Copyright 2018 Gannett Company, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
The development is almost as astounding as it is disturbing. On Saturday, when Maryland's DJ Durkin was placed on leave while the school investigates allegations of mistreatment of players, he became the second Big Ten head coach, joining Ohio State's Urban Meyer, in dubious limbo as kickoff nears.
It's unclear at this point whether either will lose their jobs, or if they should. Although Durkin once worked for Meyer, the unfolding scandals appear very different. Durkin's program is under scrutiny that began with the death of a player after an offseason workout, while Ohio State is examining Meyer's actions in responding to allegations of domestic abuse against one of his assistant coaches.
Whatever is eventually uncovered in both cases, we can hope these are isolated instances. That elsewhere in college sports, people are as astounded as they are disturbed. But the investigations should also prompt concern:
It's long past time for athletics directors and football coaches everywhere to assess their own departments and programs, to see if they're really practicing those "core values" they preach. And even more than that, to make sure the cultures they've created are actually, well, good.
That's in serious question at Maryland, where the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair after an offseason workout led to allegations, levied in an ESPN report, of verbal abuse and intimidation by coaches that created a toxic brew. Maryland strength coach Rick Court, director of athletic training Steve Nordwall and athletic trainer Wes Robinson were placed on leave a day ahead of Durkin.
A former player told "The Washington Post": "There was just constant degrading of players, and that was the culture they brought to the program and they thought it would toughen us up."
Let's stipulate this much: College football's universally sought culture of toughness and perseverance can be a very good thing.
Most of us have no real idea of our limits; we have never gotten close to exploring them. That's also true of the gifted athletes who play college football, sometimes because they have excelled largely with talent alone. It's in that context that coaches prod and push players, trying to coax extraordinary effort that produces performance gains they otherwise might only have dreamed of.
In the best programs, the result is rigorous competition, with each other, but with themselves. By definition, it's not an easy thing to achieve. And unfortunately it can be far too easily perverted into a hyper-macho, sadistic bullying culture.
Regardless of the specific events that led to McNair's tragic death, which are still under investigation, it appears the Maryland football culture promoted by Durkin, and enforced largely by Court, was built on intimidation and fear.
Maybe forcing an overweight player to eat candy bars while his teammates worked out, as alleged in the ESPN report, isn't that big a deal. Perhaps moving an injured player's locker into the showers is just a motivating tactic. It could be that name-calling and persistent profanity by coaches are effective ways to motivate. Maybe forcing players to finish every drill and workout, even when they're clearly struggling, when they're obviously past the point of exhaustion or worse, is just old school toughing it out.
But so was the misguided notion, common a few decades ago, that players could prove their manhood by going without water during practices.
Coaches everywhere should take note and take stock of their own methods and practices. It's long past time to leave the meatheads behind and move into the 21st century. Players can be coached hard without intimidation and humiliation. They can be motivated without endangering their health.
Maryland President Wallace Loh said in a statement released Saturday that he was "profoundly disturbed" by the allegations. Loh said the school would undertake "a comprehensive examination of our coaching practices in the football program, with the goal that these practices reflect -- not subvert -- the core values of our university."
Which brings us back to Ohio State and the core values preached by Meyer: Decisions. Honesty. Treat women with respect. No drugs. No stealing. No weapons.
Those are fine and good. But the program's core values seemed malleable when Meyer was coaching at Florida, when multiple star players misbehaved without much consequence. And they're now under scrutiny again. Domestic abuse allegations involving former assistant coach Zach Smith, and Meyer's decision to keep Smith on staff for years despite knowing of the allegations, lead inevitably to this question:
Does Meyer's program really adhere to those values? For others in college athletics, it should lead also to this: Does yours?
The allegations at Maryland might be extreme examples of meatheads run amok. Perhaps values such as Meyer's are practiced, not simply preached, in most programs. But if nothing else, the astounding, disturbing developments of the last couple of weeks should serve as prompts, all over college football, for a comprehensive examination.
Read More of Today's AB Headlines
Subscribe to Our Daily E-Newsletter