The University of Maryland on Saturday placed its football coach, D. J. Durkin, on administrative leave while it investigates accusations about mistreatment of players that surfaced after offensive lineman Jordan McNair collapsed during a May workout and died weeks later.
The suspension came one day after an article by ESPN detailed a culture of fear and intimidation at Maryland, according to current and former players and staff members, who said that coaches and trainers commonly embarrassed and humiliated players. The sources of the accusations were anonymous.
Players’ masculinity was mocked when they were unable to complete a workout or lift a weight, and one player was belittled after passing out, according to ESPN. Coaches forced one player to overeat to the point of vomiting, the article said, and another — whom the coaches wanted to lose weight — was forced to eat candy bars while watching teammates working out.
Maryland’s president, Wallace D. Loh, said such behavior was unacceptable.
“Our responsibility as teachers is to inspire and enable students to perform at their best and expand the boundaries of their potential,” Loh said in a statement. He added, “Humiliating and demeaning a student is not only bad teaching and coaching, it is an abuse of the authority of a teacher and coach.”
According to ESPN, the college on Friday placed three others associated with the program on leave: the strength and conditioning coach, Rick Court; the director of athletic training, Steve Nordwall; and the athletic trainer, Wes Robinson.
Durkin is the second Big Ten football coach to be placed on leave this month while his school investigates allegations of abuse. Ohio State is examining whether its coach, Urban Meyer, properly handled domestic abuse allegations against a longtime assistant coach. Durkin served as an assistant under Meyer at Bowling Green and at the University of Florida.
Durkin, 40, had been preparing for his third season at Maryland. The school has hired Rod Walters, a former college athletic trainer, to investigate whether coaches and officials followed protocol when McNair, a 19-year-old redshirt freshman, collapsed during a workout on May 29. He died on June 13.
No cause of death has been released, but ESPN reported that McNair had died of heatstroke.
Billy Murphy, a lawyer for McNair’s family, said that Maryland’s 911 call for help, which was recorded at 5:58 p.m., did not come until nearly an hour after McNair had first had convulsions after a series of sprints, which happened around 5 p.m.
Such a delay, Murphy told ESPN, shows “an utter disregard of the health of this player, and we are extraordinarily concerned that the coaches did not react appropriately to his injury.”
Maryland, in a statement, said that “no student-athlete, athletic trainer or coach reported a seizure occurring at 5 p.m.”
College football practices may not be as severe as they once were, when players were routinely denied water breaks even in sweltering conditions in the belief that suffering would toughen them up. But many coaches still employ conditioning drills that are intended to imbue players with mental toughness.
After McNair’s death, Durkin called a meeting to address concerns of players and their parents.
On Friday, in advance of ESPN’s article, he wrote a letter to the parents, saying the program is cooperating with the investigation, which is expected to be completed by Sept. 15.
“Our priority every day is the safety along with the academic, personal and athletic development of your sons,” Durkin wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Baltimore Sun. “During this time of healing, our focus needs to be on each other and unity within our program.”
Durkin, in the third year of a $12.5 million contract, coached the Terrapins at their Saturday morning practice. He will be replaced indefinitely by the offensive coordinator, Matt Canada. Maryland’s first game is in less than three weeks, on Sept. 1, against visiting Texas.