Maryland puts Durkin on leave amid football investigation

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Maryland placed head football coach DJ Durkin and the team's strength and conditioning staff on paid leave while it investigates claims he verbally abused and humiliated players, a person briefed on the situation said. The person spoke to The Associated Press on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018, on condition of anonymity because Maryland had not announced the decision regarding Rick Court. The person says athletic director Damon Evans spoke with the football team Saturday morning and Durkin was still leading the program. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

Maryland placed head coach DJ Durkin on administrative leave Saturday while the school scrutinizes allegations of poor behavior by the football staff, apparent misdeeds that came to light following the death of a player.

In an open letter, athletic director Damon Evans wrote: “At this time, the best decision for our football program is to place Maryland head football coach DJ Durkin on leave so we can properly review the culture of the program.”

Offensive coordinator Matt Canada will serve as interim coach.

Earlier Saturday, the head of the football team’s strength and conditioning staff was placed on paid leave while the school investigates claims he verbally abused and humiliated players, according to a person briefed on the situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because Maryland had not announced the decision regarding Rick Court.

Maryland has also placed two athletic training staffers it did not identify on leave as it investigates the death of Jordan McNair. The 19-year-old offensive lineman was hospitalized May 29 after a team workout and died June 13. Dr. Rod Walters, a former college athletic trainer, has been hired by Maryland to investigate the circumstances of the death. A report is expected by Sept. 15. McNair’s parents are being represented by Baltimore attorney Bill Murphy, whose firm is also investigating.

In his open letter, Evans wrote: “The external review into the tragic death of Jordan McNair continues, and we have committed to releasing publicly the report being prepared by an independent and national expert.”

ESPN reported that head football athletic trainer Wes Robinson and director of athletic training Steve Nordwall were placed on leave by Maryland.

An ESPN story on Friday quoted unidentified players, former players and former members of Durkin’s staff, who contended Court and Durkin created a toxic culture within the program.

“The safety and well-being of our student-athletes is our highest priority,” Evans wrote. “These alleged behaviors are not consistent with the values I expect all of our staff to adhere to and we must do better.”

Durkin is starting his third season at Maryland. The 40-year-old former Michigan defensive coordinator is 11-15 in two seasons after receiving a five-year, contract worth $12.5 million in December 2015.

In 2010, Durkin was reunited with Urban Meyer when he joined the Florida Gators as linebackers coach and special teams coordinator. He remained on Florida’s staff when Will Muschamp took over as head coach in 2010, and in 2013 was promoted to defensive coordinator when Dan Quinn left for the NFL. On November of 2014, Durkin was named interim head coach for Florida’s bowl game after Muschamp was let go. Durkin led Florida to a 28–20 win over East Carolina in the 2015 Birminham Bowl.

Keisha Staples, the mother of junior defensive back Antoine Brooks Jr., told the AP she is close with a group of about eight players’ parents who would like to meet with Evans and school officials to voice their “full support” for Durkin.

Brooks was part of Durkin’s first recruiting class in 2016.

Staples said her son has never told her of inappropriate behavior by Durkin or Court, and that Durkin has been open and accessible when any issues have come up with Brooks.

“I’m sure not everybody has had the same experience we’ve had, but we have had a good experience,” Staples said.

Staples said she has never had any interactions with Court.

“I don’t want the stigma to be at Maryland this is a toxic culture,” Staples said. “This is a football culture.”

She added: “They’re already dealing with the death of their teammate. Now they have to deal with the loss of their coach.”

Durkin brought Court to Maryland to lead the strength and conditioning staff in 2016. Court had been the head strength coach at Mississippi State since 2014 under coach Dan Mullen. Court also worked with Durkin at Bowling Green in 2005 and ’06, when Durkin was an assistant.

Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald expressed support for Court on Saturday. Fitzgerald’s first two seasons with the Bulldogs coincided with Court’s time leading the strength program at the school.

“He worked us hard,” Fitzgerald told the AP. “They were definitely tough workouts, but ultimately he wasn’t out to get anybody. He wasn’t out to hurt anyone. His job is to make us physically fit and ready for the season and that’s exactly what he did. From what I remember, he never really went over the line or did anything crazy like that.”

24 COMMENTS

  1. I hope Durkin is in the clear. I know our players really liked him when he was here at UF. Always seemed like a stand up guy to me but you never know. It’s a shame if he didn’t do anything wrong because the court of public opinion can kill a good man’s career and this seems like something that may hang over his head. He’s got it tough enough trying to win at Maryland…now this.

    • In a sense, it almost seems like the killing season for coaches. That isn’t what it is, of course, and that would certainly be an overly cynical take on what is actually going on. Still, the “breathless” nature of it all in the media sure makes it sound like the circus just came to town, and I have to wonder who’s next.

      • Everyone associated with the Coach, Urban Meyer, will get ”looked at”, Gator-6.
        In my opinion, there’s too much political correctness going on. A lot of ”rubber-necking” (looking back). And when they go after people for decades old crimes, like Bill Cosby (and I am not defending Bill Cosby), then everyone is ”a potential target.”
        Last few points, I take ”false accusations” very seriously. In fact, ”a false accusation” cost one of my loved-ones their life (suicide). So, I get both sides of the problem. Under Coach Steve Spurrier in 2001, a young man (last name), Ross, died in a Gator Football practice. An ”A-Ross” was placed on the upper-left side of the Gators’ jerseys (and rightly so) for several years.
        So was Coach Steve Spurrier an ”abuser”?!?!? Doubt it!!!

  2. “I mean, come on man, wife battering really isn’t that big a deal but Durkin running a player to death is insidious and shameful. College football certainly doesn’t need anymore Durkins!” — Urban Meyer, sitting around with his friends at a barbecue

    • And here you go, beating up on the Gators, again. Just waiting for ANY bad news to surface so you can spout off your sewer mouth. I usually give ”respect” and I don’t, personally, give a damn if it’s given back.
      But, b.f., you make my rule so hard to adhere to sometimes. We all know your Crimi’noles of F.S.who have been the epitome of ”good behavior,” right? NOT!!! You’re a joke, and your ”so-called” quoting Meyer joke (above) is a lot like you… pathetic!

      • GI most here are fans, passionate fans who share thought of our favorite program. BF, Mikey, TTC, might be one and the same. Hard to believe someone or ones is so pathetic and sad to spend time spewing crap. If bet he/they use a different name on FSU sights. Maybe we should go there and fill there sight with BS. No wait we’re better than them.

        • Amen, I thought about ”commenting on the F.S.U. sites”, etc…, Gator-65.
          And then I thought, ”and what, be LIKE THEM?” I banished the thought! It’ll be ”a cold day in Hell” before I look/act like them. But I’m guilty as charged… with the ”passionate” part about our Gators.
          Born and raised, and damn proud of it!
          And for b.f., ”Don’t be a HATER, be a FLORIDA GATOR!
          Chomp-Chomp! Go Gators!

          • It’s because we are a grown men following OUR team unlike this likely teenage troll getting his rocks off in the basement. I thought he was somewhere getting ready for the upcoming fire Mike White campaign.

            This guy bf, who impersonates Sean Hannity or Mike Winter, who is Rachel Maddow-esque (you know to throw us off) is the lamest cat ever…

          • You know you guys are giving him the attention he wants, right? Any type of attention given whether name calling, challenging his manhood or other derogatory remarks just gives him what he wants. If everybody just ignored him, maybe he would go away or maybe not. But at least he wouldn’t have the satisfaction of getting a reaction out of anyone. By ignoring him you are showing him that he isn’t worth anyone’s time or effort…and now I’m getting sucked into it.

  3. Reminds me of the Len Bias / University of Maryland story where coach Lefty Driesell resigned, I suppose because of the need to change the culture after the drug induced death of the superstar player. I wonder if this incident will lead to changes in athletic culture everywhere to soften and eliminate any possible hint of verbal abuse or humiliation during the rigorous conditioning and coaching.

  4. It was Court’s job to get the players conditioned. I’ll wait to hear why the player died before rushing to judgement on the cause.

    It’s inevitable that one person out of the hundred or so in the program could have hidden medical issues. What’s highly unusual is to cause a death through conditioning.

  5. Sorry to hear about this for DJ Durkin, a class guy and a really good coach. Football is a brutal sport that requires extreme conditioning to survive a season of 12, 14, or 16 games, sometimes in insane heat. If we use today’s ethics to evaluate appropriate coaching my entire HS coaching staff in the 1980’s would have probably been fired, if not jailed. Same goes for Bear Bryant, Barry Switzer, John McKay, Tom Osborne, Darrell Royal, (insert legendary coach here). Either outlaw the game altogether or let these players be trained in the way they need to be, in order to survive in a physically taxing and violent sport. The loss was tragic, but when you subject people to physical stress, there is always a risk. Do you really think you will get 80,000 fans in the stadium to watch flag football? What’s next? Hockey becomes a no contact no conditioning sport? Or,maybe we change the rules for how our Army Rangers, Green Berets, or Navy Seals get trained? I guess pillow fights will be the combat sport of 2040. Something tells me, at this rate, with where our culture is headed, the Russians will one day have the elite football teams in the world. Hopefully I don’t live to see that day.

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