The developing story in the wake of Jordan McNair’s death has an air of inevitability to it.
Several current University of Maryland football players and people close to the Terrapins program describe a toxic coaching culture under head coach DJ Durkin before offensive lineman Jordan McNair’s death in June after a football workout.
McNair, who was 19, died two weeks after being hospitalized following a May 29 team workout. He collapsed after running 110-yard sprints, showing signs of extreme exhaustion and difficulty standing upright. No official cause of death has been released, but ESPN reported Friday that he died of heatstroke suffered during the workout and had a body temperature of 106 degrees after being taken to a hospital.
Over the past several weeks, two current Maryland players, multiple people close to the football program, and former players and football staffers spoke to ESPN about the culture under Durkin, particularly strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, who was one of Durkin’s first hires at Maryland in 2015.
By that, I mean not so much the testosterone-charged remaking of the program under Durkin, as the futile attempt to wall off the problem of McNair’s death from public scrutiny.
One current player told ESPN that university leadership, including athletic director Damon Evans and president Wallace Loh, had “a lack of action” in their response to McNair’s death.
“We had a kid die. … It took all summer for us to even get a third-party investigation to meet with, and the timing [of those interviews] is absolutely horrendous,” the player said. “This is a huge problem at Maryland.”
ESPN requested to interview Loh, Robinson and Evans, but university officials declined to make them available. According to a Maryland official, Evans addressed the team on multiple occasions, including a private moment of reflection on June 15 held in McNair’s honor that the athletic department organized for all student-athletes and staff. Evans was also in attendance at a June 1 meeting in which the team received a medical update on McNair, a June 13 team meeting, and a June 21 meeting for parents. Loh went to the hospital and funeral and “interacted with players at both,” according to officials.
The two current players who spoke with ESPN and other sources close to the program said they are concerned about how Walters’ investigation is being managed.
Players had to return early from their time off to meet with investigators on Aug. 1, two days before the first preseason workout. A sign-up sheet was posted on the office door of Jason Baisden, the team’s assistant athletic director for football operations and equipment. Meetings took place in the offensive staff’s meeting room in the Gossett Football Team House.
“They tried to interview players at the most inconvenient time, in Gossett, basically right in front of Durkin’s office,” one of the current players said.
“Basically anybody can walk by, any coach or whoever really wants to can walk by and see who signed up and see who’s talking to the investigation,” the other current player said. “They’re singling us out even more when it’s supposed to be an anonymous investigation.”
The player said that each meeting was scheduled for only 15 minutes. Players were asked what they wanted to share about the May 29 workout and were advised to see counselors.
“It was a joke,” the same player said.
That has gone as well as any sentient being might expect: people inside the program reached out to the media to get the story out. The end result?
The University of Maryland has placed members of football coach DJ Durkin’s support staff on paid administrative leave based on the initial findings of the external review examining the circumstances leading to the death of redshirt freshman Jordan McNair, the university announced Friday.
It’s simply amazing to me how supposedly intelligent people being paid large sums of money think that they can keep the story of a player’s death at a practice with his coaches in attendance locked down in this day and age. These guys deserve to be run off as much for their arrogant stupidity as for the culpability in McNair’s death.