DJ Durkin gone, but more fumigating needed in College Park
Maryland’s nightmare football season is finally over, put to rest in a 38-3 loss to Penn State Saturday.
Yes, the players were noble and probably mature beyond their years in the way they carried themselves on the field in a season that will be remembered for the death of Jordan McNair after a team workout in May.
A bowl appearance might have been a nice reward for the players, but the team fell short by one win.
The reality, though, is that the best thing for everyone was for football to be finished at Maryland this season as soon as possible.
That puts the focus back on an athletic department that endorsed, according to ESPN, a “toxic” football program. That puts the spotlight back on the question: What kind of school does the University of Maryland want to be for parents who in the future will trust the school to care for and protect their children?
The stench of that toxicity remains.
The idea that one of the disgraced D.J. Durkin’s coaching staff interim head coach Matt Canada has emerged as a candidate to lead Maryland football shows how warped the view of what happened at College Park was as the season went on.
Somehow, Canada, who was hired by Durkin in January as offensive coordinator, has become some sort of sentimental choice to remain as Maryland head coach.
I get that he handled a difficult situation, and, from all accounts, kept a damaged and divided team together.
But the last thing Maryland needs to do is to hire the only guy left in the room. The room still stinks.
Let us not forget it was Canada and the staff left behind that reportedly allowed Durkin put on administrative leave in August following the devastating ESPN report about abuses in the program to continue to secretly run the team.
The Baltimore Sun reported that Durkin communicated with coaches and developed game plans despite being banished while administrators looked into the damning allegations. The Sun reported that Durkin told the task force investigating McNair’s death and the ESPN allegations that assistant coaches sent game films so he could come up with game plans.
Canada knew all too well the allegations and what was at stake, and he put the interests of the coach who hired him above all of that. Are you going to actually try to tell me that he didn’t know Durkin was still involved? Who knows, he may have thought he was serving the program well by continuing to let Durkin coach from afar.
That is not the kind of head coach you want to lead this program out of the darkness. It was a deceitful practice that put the game ahead of the larger interests you know, things like truth and justice.
Maybe, though, Canada was just following orders from his boss.
The real stench still emanating from College Park comes from the office of athletic director Damon Evans, who somehow has been allowed to remain in his job after Durkin was fired.
Perhaps because of fatigue after weeks of controversy, the Board of regents’ decision to retain Evans as athletic director barely registered a blip on the shame meter.
But make no mistake, Evans needs to be gone.
The Sun reported that Durkin told the task force that Evans OK’d his role of secretly still coaching the football team.
A school spokesperson issued a statement denying Durkin’s claim that Evans had approved the secret coaching. “He was not to perform coaching duties while on administrative leave ... Matt Canada was performing all head coaching duties during this interim time.”
So, somebody’s lying.
Evans’ stories to the task force investigating McNair’s death and the toxic football program conflicted with nearly every statement his former boss, athletic director Kevin Anderson, told the task force, as the two appeared to have been involved in some sort of power-play battle.
Evans was hired as senior associate athletic director and chief financial officer for the athletic department in December 2014. He was named interim athletic director while Anderson was on sabbatical and officially named athletic director in June. But his internal political battling may have contributed to the toxic atmosphere.
The task force reported that Evans did not recognize the warning signs that the football program was in trouble and conveniently claimed to not remember complaints from players about the inhuman practices by Durkin and his staff and claimed ignorance about the anonymous email to the school that claimed abuse in the program.
This is the man now charged with bringing Maryland athletics into the light?
Evans is digging his heels into the job. He has already brought in a search firm to hire a new football coach, and told the Washington Post, “I’ve started my work.”
His work? How does he still have a job?
Maybe because he has some powerful guardian angels.
Maryland booster and regents board member Barry Gossett, who in April donated $21 million to the school for a center for academic and personal excellence (he also donated $10 million to the school in 2007 for the football team house that has his name on it), is a big Evans fan.
When Evans was hired as athletic director, Gossett sang his praises. “Because when Kevin (Anderson) was having some difficulties and then took the sabbatical; in any situation like that, I’ve seen it in business where there’s sort of a leadership vacuum, people tend to fill that and when they have kind of nobody to go to, it’s not good,” he said. “Everybody wants to do the right thing but everybody’s doing their own thing, so you don’t have a cohesive organization.
“So I think right now, with somebody now named and now it’s their ship to run so to speak, I think we’re going to see people come together,” Gossett said. “We have a great direction to go, so we can really build the teams to, as (head football coach D.J. Durkin) says, compete for championships, and that’s all the teams, all the Olympic sports, everything else. So I think with Damon being here or being in charge now, that’s going to put us in the right direction.”
That was in June two weeks after Jordan McNair’s death.
For a brief period, perhaps, the players themselves deodorized the smell coming from College Park with their valiant play. But football season is over, and the stench remains with those in power left behind who couldn’t be trusted and still can’t.
⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesdays and Saturdays and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.