A prominent Maryland football booster said his support for the Terrapins — and their embattled head coach — won’t change in the wake of the school’s decision to boot him from the team’s trip to Michigan because of comments he made related to Jordan McNair’s death.
Rick Jaklitsch, a former president of the Terrapin Club, was scheduled to travel with the team to Ann Arbor, Mich., on Friday. As ESPN first reported, some players saw his name on the team’s travel itinerary and urged athletic department officials to keep him off the team’s charter flight.
Jaklitsch, an attorney from Upper Marlboro, laid out his support for DJ Durkin, the Maryland coach who is on administrative leave, in an interview last week with the Diamondback, the school newspaper. But it was his comments about McNair, the 19-year-old football player who died on June 13 after suffering from exertional heatstroke at a team workout on May 29, that made waves.
“As much as we hate to say this, Jordan didn’t do what Jordan was supposed to do,” the booster told the Diamondback. “A trainer like Wes Robinson thinks a kid’s properly hydrated and runs a drill set up for kids that are properly hydrated, and when the kid didn’t drink the gallon he knew he had to drink, that’s going to send the wrong signal to the person running the drill.”
In an interview Sunday with The Washington Post, Jaklitsch explained that he wasn’t trying to cause any further pain to any of the Maryland players.
“I understand how much these kids have been through. They lose one of their best friends and a great kid — Jordan. It’s amazing what the coaches have been through. We need to all support each other, and it should be ‘Go Terps’ all the time,” he said. “And the media keeps picking at a scab, and there are raw feelings there from a lot of people at Maryland. And you can understand when you lose someone as loved as Jordan that there are going to be raw feelings. I certainly understand that.”
Jaklitsch’s comments upset many people close to the Maryland program, according to the ESPN story. An independent investigation found the school made many mistakes that contributed to McNair’s death, including failing to diagnose or treat him for heatstroke.
In a statement Monday afternoon, Martin McNair, the player’s father, decried Jaklitsch’s remarks as “outrageous and despicable,” and asked the university and the board of regents “to show our deceased son and our family some decency and respect by asking your surrogates to discontinue blaming Jordan for his own death.”
“It has been over 100 days since Jordan died, and President Wallace Loh accepted moral and legal responsibility for the death of our son. Our nightmare continues,” he said. “Words can’t describe the added anguish and new hardship we now are experiencing as we listen to and watch the University of Maryland and surrogates of the University continue to blame our son for his own death during a football practice conducted by adult coaches who should have known better.”
Jaklitsch said he said he was fine skipping Maryland’s game at Michigan, a 42-21 loss, but hopes to be back on the road with the Terps in the future. Jaklitsch is a Maryland alum, served nearly a decade on the Terrapin Club’s board of directors and was president of the football program’s fundraising group, the Maryland Gridiron Network, under former coach Randy Edsall.
“I’ve been on trips for 20 years. I’ll be on trips for another 20 years, hopefully,” he said. “They could have used me. I’m still undefeated when I’m on the sidelines. But I refuse to be selfish. I’ll do whatever it takes to support Maryland. If I can support them by not being there, I’ll not be there. It’s all about the players, it’s all about the coaches, it’s all about my Terps.”
In the interview with The Post, Jaklitsch said that several factors seemed to lead to McNair’s death. Among them: the practice field was changed at the last minute, there was no cold tub on hand, and a report prepared by an outside consultant found that a full gallon of water was later found unopened in McNair’s locker.
“Little tiny pieces come together like a mosaic to help cause a tragedy,” he said. “It’s never one single thing. I’m sad that the media would go hunting for heads on pikes. Twenty different things came together or caused a tragedy. . . . There’s no one to blame. Just tragedies happen sometimes. It’s part of God’s plan.
“DJ Durkin was not to blame for this,” he continued. “Wes Robinson was not to blame for this. Jordan was certainly not to blame for this. None of the players, none of the coaches should be blamed for this. It’s a tragedy. And we should stay behind our players, stay behind our coaches, stay behind the Maryland program.”
Durkin was placed on administrative leave Aug. 11, one day after the school placed two high-ranking trainers — Robinson and Steve Nordwall — on leave. Rick Court, the team’s strength and conditioning coach, negotiated a settlement and resigned from the school Aug. 14.
The school contracted with Walters Inc. to investigate the events surrounding McNair’s death and found numerous mistakes made by the team’s medical personnel. There’s also an ongoing investigation into the culture surrounding the football program that is expected to wrap up in the next week or two. The University System of Maryland’s board of regents will then review those findings before making any decisions about the future of Durkin and the football program.
Jaklitsch and a dozen other prominent football boosters in the Champions Club sent a letter in August to the board, voicing their support for Durkin.
“What everyone has to know is how much his heart is in for the good of the players,” he told The Post. “He cares so much about them being winners in life, in the classroom — not just on the field. That’s why some of these people in the Champions Club support him so much. And that’s the tragedy in this, beyond losing a great kid like Jordan, is that we might lose a great coach who cares so much about his players in DJ. Just because some people want a head on a pike. That’s wrong.”