Maryland does the right thing, a day after doing the wrong thing

On Tuesday, the University of Maryland board of regents decided to reinstate suspended head football coach D.J. Durkin. But after the board was skewered for doing so by the national media, Maryland students, and even the Governor himself, the President reversed the board and fired him. Michigan Radio sports commentator John U Bacon sorts out the utterly avoidable mess.

D.J. Durkin coached for Jim Harbaugh at Stanford for three years, and at Michigan for one. I liked him, but I never played for him. Among the Michigan players I know who did, some liked him, some didn’t, but I never heard any of them say they thought he was dangerous.

In 2016, Durkin accepted the head coaching position at Maryland, which was entering its third season in the Big Ten. The year before, the Terrapins had finished dead last in the Big Ten East Division.

In Durkin’s first two seasons, it seemed like he was turning the program around. But during an intense practice this spring, a 19-year old offensive lineman named Jordan McNair collapsed due to heat exhaustion. Medical staff and teammates witnessed him suffer an apparent seizure.

One hour later – yes, one hour later – somebody finally saw fit to call 911. In the hospital doctors discovered McNair’s temperature had shot up to 106 degrees. 15 days later, he died.

To his credit, Maryland President Wallace Loh gave the family an unqualified apology, and took full responsibility. It seemed to come from the heart, not a team of lawyers.

But no similar sentiments came from the people who actually were responsible. As the weeks passed, it was not clear what Maryland was going to do about the tragedy, if anything. Then ESPN published a report two months later exposing a toxic culture of coaches bullying their players, and even endangering their health.

This forced Maryland to suspend Durkin and his strength coach, Rick Court, who was soon let go. But the University kept Durkin on paid administrative leave while it conducted an 80-day investigation.

When the report came out in late October(), it largely confirmed ESPN’s findings, which would seem to make the next step obvious: fire Durkin, and keep his replacement, Matt Canada, who had been doing a surprisingly good job.

But instead, on Tuesday the regents threatened to fire President Loh if he did not keepDurkin. This defied all common sense and all common decency. President Loh told them he would resign. The board accepted President Loh’s resignation, in order to keep Durkin.

How Durkin would be received by the players, the parents of future recruits (let alone McNair’s parents), and the public, are three things the regents apparently gave no thought. I cannot for the life of me fathom what they were thinking.

The board’s decision was so careless, so heartless, and so mind-numbingly stupid, that it created an overwhelming backlash from Maryland students, faculty, alumni, and even the Governor of the state – not to mention many of the players. That this surprised the trustees this only confirms how out of touch they must be. The tsunami of outrage was so great President Loh ignored the board’s decision and proceeded to fire Durkin the next day.

In 1999, former Michigan athletic director Don Canham told me the key to crisis management: “Never turn a one-day story into a two-day story.” It’s very simple, but no one seems capable of following it.

In the past decade, in the Big Ten East Division alone, we’ve seen Penn State’s trustees mishandle the Sandusky tragedy, Michigan’s former athletic director blow the Shane Morris situation, Michigan State’s board, president, and interim president screw up the Larry Nassar scandal, Ohio State’s board mishandle their abusive assistant coach, and now this. These situations have little in common except their responses, which were all as cynically self-interested as they were stupid – and utterly unhelpful.

The Maryland leaders might have come up with worse ways to handle this crisis, but none immediately come to mind. Here’s hoping they all resign, along with the other failed leaders listed above.

It cannot happen fast enough.

* * * * *

Please join the conversation, but remember: I run only those letters from those who are not profane or insane, and who include their full name.

The Humane Society of Huron Valley has asked me to the guest of honor, if you will, of their annual Compassionate Feast Roast on Friday, November 9, at 6:30. Of the 300 seats available, they’ve already sold 230 of them, so if you’d like to see me roasted, better move fast! Apparently it’s a very popular idea.

I’ll be speaking about The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism, at the National Writers Series at the Traverse City Opera House, on Thursday, November 29, at 7 pm.

The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism, a National Bestseller, comes out in paperback November 6. 

My latest book, “The Best of Bacon: Select Cuts,” is on its second printing.

Radio stuff: On Friday mornings, these commentaries run at 8:50 on Michigan Radio (91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit and Flint, and 104.1 Grand Rapids), and a few minutes later,  I join Sam Webb and Ira Weintraub LIVE from 9:05 to 9:25 on WTKA.com, 1050 AM.

I also join Michigan Radio’s great Cynthia Canty on her afternoon Stateside show every Monday for a few minutes, and occasionally on NPR’s Morning Edition, and the afternoon Here & Now show. Check ’em out!

Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnubacon.  42,000 followers and counting.   THANK YOU!

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Hope to see you on the road!
-John
johnubacon.com

 

 

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5 comments Leave a comment  

  • Ron Pudduck November 2, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    Message (Required)

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  • Ron Pudduck November 2, 2018 at 1:42 pm

    Amazing that we live in a time where the job of a college football coach is more important than the job of a University President. Are sports really now more important than learning?

    Reply
  • john w minton jrYour name (Required) November 2, 2018 at 7:41 pm

    We live in an age where the education model has been replaced by the business and political correct model. Good luck with that.
    bomberjohn 5

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  • Andy Smith November 3, 2018 at 12:15 am

    In my view collegiate athletics are an extension of high school athletics and as such have a primary purpose of molding young men and women into upstanding adults. A major factor in how highly I regard a college coach, athletic director, and the university itself, is the course of action taken by the adults when something goes wrong. This obviously includes inappropriate behavior by both the athletes, coaches, and staff. In the situations cited here there are several examples of the adults not taking the appropriate action. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would let their child play for DJ Durkin. The other coaches may not have committed an act as egregious as Durkin, but their behavior is still at a level that termination is the appropriate response. Since lying, covering up, and playing players who violated the law and/or rules don’t seem to be serious enough to trump winning, money, and misguided administrators, l would hope that parents would scrutinize what they see the coaches do and not rely so much on what they hear. If enough parents steered talented players choose to play for coaches who are honest and play within the rules, the coaches who don’t would eventually find themselves unemployed.

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  • Anderson Your name (Required) November 6, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    At the end of the day the Big Ten has had more athletic leadership idiotic missteps then even the SEC. You mentioned five programs. Forgetting Rutgers coach writing a paper for a player which got him fired. Minnesota and the ‘party’ incident. I’m sure there are a few more. The Big Ten unfortunately has shown more than once that the dollar overrules common sense.

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