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The Washington Times
COLLEGE PARK — Matt Canada used variations of the word "focus" five times in one answer at his weekly press conference Tuesday. It was in response to being asked, point blank, if he's thought about potentially becoming a full-time head coach next year.
Canada's future may be a notable subplot in the Maryland saga, but his deflection of the question was emblematic of the uncertain future awaiting Terrapins football after the 2018 season.
Some people have begun to jump ship. Junior defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight announced on Monday that he will transfer, though Canada later clarified that Knight informed him of that decision in September. And Trey Rucker, a three-star recruit from Virginia, decommitted from Maryland Monday night, citing the "unfortunate state of the program" in a message on Twitter.
But with the apex of this season's controversy now behind them that being the university's decision to reinstate, then fire, DJ Durkin last week the Terrapins are working on finishing out the final three games of the regular season, while their fans work through conflicting feelings of how to support the team.
"It's obviously been a lot of noise outside the walls of the football house," senior defensive lineman Jesse Aniebonam said. "To me and to a lot of other guys, this has been a normal week. We're all trying to shift our focus on the right things and focus on the right things."
To recap: More than four months after offensive lineman Jordan McNair died of heatstroke that was improperly treated by the school's medical staff, the University System of Maryland responded to the findings of dual investigations first by reinstating Durkin from suspension on a Tuesday, then firing him on a Wednesday when faced with widespread outcry.
Aniebonam said Canada's message to the team the following Thursday morning was one of "tunnel vision."
"Just stick to the plan. Stay the course," he said.
Senior running back Ty Johnson similarly wanted to concentrate on the game.
"We don't really want to be distracted by everything's that gone on, because there's been a lot," Johnson said. "Like I said, it's just trying to play football and not have the whole world look at us in a negative light."
Prior to the scandal, the Terrapins had already struggled with drawing fans to Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium for games then keeping them in the stands for four quarters. Maryland has averaged the third-lowest attendance in the Big Ten since joining the conference in 2014.
This lagging support even came up in the independent commission's wide-ranging report on the program's culture, which was released in October. One anonymous player answered a question about the team's marketing by saying, "I believe we have the worst student section in all of college football (or at least the Big Ten)."
Amid talk on campus last week whether to boycott the football game or support the dozens of players who had no role in the controversy, 31,735 people attended Maryland's loss to Michigan State last Saturday. Capacity is 51,802.
"I'd say there's a lot of discussion and criticism being tossed around," Maryland freshman student Jack Mills said, "and less people are going to games or even enthusiastic at all about our football season as compared to past, maybe less turbulent years."
Some students have also questioned whether university president Wallace D. Loh needs to follow through with his announced decision to retire at the end of the school year.
"I don't know if he should've stepped down," Teddy Hennessy, a senior at Maryland, said. "I think he did the right thing in saying, 'Look, I'm gonna step down,' because the board of regents and all the upper people were saying, 'We want to keep Durkin and if you don't want him you can leave.' ... I think it's cool he stood for what he believed in, but I don't know if he should've stepped down because I don't know if it's his fault."
In the meantime, while Canada declined to talk about either his future or whether any coaches have been in contact with Durkin since Oct. 31, he was more than happy to highlight his players' efforts to stay the course.
"Some days, somebody's up, another day he's down," Canada said. "And we got to grab the guy that's down and get him up and when you're down. That's what a team does. That is the story. I've said that multiple times: The story is these kids. The story is how awesome they are, how special they are, how much they're sticking together."
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