As a college athlete, the glamour of being the “Big Man on Campus” is always met with the hard work required to be just that. Simply put, playing college football is a full time job. In most cases, the day starts before dawn. Workouts/conditioning before your morning classes, hopefully you can squeeze in a breakfast bar on the way. If not, better grab some lunch before practice! Summer is similar, morning workout before two-a-days. But football is a man’s game, show any sign of weakness and you’re immediately at risk. Maryland hired Michigan defensive coordinator DJ Durkin in the winter of 2015. After leading the Terps to a bowl game in his first season, 2017 was an underwhelming 4-8 season marred by injury after injury on both sides of the ball. However, a healthy and optimistic Maryland team looked to get back to a second bowl game in three years under Durkin. On May 29, 2018, that all came to an abrupt halt. 19-year old offensive lineman Jordan McNair was hospitalized with seizures and body temperature of 106 degrees after not being able to finish a set of 110-yard sprints. 15 days later on June 13th, 2018, Jordan McNair tragically passed away, a heatstroke was the cause of his death (ESPN).
On August 10th, following a month and a half’s worth on investigation since McNair’s death, ESPN.com reported on allegations against Durkin and strength and conditioning coach Rick Court citing a fear based culture built on intimidation and humiliation.
“Although grueling workouts, expletive-laced rants and hot-tempered coaches aren't unusual in college sports programs, those who have been at Maryland told ESPN that what they saw or experienced under Durkin has been excessive. The current players said they had talked with multiple players who described similar views about the team's culture but feared repercussions if they talked publicly. The two players spoke on the condition of anonymity.
A former Maryland staff member said: "I would never, ever, ever allow my child to be coached there."
A second former staffer said that while he has seen and heard coaches curse at players, he'd never been on another coaching staff with this kind of philosophy. "The language is profane, and it's demeaning at times," he said. "When you're characterizing people in such derogatory and demeaning terms, particularly if they don't have a skill level you think they need to aspire to, or they may never get, then it's rough to watch and see because if it was your son, you wouldn't want anybody talking to your son that way."
"The way they coach us at Maryland, tough love -- it's really more tough than it is love," one former player said” (Dinich, Rittenberg, VanHaaren)
That same day, two Maryland staff members (Wes Robinson – head football athletic trainer and Steve Nordwall – director of athletic training) were placed on administrative leave. The following day, President Wallace Loh announced via Twitter that DJ Durkin would be placed on administrative leave while a comprehensive examination is conducted.
The situation at the University of Maryland is ugly, but a young man lost his life under the administration of these grown men. A coaches’ job is to motivate, not intimidate, and it appears, on the surface, these coaches scared that young man to death. The investigation in the coming months will provide light on a dark situation, but I simply can’t envision a scenario where Durkin returns to coach the team. I reached out to one current and one former un-named Maryland player for comment, both denied.
For now, we will keep Jordan McNair, his family and friends in our thoughts and hope that this can be a lesson to all current and future coaches: football is a game that is not worth a young man’s life. Go Terps.