Maryland fired head coach DJ Durkin on Halloween, a day after reinstating him from a suspension that lasted through fall camp and eight regular season games. Durkin’s firing stems from a player’s death and two subsequent investigations: one into the circumstances around that death and another into the culture of Durkin’s program.
Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Jordan McNair died June 13, two weeks after he struggled to recover during and after a team workout that involved a series of 110-yard sprints. McNair’s family announced in July the cause of his death was heatstroke.
The fallout led the school to part ways with top strength coach Rick Court and, after a long back-and-forth, fire its head coach of two-plus seasons. Here’s a broad overview of what we know about McNair’s death and the multiple investigations that spawned from it.
McNair collapsed at a team workout on May 29 and died two weeks later of heatstroke, according to his family. An external review found that Maryland made mistakes in treating and diagnosing McNair when he fell ill.
The workout before his death involved a series of 110-yard sprints on a day when the high in College Park was in the 80s. After McNair died, the university hired athletic training consultant Rod Walters to review its staff’s handling of McNair’s illness.
Broad findings from that report, as summed up by Maryland blog Testudo Times:
Maryland’s May 29 workout, after which McNair was hospitalized, was the team’s first of the summer, and the 10 110-yard sprints were the first conditioning drill after a standard warm-up.
The medical staff did not take McNair’s temperature or check his vital signs. His reported body temperature upon checking into the hospital was 106 degrees.
911 was called at 5:57 p.m., over an hour after the sprints. An ambulance arrived with first responders at 6:02, paramedics arrived at 6:08 and McNair arrived at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park at 6:36. McNair was airlifted to R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore later that night.
Head coach DJ Durkin was at the workout.
McNair experienced muscle cramps during the sprints. This is an atypical symptom of heatstroke, Walters said.
It took 34 minutes after McNair started showing symptoms for the medical staff to remove him from the field, 67 minutes to call 911 and 99 minutes before he left in an ambulance.
Trainers did not use cold water immersion because they were afraid of McNair would drown in the tub “due to the concern of size of the student-athlete and the smaller stature of the athletic trainers providing care.” The staff treated him with cold towels instead.
Durkin was on the field for the workout but not involved in the medical treatment of McNair.
Surveillance footage of the workout was used for timeline purposes, but Walters said he couldn’t make out anything regarding McNair’s physical condition on the tapes.
Walters interviewed just six student-athletes during his investigation. He also interviewed all assistant football coaches.
Multiple players told Walters’ team that one Maryland athletic trainer yelled some variation of “DRAG HIS ASS ACROSS THE FIELD” while McNair was struggling.
Maryland’s university system launched another investigation in August, following an ESPN report that alleged the program had a “toxic” culture.
On Aug. 11, following a report by ESPN that included allegations of an abusive culture inside the program, Maryland placed Durkin on administrative leave. In the two and a half months after that, a university-hired team interviewed well more than 100 people connected to the program and put together a 192-page report about the culture Durkin had built.
The investigators said, in the report’s most notable takeaway.
The Maryland football team did not have a “toxic culture,” but it did have a culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out.
More broadly, their report found that some of the events described in ESPN’s reporting weren’t exactly the same — or, in some cases, as abusive — as described.
But they did describe a bunch of weird and unsettling events, including players being made to watch disturbing videos at breakfast time and Court, the strength coach, engaging in a variety of alleged abuses. It also found that Durkin and Court were closely aligned and that the head coach didn’t exercise oversight of a strength coach who crossed lines.
The report didn’t find that Maryland’s culture contributed to McNair’s death, despite finding that players became too scared to speak out with concerns about the program.
Following the release of the second report, Maryland reinstated Durkin on Oct. 30, only to fire him on Halloween.
Durkin came back to the team on Tuesday, and was present at Maryland’s practice. Three players walked out of the team’s first meeting after Durkin returned.
This reversal comes on the heels of calls from across the state for the University System of Maryland Board of Regents to reconsider their decision to recommend Durkin and AD Damon Evans return to their posts. Governor Larry Hogan was one such official.
By Wednesday at around 6:30 p.m. ET, he was gone. Massive public backlash, including from the state’s governor and other political leaders, catalyzed the firing.
McNair’s family had been calling for Durkin’s firing for months.
“He shouldn’t be able to work with anybody else’s kid,” his father, Martin, told Good Morning America in August. “You don’t send your kid away to college, Michael, you send your kid away to college for them to be developed into young people.
“And that’s physically, emotionally, spiritually, and just teach our young kids that you work so hard to get there, to, ‘hey, I’ve given my child to you. Keep him safe.’ And they did anything but that. So of course he should be fired.”
When Durkin was briefly reinstated, Martin McNair said it was “like I’ve been punched in the stomach and somebody spit in my face.” The family has mulled a lawsuit against the school.
McNair’s family also started a foundation in his memory that “seeks to diminish the occurrence of heat-related illnesses and improve player safety.”
“Our plans did not include his death,” Jordan’s father, Martin McNair, wrote in a letter on the foundation’s website. “Our plans included something more. Our plans included him. But God had other plans. Jordan gave us 19 great years, and we will miss him. He was a great son, grandson, cousin, nephew, brother, friend, student, roommate, and teammate.”
McNair’s Maryland teammates have honored him in a few ways this season, including helmet stickers with his No. 79 and by keeping that number unoccupied on the roster.
In the team’s first game of the season, an upset of Texas, Maryland started the game by lining up in a missing-man formation, with an open spot on the offensive line, and taking a false start. Texas declined the penalty yardage, and Maryland won a game its players widely dedicated to McNair.