Opinion: Maryland's Durkin Reversal the Right Thing

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Finally, the University of Maryland stumbled upon a good decision in the awful and tragic story of Jordan McNair.

Football coach DJ Durkin is gone, fired just 24 hours after the school's board of regents announced it was reinstating him following the conclusion of an investigation into the June 13 death of McNair, a 19-year-old offensive lineman who collapsed and experienced seizures due to heatstroke at a May 29 team workout.

On Tuesday, after a grueling few months of scathing media reports and university investigations, board chairman James Brady announced the shocking decision to keep Durkin, a mediocre third-year coach with a 10-15 record, saying, "We believe he is a good man and a good coach who is devoted to athletes in his charge," adding that Durkin had been "unfairly blamed for the dysfunction in the athletic department."

The criticism of that decision was instantaneous, overwhelming and unrelenting, so, on Wednesday, Maryland President Wallace Loh fired Durkin, action he reportedly had wanted to take days earlier, but had been prevented from doing by the board.

What that means is that Brady and the entire board should be the next to go. They should take athletics director Damon Evans with them. And, finally, even though Loh has been the most forthcoming and honorable of the lot, he needs to keep his commitment to retire at the end of the school year. They all need to go. It's that bad.

My, what a mess the Maryland football program has become.

There's something nice about being able to write that Maryland did the right thing in finally getting rid of Durkin, the man responsible for the toxic culture in the Terrapins' football program and the man on whose watch McNair died.

But with those words should come caution, for look at how this happened: Only when voices from the worlds of sports and Maryland politics were raised, creating a cacophony of outrage, did Maryland finally do the right thing and dump Durkin.

Maryland didn't do the right thing because it was the right thing to do. It doesn't appear to possess that kind of moral compass. No, it had to be forced into doing what was right by the outside world.

That's a big problem. Was it embarrassment that finally took Maryland to where it should have gone on its own? Was it concern about the public relations nightmare it had created? Did it ever worry about McNair in any of this?

Where the board failed, others succeeded. Compassionate and intelligent voices led the university to do what it had to do. Prior to news of Durkin's dismissal, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued a statement Wednesday evening calling on the board to reconsider its decision and schedule a public hearing, saying he was "deeply concerned about how they could have possibly arrived at the decisions announced yesterday."

Ben Jealous, the Democratic candidate for governor in Maryland, called the situation "a national embarrassment," while Rep. Anthony G. Brown, D-Md., demanded that Durkin, Evans and Brady must go.

"Jordan McNair's life matters," Brown said in a statement. "As a father and a University of Maryland parent, I urge the entire UMD community to come together and reject this litany of excuses and demand accountability."

Loh said in a statement that after the original decision was announced Tuesday, he met with various campus leaders, including the Maryland student government association, which had organized a rally for Thursday to protest Durkin's reinstatement and demand justice for McNair.

Jonathan Allen, Maryland's student body president, told ESPN that students were "outraged" by the board's Tuesday decision.

"People are appalled at this," Allen said. "When I spoke to stakeholders -- media, alums, donors -- over the last few months, as this has been transpiring, they all said there's no way Durkin comes back from this. And yet he's returning and the president is the one that's leaving? When the system fails, the next obvious step is a grass-roots push, being vocal and showing the outrage and sentiments students have had with these decisions."

These were the voices that led Maryland's so-called leaders to finally make the right decision. Why they were needed at all is a question that needs to be answered.

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November 1, 2018


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