Maryland finally wises up

Maryland finally did the right thing. It grew a conscience.

On Wednesday, the Terrapins fired head football coach and raging lunatic D.J. Durkin, just after announcing that he was returning to the sidelines.

It just took football players walking out of a team meeting and protesting on social media along with a massive public outcry for common decency to register in the Terrapins’ heads.

Back in August, I wrote a column about the terrible behaviors that were committed under the Durkin regime and let’s just say, it was like a dictator was in charge of the program.

Practices would be scheduled during the hottest parts of the day and a crazed coach named Rick Court allegedly delivered his form of justice by throwing weights at players and emotionally abusing them. Other terrible acts included poor eating habits and using food as a punishment. All of that is bad enough, but the most serious atrocity was that a player named Jordan McNair died on Durkin’s watch.

Earlier this May, McNair, a lineman, was put through some strenuous 110-yard sprints and eventually reached the point where he almost passed out. Less than an hour later, McNair suffered a seizure and when he arrived at the hospital, he had a body temperature of 106 degrees. Fifteen days later, McNair was dead from heat stroke, epitomizing the toxic culture at Maryland.

The university suspended Durkin along with athletic director Damon Evans and school president Wallace Loh for 10 weeks as it tried to conduct an external investigation into the Terrapins’ culture. A copy of the investigation released last week said that there was “no toxic culture” in the football program, but found some of the things under Durkin’s reign to be worrisome.

After lots of speculation, the University System of Maryland Board of Regents said earlier this week that the Terrapins should bring back all three men. According to an article by the Washington Post, Loh didn’t want to bring Durkin back, but was reportedly told that he would be let go if he didn’t bring back the coach. According to ESPN, Board Chairman James T. Brady even had the gall to say “We believe that Coach Durkin has been unfairly blamed for the dysfunction in the athletic department. While he bears some responsibility, it is not fair to place all of it at his feet.”

When he found out that Durkin was returning to potentially continue his reign of terror, McNair’s father Marty said in a press conference, “I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach and somebody spit in my face.”

Maryland offensive lineman Ellis McKennie slammed the school on Twitter for not having the courage to hold Durkin accountable and his thoughts were echoed by fellow Terrapins Tre Watson and Adam McLean.

It’s honestly mind-boggling that none of the regents considered what the players wanted to happen and some of the Terrapins made their thoughts blatantly clear on Tuesday.

When Durkin addressed the team Tuesday, multiple players walked out of the meeting. Sports reporters, columnists, students and fans lit into the university on social media. Even Maryland Governor Larry Hogan weighed in, saying “I am deeply troubled by the lack of transparency from the Board of Regents, and deeply concerned about how they could have possibly arrived at the decisions announced yesterday.”

When you even have the governor jumping in and saying you screwed up, it’s a pretty clear sign that you did.

On Halloween, Durkin got a “trick” pulled on him and was sent packing as Loh defied the board’s recommendations and told Evans to fire Durkin, which he did. In a statement, Loh said that he originally accepted what the board said and told them that he was going to retire next June.

However, he said after meeting with leaders of the Student Government Association, other organizations, faculty members and others, he learned how heavily opposed they all were to Durkin returning as coach. This should’ve been clear to him already, but Loh eventually concluded that he needed to fire Durkin.

After Durkin was given his walking papers, some of the players rejoiced on social media, most notably McKennie and Watson. McKennie tweeted, “It’s never the wrong time to do what’s right” and Watson said “Pressure bursts pipes doesn’t it?” That was definitely the case for Brady, who announced he was stepping down Thursday.

When he found out Durkin had been fired, Marty McNair was quoted in an ESPN article saying, “It’s a step in the right direction to try to put some closure to this.”

It’d be great if everything started moving in a positive direction, but on Wednesday, the Baltimore Sun reported that after Durkin had been reinstated, Terrapins punter Matt Barber was harassed and physically assaulted by some teammates at practice. According to the article, Barber said that those players believed he had spoken to investigators and began practice by taunting him and hitting him with footballs.

Once practice was over, Barber said one player tried to punch him in the face and while they scuffled, other teammates pinned his arms behind his back while the original assailant continued to pummel his face. Barber said he had a black eye, multiple stitches to his forehead and a dislocated shoulder and when he spoke to the Sun, he had a bandage on around his head and his arm in a sling. The punter then capped off the story by saying, “My jersey was bloody. I had blood all over my hands.” If that isn’t the definition of a toxic program, I don’t know what is.

Some of Barber’s teammates have now disputed his account of what happened and the University of Maryland Police Department has obtained a video of the fight that they are investigating. No matter what the department concludes though, the fact that there was a fight on the field shortly after Durkin returned says that this team still has a long way to go in fixing its problems.

So let’s sum up this week. The board recommends Durkin comes back and threatens Loh that he’d be fired if he didn’t. The maniacal coach returns to the team and some of his players walk out of a meeting. In the following practice, a punter claims he got the crap beat out of him for trying to enlighten people about the horrors of the Durkin era, while at the same time, some of his teammates denied that. Then to cap it all off, Loh goes against the board’s decision and does what should’ve happened weeks ago, and that’s tossing Durkin out the door.

On Saturday, the Terrapins hosted Michigan State and lost handily, but a new era has begun. A bully of a coach, who compiled a record of 10-15 in two years, was thrown into unemployment (although he’ll be sitting pretty with $5.53 million coming his way). A board chairman had enough common sense to read the room and go away and the family of a deceased student-athlete can finally start to feel some much-needed closure.

All because Maryland finally grew a conscience this week, something that it should’ve had from the beginning.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.