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Maryland Fires Football Coach


It's been a rough few months for the University of Maryland's football program, culminating in an especially tumultuous last few days. The school announced yesterday that it had fired head coach D.J. Durkin just one day after announcing its decision to reinstate him. Durkin had been put on leave following the June death of one of his players - 19-year-old offensive lineman Jordan McNair. He collapsed during practice and died a short time later. The decision to reinstate Durkin earlier this week didn't sit well with a whole lot of people, including my next guest. His name is Barry Svrluga. He's a sports columnist for The Washington Post. Thanks for being here.

BARRY SVRLUGA: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So first, the school put Durkin back on the job, as I noted, and then they abruptly changed their mind. Explain what happened, to the best of your understanding.

SVRLUGA: Well, it's dizzying for sure, and a lot of it comes down to how universities are run. The University System Board of Regents is the group that recommended the reinstatement of D.J. Durkin on Tuesday. That was after two reports had been issued - one, on the medical circumstances surrounding Jordan McNair's death, and two, on the culture that D.J. Durkin had created in his program, a program that he built largely on motivational tactics of humiliation and embarrassment, weird relationships with food. What happened was the regents suggested to university president Wallace Loh, who oversees the flagship College Park campus, that he should probably reinstate Durkin. Loh got back to campus. He listened to students. He listened to faculty. He listened to state legislatures and lawmakers and heard from even Governor Larry Hogan, and decided his only course was to take action on his campus and fire Durkin.

MARTIN: So why was it the regent's - the board's decision to defend Durkin, especially in the face of what you're describing - these investigations into humiliation and bullying of players?

SVRLUGA: It's bizarre to me, for sure. The report by the commission, which was a lot of - some lawyers, some Maryland alums, some other athletic figures - stopped short of calling Durkin's culture and his program as toxic. I think that is quite subjective. If you read through the incidents and various things that players had to endure, I think you could easily interpret it as toxic, but that was part of it. They thought that D.J. Durkin worked in an athletic department that was wholly dysfunctional. They thought that he hadn't been given proper support and should have been guided more for somebody who had never been a head coach of a major program before, putting aside the fact that they're paying him $2.5 million a year, and apparently he needed some handholding in their mind. But they thought that he was the person to fix the mess that other people thought he had created in the first place.

MARTIN: But at one point, as the reporting says, they were willing to fire the president before they were willing - the president of the school - before they were willing to fire Durkin. I mean, what can you say about any broader implications of this for the broader culture of football at the collegiate level?

SVRLUGA: Well, I mean, that's a very interesting one. There are people who believe that what went on at the University of Maryland is what goes on in football programs that are more successful across the country. I'm not sure that I can say that without knowing those specifics...

MARTIN: Right.

SVRLUGA: ...But it certainly is not just a stain on the University of Maryland's athletic department. This is a stain on the school because it involves governance at the highest level and a quick turn in 24 hours.

MARTIN: Yeah. Barry Svrluga, sports columnist for The Washington Post, helping us work through this story. Thank you so much. We appreciate it.

SVRLUGA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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