaches, administrators and school officials about their experiences working with him,” Mississippi Athletics Director Keith Carter said in a statement. “We received consistently strong feedback about Coach Durkin’s strong character and work ethic and his positive impact on the communities and institutions where he was previously employed.
“Once we had the chance to spend time with Coach Durkin, we were even more convinced that he is exactly the type of accomplished coach with strong football credentials who is also a proud and committed family man that will make him a great addition to our new staff.”
Opinions of Durkin by his players at Maryland and their parents have been split, though two parents reached Thursday expressed their support for him. The father of Lorenzo Harrison III, a running back who played two seasons for Durkin, said that he still talks with Durkin occasionally and called Mississippi’s decision an “excellent hire.”
Lorenzo Harrison Jr. added: “He deserves it. I know his heart, and I knew he would be back.”
Another parent, who asked not to be identified and whose son played for Durkin, wrote in a text message: “I am happy for him! He’s a great man and a wonderful coach. He was the scapegoat for a terrible incident, but he deserves another opportunity.”
McNair, a 19-year-old offensive lineman, died in June 2018, two weeks after he suffered heatstroke at a team workout. An independent report commissioned by Maryland found that athletic and medical staff failed to properly diagnose and treat McNair. Death from heatstroke is preventable if treated properly.
Durkin was present at the workout, though it was led by the team’s strength staff. Video files, taken from campus security cameras and released in December 2018 through an open records request, show McNair needing to be helped by his teammates to finish an exercise as players ran sprints.
Maryland placed Durkin on administrative leave in August 2018 amid media reports, first published by ESPN, that alleged rampant bullying and verbal abuse within the program. Many of the charges centered on strength coach Rick Court, who resigned in August 2018, but the way Durkin ran the program also prompted concern from some.
A second independent report commissioned by Maryland, launched shortly after Durkin was placed on leave, found issues within the football program but stopped short of calling its culture “toxic,” the word used to describe the program in ESPN’s initial report. The commission’s 192-page report said Maryland had “a culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out.”
The commission wrote that Maryland’s athletic department failed to provide Durkin with “the tools, resources, and guidance necessary to support and educate a first-time head coach in a major football conference.” The report detailed a lack of oversight in the program and that Durkin and other leaders in the athletic department did not properly supervise Court.
The University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents recommended the reinstatement of Durkin after 80 days on administrative leave. Durkin returned to the football facility Oct. 30, and three players walked out of his meeting with the team. Following outcry from some players, state lawmakers, students and the community, the university fired Durkin without cause a day later. Interim coach Matt Canada led the team through the entire season.
In August 2018, shortly after the university placed Durkin on administrative leave, McNair’s parents appeared on “Good Morning America,” during which McNair’s father, Marty, said that Durkin “shouldn’t be able to work with anybody else’s kid.”
The commission that examined the program’s culture under Durkin surveyed players and collected wide-ranging opinions about the coach. One current player wrote, “His greatest strength is how much he cares about his players.” Others surveyed wrote that they respected Durkin and praised his passion. But the support was met with numerous players who offered sharp criticism.
A former player wrote: “It’s bulls--- that Durkin is on paid administrative leave. … I don’t think Durkin should be paid, and he should never get another coaching job. What he put us through is disgusting. I’m not happy with less than a firing.”
Others wrote that “it was clear that Durkin didn’t care for the players” and that “the program was based on fear.”
Durkin, 41, served as Maryland’s head coach for two seasons, compiling a 10-15 record. He was previously the defensive coordinator at Michigan and Florida. In announcing Durkin’s hire, Mississippi praised Durkin’s ability as a coach and recruiter at his previous stops.