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Three weeks before the start of its college football season, the University of Maryland has put its head coach on administrative leave while it investigates accusations of abuse and intimidation. A player died on his watch.
After DJ Durkin won his first game as head coach of the university’s football team — a return to greatness seemed possible for the long-struggling program.
But less than two years later, one player is dead after collapsing during practice. Durkin is suspended amid explosive allegations of player mistreatment. Once again, the school sports program is struggling to define the difference between high expectations and outright abuse.
Freshman Jordan McNair was hospitalized May 29 and died June 23 after running 110-yard windsprints at a team workout. While no official cause of death has been released, a lawyer for McNair’s family, Billy Murphy Jr., says coaches showed a disregard for the student’s health.
“It’s not reasonable that a 19-year-old should pass away,” Durkin said at a press conference, holding back tears.
Murphy said Sunday he’s seen the preliminary death certificate and has concluded, “This is an obvious heatstroke case,” according to The Associated Press.
Coach Durkin and three other staffers, including strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, were suspended Saturday — one day after an ESPN report detailed “a coaching environment based on fear and intimidation,” including “extreme verbal abuse” … “meant to mock their masculinity.”
In one alleged incident, a player was “belittled … after passing out during a drill.”
In another, a player trying to eat during a meeting “had the meal slapped out of his hands.”
The University of Maryland says it’s investigating these charges, with athletic director Damon Evans saying “we must do better.”
Durkin denied the allegations in a letter to parents, saying safety is a daily priority.
“Coach Durkin should be fired immediately,” Murphy said. “His conduct and the conduct of the coaches was reprehensible. They were not prepared … to deal with a heatstroke incident.”
Durkin “fostered a horrible culture,” Murphy said, that included “physical and verbal” abuse of players.
“And the third reason he ought to be fired is: How are you going to have a viable football program as long as it is possible for him to become the coach again?” Murphy said.
Murphy has not yet filed a lawsuit against the school on behalf of the family, but said that’s only a matter of time. Dr. Rod Walters, a former college athletic trainer, has been hired by Maryland to head an independent investigation, which is expected to be available by Sept. 15.
“In the best of all possible worlds we want to wait until that investigation is released,” Murphy said.
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