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  • The investigation into the death of Jordan McNair and DJ Durkin’s football program has now hung over half of Maryland's season, with no sense of resolution or closure for the community.
By Joan Niesen
October 17, 2018

When Maryland beat Rutgers on Saturday, it had been exactly 63 days since Terrapins head coach DJ Durkin had been placed on administrative leave pending a review of his program’s culture.

On the day athletic director Damon Evans made that announcement, Jordan McNair had been dead for 59 days.

In the more than four months since McNair passed away, Maryland has gone through fall camp. It has played six games without its head coach. It has also dealt with a booster making tone-deaf and heartless claims about the circumstances surrounding McNair’s death. (Rick Jaklitsch, the booster, was kicked off the team charter flight to Michigan two weeks ago after players expressed their displeasure to the athletic department.) This week, several parents of players spoke anonymously to The Athletic, voicing their desire for Durkin to be let go for good. They remained nameless due to a fear of retribution toward their sons, who are major contributors.

Halfway through the 2018 season, Maryland remains in limbo. Durkin is neither coaching nor fired, and, most importantly and disappointingly, there’s no sense of resolution or closure when it comes to McNair’s death.

Earlier this month, in the wake of Jaklitsch speaking out in support of Durkin and saying that McNair died because the 19-year-old offensive lineman “didn’t do what [he] was supposed to do” in terms of being hydrated, the deceased player’s father, Martin McNair, put out a statement: “It has been over 100 days since Jordan died, and president Wallace Loh accepted moral and legal responsibility for the death of our son. Our nightmare continues. Words can’t describe the added anguish and new hardship we now are experiencing as we listen to and watch the University of Maryland and surrogates of the university continue to blame our son for his own death during a football practice conducted by adult coaches who should have known better.”

Over 100 days. Nightmare continues. Added anguish and new hardship. This should be enough to spur Maryland to move—and move on. In an ideal world, this should come down to right and wrong. But we don’t live in a black-and-white world, and anyone who’s held even a passing interest in the sport knows that football concerns can obscure the decision-making process. So let’s look at the football concerns: Last season, Durkin won four games. In his first year at Maryland, he got off to the same start after six games, 4–2, as interim coach Matt Canada has in 2018—though Durkin's wins came against a weaker slate of opponents. This year, Maryland has taken down Texas, which is now ranked No. 7, along with Bowling Green and two Big Ten opponents: Minnesota and Rutgers. In 2016, its first four wins came against Howard of the FCS, FIU, UCF as it rebounded from a winless 2015 and a Purdue team that would fire its coach two weeks later.

And that’s about as many words about on-the-field football that any story about the situation at Maryland warrants. Because what matters now is what’s going on in the conference rooms and offices of the athletics department, where the school’s Board of Regents is scheduled to meet Friday. (It’s unclear if Durkin’s situation will be resolved then.) That comes after more than six weeks of investigation into the culture of the Maryland football program, by a commission that was expanded to eight people in September. Many investigations are tasked with looking into a specific allegation—Urban Meyer’s professed ignorance about the conduct of an assistant, Bobby Petrino’s motorcycling habits. Far fewer set out to tackle something so amorphous as culture. It’s a big ask, but it’s time Maryland put some parameters on the extent of its concerns, convene and make its conclusions. A player died, and the university accepted legal and moral responsibility for it. Durkin oversaw a program in which such a thing could happen, in which a medical staff could bungle its response so spectacularly, in which Evans got inaccurate information about McNair’s collapse in the immediate aftermath. Physical neglect, carelessness, misinformation—this is the culture being investigated, the culture Durkin oversaw.

There’s really no precedent for this. Never has a player’s death unleashed so much information about unsettling conditions within a program. So it’s understandable that this investigation might be daunting, sprawling, snowballing. But it has to end, and soon, because while it hurtles forward, McNair’s family and former teammates are living with palpable uncertainty. They’re exposed to boosters making uninformed claims in hopes of having their voices sway the outcome, to fear that all of this has been is lip service. And at this point, when it finally ends, they won't be out of line in wondering what took so long to reach a ruling, regardless of what it is.

Maryland is walking the line between thorough and drawn-out. It may have already crossed it. It’s time to move on—not from McNair’s death or the memory of the young man, but from the coach who presided over the broken system that allowed it.

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