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The Washington Times
COLLEGE PARK The University of Maryland reversed course Wednesday, firing DJ Durkin one day after announcing the football coach would keep his job, despite lingering questions about the death of player Jordan McNair.
Wednesday's about-face came amid criticism, calls for protest marches and a pointed public request from Gov. Larry Hogan that the 17-member University of Maryland System Board of Regents and university president Wallace D. Loh reconsider Tuesday's decision to reinstate Durkin.
The Terrapins coach had been suspended since Aug. 11 while two investigations looked into the circumstances around McNair's death and media reports of a "toxic culture" within the program. The 19-year-old offensive lineman died from heatstroke in June two weeks after collapsing at a team workout.
An eight-week investigation by an independent commission stopped short of calling the program's culture "toxic," but pinned some responsibility on Durkin for abuses that "festered" under his watch.
The original decision not to fire him, announced at a press conference in Baltimore, prompted significant backlash. Mr. Hogan joined a chorus of current players, prominent alumni, media figures and local and state lawmakers criticizing the school's administrators.
"The University System of Maryland has let down the University of Maryland community and the citizens of Maryland,' Mr. Hogan said in a statement, "and now is the time to fix it."
Mr. Loh sent a letter to the university community Wednesday night saying he met with campus leadership, including student government leaders, deans and department chairs, who overwhelmingly "expressed serious concerns about Mr. Durkin returning to the campus."
"This is not at all a reflection of my opinion of Coach Durkin as a person," Mr. Loh wrote. "However, a departure is in the best interest of the University, and this afternoon Coach Durkin was informed that the University will part ways."
Maryland will buy out the remaining three years of Durkin's five-year deal. At $2.5 million annually, he's the second-highest paid public employee in the state.
It is a precipitous fall for Durkin, who was hired in December 2015 to lead the Terrapins' football program to greater success in the Big Ten Conference.
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada will continue to serve as interim coach for the remainder of the season, The Washington Times confirmed.
The backlash against the decision to bring Durkin back grew steadily Wednesday, with the Student Government Association organizing a protest march and the McNair family slamming the board.
Some current Terrapins players also voiced frustration with Durkin's return via social media Tuesday night hours after it was reported that three players walked out of the coach's first meeting with the team upon returning.
Teammate Ellis McKennie, a high school friend of Mr. McNair's who spoke at his funeral, was the first to tweet.
"Every Saturday my teammates and I have to kneel before the memorial of our fallen teammate," McKennie wrote. "Yet a group of people do not have the courage to hold anyone accountable for his death. If only they could have the courage that Jordan had. It's never the wrong time to do what's right."
"Accountability is something people apparently struggle too much with and yet it doesn't hurt them, but it comes right to us and led to the position we're in today," linebacker Tre Watson added.
The McNair family welcomed the news Wednesday night.
"We feel gratified that some justice has been done, that Dr. Loh took it upon himself to do the right thing," Marty McNair, Jordan's father, told ESPN's "SportsCenter."
Much of the outrage Wednesday centered on the revelation that the regents threatened Mr. Loh's job if he did not reinstate Durkin. At Tuesday's press conference, Mr. Loh said Durkin "has been a successful coach in terms of many aspects of football. He is coming back."
Board of regents chairman James T. Brady added the regents' opinion that Durkin had been "unfairly blamed" for much of the athletic department dysfunction that was unearthed.
Amid Wednesday's censures, Maryland state Sen. Jim Rosapepe and others said they also wanted Mr. Loh to change his mind about retiring at the end of the school year. But Mr. Loh, who is in his 70s, doubled down on that decision toward the end of his letter, referring to his "remaining months."
"I will devote the remaining months of my presidency to advancing the needed reforms in our Athletic Department that prioritize the safety and well-being of our student-athletes," he wrote.
The criticism from Mr. Hogan, who is up for re-election next week and who appointed many of the regents, seemed to tip the scales against Durkin.
"I share the concerns of many Marylanders and believe very strongly that more must be done to restore the public trust," Mr. Hogan said. "I am calling on both the University System of Maryland Board of Regents and President Wallace Loh to reconsider their decisions and to schedule a public hearing to address these issues in an open and transparent manner."
Mr. Hogan's Democratic opponent in the Maryland gubernatorial race, Ben Jealous, called the university "a national embarrassment" earlier Wednesday.
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