The following two statements cannot coexist, but they perfectly outline the chaos at the University of Maryland, which ought to be ashamed of itself: The father of Jordan McNair, who died under the oversight of the so-called leaders who were embarrassingly reinstated Tuesday, said on national television in August that DJ Durkin “shouldn’t be able to work with anybody else’s kid.” And James T. Brady, the chairman of the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents, said Tuesday: “We will forever — forever — be guided by the memory of Jordan McNair.”
They’re hiding behind their tributes to the dead offensive lineman now, making hollow promises to create a better path forward by “honoring” his legacy. It’s disgusting. Real guidance wouldn’t parse whether the culture of the Terrapins football program was “toxic” or not. (News flash: To any reasonable person who read the regents-ordered report, it was, whether that report labeled it as such or not.) No, real guidance would have been deeming this entire operation unacceptable months ago, acting with urgency and compassion for those who were wronged, and cleansing itself of the people who created an appalling environment in the first place.
But this is the University of Maryland, and what we have learned about the University of Maryland is that logic doesn’t apply. There, being guided by the memory of a 19-year-old whose death was wholly and completely preventable means that the football coach who oversaw a program built on — among other things — demeaning players should be welcomed back. So here comes the inconceivable: DJ Durkin, back on the sideline, Saturday against Michigan State.
“We believe he is a good man and a good coach who is devoted to the well-being of the student-athletes under his charge,” Brady said with a straight face.
Interesting interpretation. Brady said he read the report issued by the commission the regents assembled, aimed at getting to the bottom of how Durkin ran his program. Guess he missed the part about bizarrely motivating players with food, or showing them savage videos of animals killing each other, or creating a caste system of haves and have-nots, or humiliating them by throwing trash cans full of vomit across the room. In the world of Brady and the regents, it was Durkin’s program, but he wasn’t responsible for the behavior of those who were employed in it.
Being guided by the memory of that dead offensive lineman means, at the University of Maryland, that the administrator who was charged with overseeing football for four seasons before he was named the athletic director is not just returning to his job in College Park, but is tabbed with turning this mess around. That’s Damon Evans, the guy who had his head in the sand while Durkin and his subordinates created their reprehensible environment right under his nose.
This is inconceivable, of course, until you consider that the University of Maryland — in its entirety — is delusional. At various points during a 40-minute news conference in Baltimore on Tuesday, Brady and Wallace D. Loh, the president of the flagship College Park campus, outlined their desire for Maryland to be the site of a model football program and a model sports medicine operation, and touted Maryland’s rise in various national rankings during Loh’s tenure.
On that model football program: Uh, no. Durkin went 5-13 in the Big Ten over his first two seasons before ceding to offensive coordinator Matt Canada during his paid administrative leave.
What, exactly, is Durkin’s path forward? Not that recruiting should be the focus in the wake of this decision, because what does recruiting matter to McNair’s family? But if you’re going to have a football program, you have to recruit. What does that look like now?
“Greetings, mothers of prospective Maryland football players. Come in. Have a seat. Let me flip on this video of animals disemboweling each other, just to get you in the right frame of mind. Oh, sorry, is there puke in that trash can? Allow me to fling it across the room. That should do it. Would you like a candy bar? No? I insist. Seriously. Eat this &$%@#! candy bar!!!!!!!! Or else!!!!!!!!!”
Now, though, we’re supposed to take solace in the idea that Durkin will receive guidance and support on how to properly run a program. Forget that the guidance must be, at least in part, coming from Evans, who was apparently persona non grata the first time around.
More than that, it’s laughable that the commission, in its report to the regents, lamented the lack of support Durkin received, as if a 40-year-old man who had worked for Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh would have welcomed hand-holding. Brady reiterated those regrets Tuesday, saying “the athletics department lacked a culture of accountability, did not provide adequate oversight of the football program and failed to provide . . . Mr. Durkin with the tools, resources and guidance necessary to support and educate a first-time head coach in a major football conference.”
So, then, a buddy program, and we’ll fix it right up? No chance Durkin should have — oh, I don’t know — understood the difference between appropriate and inappropriate all by his own self, right? What does $2.5 million buy these days anyway, other than a coach who needs guidance in the distinction between right and wrong?
On establishing a sports medicine program that sets an example to the nation: Sorry. Too late. Jordan McNair died. Improve your practices, for sure, to make sure this never happens again. But by definition, Maryland is a follower in this regard, reactive and not proactive. People who attended Jordan’s funeral would agree there.
Oh, and about Evans returning: He has his job because Loh and former athletic director Kevin Anderson engaged in a squabbling match that left Anderson first on administrative leave (sense a theme here?) before he finally was forced out. Evans was damaged goods when he arrived, deposed as the up-and-coming AD at his alma mater, the University of Georgia, following a drunk-driving arrest that was more than just a drunk-driving arrest. If you’re unfamiliar with the specifics, Google “Damon Evans DUI red panties,” and you’ll understand more fully the poor decision-making that went into that evening.
Do people deserve second chances? Absolutely. But Evans got his — and failed. When he was hired as one of Anderson’s underlings, among his duties was overseeing football. Somehow, he missed all the practices that he and Durkin now — according to the university — agree must be changed. Did he lack the good judgment to see that before a player died? Or was he too embroiled in petty office politics in a dysfunctional department? Or was he, flatly, asleep at the wheel?
I’ll take D.) All of the above.
One more thing, for those who want to contain this embarrassment to the athletic department: Please. This tragedy reached all aspects of not just the campus in College Park, but the university system. To be clear: The board of regents wrested control of the investigation into the culture of the football program from the College Park administration because it believed there needed to be distance between the investigators and those they were investigating. Yet in the days and hours before it announced its recommendations, it took measures — quietly, cowardly, not from a position of leadership but a position of cover-our-behinds — to make it known that it would be out of line for the regents to meddle in specific personnel decisions on an individual campus.
And then, according to The Washington Post’s reporting, the regents told Loh that, to retain his job for the remainder of the academic year, he had to return Durkin to his spot, or be fired himself.
What, exactly, would meddling look like?
Whew. This is a lot to digest.
“This is absolutely a first-class institution,” Brady said.
Kinda fits with the times, doesn’t it? If you say it enough, maybe it’ll be perceived as the truth, even when it’s not.
That Durkin remains the football coach at the University of Maryland defies common sense and common decency. That Evans remains his boss as the athletic director means Maryland has installed a leader who is defined more by his mistakes than his successes. And the entire university system has exposed itself. It isn’t guided by the memory of Jordan McNair, that’s for sure, and it’s insulting to use that memory as a prop in making these regrettable moves that are supposed to distance Maryland from the past, but only serve to cement it right there.