Maryland football athletic staffers placed on leave amid report of harmful culture

Maryland has placed members of its athletic staff on administrative leave pending the outcome of an external review into the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who died in June after his family said he suffered a heatstroke during offseason practice in late May. The number of staffers suspended, along with any additional details which staffers are away from the program, have not been released.

The statement from the university is as follows, per the Baltimore Sun.

Following the death of Maryland football player Jordan McNair in June, the University of Maryland commissioned an external review of the procedures and protocols surrounding athletes’ health and safety. Pending the final outcome of this review, the university has placed members of the Athletics staff on administrative leave. We will be able to speak in greater detail when the review is complete and shared with the public. Our thoughts remain with Jordan McNair’s family, friends and teammates.

McNair’s death is one of many incidents detailed a lengthy ESPN report that paints the Terrapins program under coach D.J. Durkin in a harmful light. The focal point of the report is the “toxic coaching culture” said to be created and fostered primarily by Durkin and Maryland’s strength and conditioning coach, Rick Court.

Court was one of Durkin’s initial hires nearly three years ago and reportedly the first call he made after taking the job. Maryland’s longtime head football trainer Wes Robinson was also mentioned in ESPN’s report. “It did seem like he was trying to become someone he really wasn’t,”a former staff member said of Robinson, who allegedly yelled, “Drag his ass across the field!” during McNair’s 10th sprint during his final workout. 

According to interviews with both current and former players, as well as former football staffers and people close to the program, Maryland’s culture consisted of alleged acts of verbal and physical abuse, belittlement and fear tactics. As one ex-Maryland staff member told ESPN, “I would never, ever, ever allow my child to be coached there.”

The entire report is worth a read, but a few of the more egregious allegations include … 

  • Details of McNair’s death, of which an independent investigation is expected to be completed by Sept. 15. Billy Murphy, the McNair family attorney, told ESPN that Jordan suffered a seizure at around 5 p.m. during his ill-fated May 29 workout in which he ran 10 110-yard sprints. However, a call to 911 was not placed until nearly an hour later. Maryland’s statement to ESPN said, “At no point before or during the external review has a student-athlete, athletic trainer or coach reported a seizure occurring at 5 p.m.” 
  • A more detailed account of the workout from ESPN, in which one player said “Jordan was obviously not in control of his body. He was flopping all around. There were two trainers on either side of him bearing a lot of weight. They interlocked their legs with his in order to keep him standing.”
  • A pattern of verbal abuse that dove into personal attacks. One former staff member told ESPN “We always talked about family, but whose family talks to you like that, calls you a p—- bitch?.” Former Maryland defensive lineman Malik Jones added that Durkin once got in his face and accused him of “bad mouthing” the program. “He basically got in my face, was pointing his finger in my face and calling me explicit names and things of that nature. … He called me a bitch and stuff like that.” 
  • Allegations against Court singling out players he didn’t like and overworking them in practice. “Guys are run off,” one current player said. “They’ll have them do specific finishes at the end and do harder workouts or more workouts just to make their lives miserable here. He’s kind of Durkin’s tool to accomplish that. He’s the guy people hate, and that way Durkin doesn’t have to take the blow for it. Guys can’t stand Coach Court.” Court has also been accused of throwing objects, including small weights, in the general direction of players. A current player said “I would say Court is as much responsible for the culture as Durkin.”
  • A former player claiming that another athlete was forced by the staff to compete in a tug-of-war on his own against multiple teammates until he passed out. “They made him do it with one hand,” the former player said. “Coach Court called him a p—- after he didn’t win.”
  • Disturbing and sometimes punitive eating habits forced upon players. In one instance, a “former offensive lineman whom the staff deemed overweight was forced to watch workouts while eating candy bars as a form of humiliation.” Another player, who struggled when tasked with gaining weight, was told to eat until he threw up and allegedly had coaches hounding him while he ate. Another allegedly had a trey knocked out of his hands.
  • Concerns about the investigation into McNair’s death. Specifically, two players said that interviews with investigators were supposed to be anonymous, but because interviews were held near Durkin’s office, they were anything but hidden. “Basically anybody can walk by, any coach or whoever really wants to can walk by and see who signed up and see who’s talking to the investigation,” a player said. 

The internal investigation into McNair’s death is scheduled to be completed by Sept. 15. In the meantime, the McNair family is “likely” to file a lawsuit, per Murphy. Durkin, athletics director Damon Evans and president Wallace Loh did not provide comment to ESPN for the story. However, one current player expressed concern over “a lack of action” by university leadership in the wake of McNair’s passing. 

Maryland now has much more to look into than just McNair’s passing, including how Durkin and his strength staff runs the program day to day. Keep in mind that former Illinois coach Tim Beckman was fired amid an investigation into player misconduct in 2015. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson was fired the following year due to a similar investigation into player treatment. 

“The alleged behaviors raised in the ESPN story are troubling and not consistent with our approach to the coaching and development of our student athletes,” said a statement from Maryland.” Such allegations do not reflect the culture of our program. We are committed to swiftly examining and addressing any such reports when they are brought to our attention.”

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