Maryland Football and D.J. Durkin: Death Penalty for the Death of a Player

Maryland 320-pound lineman Jordan McNair died. Strength Coach Court was allowed to ‘resign,’ with a $300,000 severance Now we find that the Maryland Board of Regents, which must have hired MSU Interim President Engler as Consultant-Bungler-in-Chief, has decided that Court’s boss, head football coach D.J. Durkin, need not head for any exit. Taking a cue from Donald Trump’s Ouija Board approach to evaluating people, the head of the Maryland Regents, one Jim Brady, who made his money selling temporary and other housing to institutions all over the country, has concluded that Mr. Durkin is a ‘good man’ and ‘good coach.’


Of course Mr. Durkin, he of the ‘do-your-job,’ and ‘be accountable’ coaching fraternity, told Mr. Brady and his Board that he didn’t even know if he was Mr. Court’s boss. Durkin, we all should know (though Brady could not fathom) is not what any of us — or any in the coaching community — can call a ‘stand-up guy.’  He’s a coward. He threw Court under the bus, and sucked his own thumb while he did it.

Lost in all the Regents gloss, and the media gloss, are three facts:

1) Durkin was ON PREMISES when Jordan McNair died. Durkin, however much he now pretends that he was on a team which was in zone coverage, and he was just protecting his own zone, doing his own narrow job, over on one side, when something happened with some fellow named McNair, about which he knew nothing, was a fact witness, on premises, who therefore had culpability;

2) Maryland will not release the video which was taken which apparently recorded all the events between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m, on that  field where Jordan McNair died. I know they won’t produce it, because I requested it by FOIA. Their response?:

“Pursuant to Section 4351(a)(1) of the Act, the University is denying your request
pending the completion of an investigation being conducted by the Office of the Attorney
General. In addition, to the extent the records sought contain medical information; the
University must deny your request under Section 4-329(b).”

3) The NCAA has a new (as of ’15) respondeat superior rule. What is that? It means that the head coach is presumed responsible for the transgressions of his assistants and, if he wants to escape NCAA liability for them, he must affirmatively show that he took all reasonable steps to monitor and control those assistants. Durkin may laughably contend that Court was not his assistant, but any good trial attorney would make Durkin cower and cover his head, while being forced to listen to the long line of witnesses, in every Power 5 program, who will establish that the opposite is the truth, and then local witnesses on the team and staff, who will establish that Court was trained by Durkin, and that Court radically changed his approach — to a more hard-ass one — upon coming to Durkin’s program. Court was one of Durkin’s right-hand men, agents-on-the-spot. It isn’t just that Durkin did not properly control some whacko behaviors exhibited by Court: Durkin trained and shaped Court, and directly or indirectly insured that Court would behave with the criminal negligence which Court displayed on May 29th — criminal negligence which must be imputed to D.J. Durkin, by way of the NCAA’s respondeat superior rule. (For all we know, Durkin may have been cowering in some toilet stall by the football field, as the McNair death unfolded.)

The McNair Events Should Invoke Quicker, Broader Sanction Than PSU or MSU

Why do I raise these points? Because I will argue that the Jordan McNair manslaughter death at Maryland, by any standard — whether NCAA, Big Ten, or criminal statute — more obviously and quickly cries out for sanction than the horrific events which built the Penn State or Michigan State scandals. Those events — all repeated wrongs, on an unimaginable scale — were nevertheless almost recondite: difficult to uncover, complex, involving a concatenation of cover-ups by so many bureaucrats. They were not immediately apparent or provable.

Not McNair’s death: it was, for all intents and purposes, on videotape, with perhaps 100 fact-witness football team members, along with so many trainer and other staffers. Easy case, circumscribed facts there, many of which are incontrovertible — unless, of course, you are as craven as D.J. Durkin, who can stand up and tell the Maryland Board that he’s not really sure if he was Court’s boss.

Maryland football is a cesspool. Durkin and his men blew off all the well-developed medical science, when, to have implemented a protocol on May 29 would have cost Maryland almost nothing. A grand or two to have a tub of ice there, on the first day of practice, in the hot sun? None of the McNair medical events were startling or novel; in fact, the simple protocol for saving McNair’s life, which could’ve been accomplished by 4:30 p.m. that day, by some cross-eyed training assistant with proper training, was known to EVERYONE in college football. Maryland just didn’t care, or perhaps cared more about the pathologic “toughness-in the-face-of-all-odds-even-death” ethic which Durkin built at Maryland.

Durkin ran a hard-ass, two-bit operation which would would never have been allowed in an NFL setting. In fact, any player agent would’ve walked on the field, or called Durkin directly — at 4 p.m. on May 29 — to tell him that his player was being yanked off the field, and that a grievance would be filed.

Death Penalty for Death of a Player

Maryland football lacks Institutional Control. This conclusion doesn’t require careful analysis of that cherished NCAA notion: it is what it is. The program is completely out of control, and should be shut down — by either the NCAA and/or the Big Ten. Jordan McNair’s death mandates a Penalty for that Death: shut down the program for a year. And D.J. Durkin should be gone tomorrow.

And to boil it all down, ignore all the fancy talk above: I’d fire Durkin in a heartbeat, for showing up with his cockamamie excuse that he didn’t know if he was Court’s boss. (And the fact that Jim Brady, the Maryland Regents head, and Tom McMillan, the investigative committee member, bought Durkin’s nonsense strongly suggests that they both have some other, perhaps financial motive. McMillen is the Washington lobbyist for all Power 5 Conference athletic directors.)


About brewonsouthu

lawyer, with interest in college sports and NCAA oversight and decisions, and sports generally.
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