Opinion: Maryland's Durkin Decision Makes No Sense

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You would imagine, based on the way Maryland has subverted logic and torpedoed its integrity Tuesday, that it was acting in the service of a coach who was actually good at winning football games.

That's a play we've all seen before in college football, and even in cases where schools completely abandoned their capacity for shame, at least they got some enjoyment out of it on 12 Saturdays a year.

But what are the Maryland Board of Regents getting for bringing back DJ Durkin and athletics director Damon Evans? What about that utterly replaceable combination is going to make it worth the abdication of moral responsibility that now taints the University of Maryland forever?

The answer is nothing, other than the squishy spine of Maryland's plutocrat class deciding Tuesday that it can somehow rescue a problematic football program without removing those who were in charge of it.

It is the pathetic thing to do. It is the weak thing to do. It is the cheap thing to do.

Despite the conclusions reached last week in the school's 192-page independent investigative report, the information contained inside of it suggests we'll never know for sure whether the culture Durkin created at Maryland contributed, either directly or indirectly, to the events that led to the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair. While there were poor decisions made by both Maryland's strength and conditioning staff and its medical staff as McNair began suffering from heatstroke, it's unclear whether any of it was connected to the old school, hyper-macho atmosphere Durkin and his strength coach Rick Court demanded.

The thing is, you don't need to make that determination to turn the page. All you need is a big check and a motivation to bring in a new set of people to run your athletic program who had absolutely nothing to do with the tragedy.

"We believe coach Durkin has been unfairly blamed for the dysfunction in the athletic department," said Maryland Board of Regents chairman James Brady, which is a perfectly fair thing to believe but has nothing to do with the reality of what the school now faces.

Instead of confronting the massive public relations disaster the way a well-run school would, Maryland has opted to entrust a turnaround to Evans (who either did or didn't have enough oversight over the football program, depending on who the investigative committee asked), Durkin (who either did or didn't coach through fear and humiliation, depending on which player was asked) and some yet-to-be-formed culture oversight committee, because if anything this situation needs it's another committee.

Even school president Wallace Loh, who announced his imminent retirement Tuesday and essentially became the fall guy, recognized what had to happen. According to multiple reports, and confirmed by a glaring omission of praise for Durkin in his comments, Loh would have fired Durkin and kept Evans if it was his choice.

Instead, Brady's banking on "a very strong belief that DJ is absolutely prepared to move in a direction that's totally consistent with the values of the university."

But in the end, it really doesn't matter what kind of support structure Maryland puts around Durkin or how much he's promised to change certain ridiculous aspects of his program like, say, showing serial killer videos during meals as "motivation" tools. He's effectively done. It's only a matter of when.

While the Maryland regents would like you to believe that the program's dysfunction fell on the shoulders of Court and a former athletics director in Kevin Anderson who hasn't been around for a year — how convenient! — there's no way to recover from this. Not with current players, some of whom walked out of a meeting with Durkin on Tuesday, according to an anonymously sourced report from ESPN, and not with recruits and their families.

That's what makes this decision so mystifying.

For everything that's transpired over the last five months to make Maryland the subject of national news, there was a foolproof and simple, albeit expensive, way to get rid of the problem. Instead, it deliberately chose the most convoluted solution with the smallest chance of success.

Even if Durkin had tried to sue Maryland for millions of dollars in damage to his reputation, the sunk cost of keeping him, when it's obvious the hole will only grow deeper in a year or two, is practically incalculable.

If Durkin was as good as Urban Meyer — or heck, even if he'd won as much as Ralph Friedgen — you could maybe squint and see the upside of putting the school through all of this to keep a football coach.

Instead, the decision-makers staked the school's reputation on a coach who's 10-15.

The history of atta-boys for college coaches who've humiliated their profession might be long, but the bar has never been lower.

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October 31, 2018


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