This story has been updated.
A turbulent four-month run for the University of Maryland's football program culminated when the university's president recommended leaving the football coach, and the coach made one last request to keep his job.
After four final days of debate and discussion, the rules of the university system were put on the side of the coach.
DJ Durkin, who has been in administrative detention since August 11, will return to the sideline, announced the school on Tuesday afternoon, and Wallace D. Loh, the president of the university's flagship campus, will be in June after his contract expires Retirement, in the wake of a controversy that began with the death of 19-year-old offensive lineman Jordan McNair in June.
According to four people who were familiar with the situation, the regents urged Loh to allow Durkin to return and Athletic Director Damon Evans to continue his role. At his meeting with the regents last Friday, Loh told the board why he thought the Durkin school needed to move on. But in the opinion of three people who were familiar with the situation, many of the regents were impressed by their subsequent meeting with Durkin, and enough was convinced that he deserved to stay in his post, that Loh was said to be had no choice.
"It was made clear that if he wanted to stay in his position, he had no choice," said a person close to the situation. "He finally had the feeling that it would have been extremely annoying for the entire campus if he had been fired, just because he had not put the coach on the field.
"The board has no authority to hire and fire a football coach, but they made it clear that the DJ's return to the field was their highest priority."
At a press conference in Baltimore on Tuesday afternoon, James T. Brady, chairman of the regime's regime, said the board accepted the findings and recommendations of an eight-person special commission tasked with studying the culture of the football program. This commission created a 192-page investigation report that found problems with leadership and accountability in the athletic department, but did not consider the culture within the football program under Durkin's leadership to be "toxic." Brady said at the press conference that Durkin had been "unfairly blamed for the dysfunction in the sports department."
In a letter to the university community announcing his intention to retire on June 30, 2019, Loh wrote, "The past few months have been extremely difficult for the University, Maryland Football, and anyone who supports the Terps following the tragic death of Jordan McNair In the letter, Loh accepted the responsibilities of the commission's report on the Malfunction of the Sports Department, and affirmed that he accepted the legal and moral responsibility for failing McNair's concern, and also promised to work with Evans for all recommendations the Commission.
Durkin arrived at the Gossett Football Teamhouse at around 3:30 pm and rode a group of people on a golf cart. He went into the building without answering a reporter who called after him and asked if he had a comment. He is expected to be back on the sidelines for Saturday's match against Michigan State. Several people close to the football program said several players left Durkin's first meeting with the team Tuesday afternoon. His letter further states: "The Board of Regents recommended that head coach DJ Durkin return from administrative leave to resume his regular coaching responsibilities," a statement he did not elaborate.
The decision marks another turn in the most turbulent phase in the program's long history, triggered by McNair's death. After the media submitted reports of alleged abuses and bullying in the program, the university initiated a few external investigations and placed Durkin on administrative leave on August 11.
His status in the team is in the air as some players, parents, boosters and colleagues give their support and others call for change. Perhaps McNair's family had demanded Durkin's dismissal.
"He should not be able to work with someone else's child," said Martin McNair, the player's father, during a gig on "Good Morning America" in August.
In Durkin's absence, the Terps were led by offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who has served as interim head coach since August. Canada has led the team to a 5-3 record.
The school had two high-level sports coaches – Wes Robinson and Steve Nordwall, an Assistant Athletic Director – placed on administrative leave and negotiated an agreement with Rick Court, the strength and conditioning coach, who resigned Aug. 13. No decisions on Robinson or Northwall have been announced.
The regents had set a deadline for Tuesday to announce possible actions and make their decisions after several days of hand-wringing and internal debates. The Board received the Commission's report on the culture of the football program on 19 October and held five separate meetings to discuss the matter, which culminated in the Monday morning conference call.
According to several people who were familiar with the process, the 17 rulers struggled for days to reach any kind of consensus on what to do, and many changed their mind about Durkin only in the last few days. Some in the room had pushed with Durkin, Evans and Loh, other factions were in favor of keeping only the president. Still others strongly believed that all three should stay in their current roles.
Loh was originally scheduled to meet Robert L. Caret, the chancellor of the university system, Monday morning, and Durkin and Evans were also scheduled to call Caret over the phone. But the people who were familiar with the day's events said Loh's meeting had been canceled and there had been no phone call. University officials spent most of the day weighing their options.
The university system includes 12 public colleges and institutions, but the Board of Regents is not allowed to hire and fire coaches – or make personnel decisions on any campus. The position of the president is the exception, although the rulers can certainly have a strong influence in other areas.
"My reading of this is that the president is the one who has the authority to handle the staffing issues on campus," Caret told the Washington Post in an interview last month. "Of course, the board can influence the president."
The Board of Regents unanimously voted to take control of the two Maryland investigations on 17 August. Brady then said that the regents "would make the necessary decisions to protect and support our students, both in the College Park and on the state campus."
The first investigation report focused on the events surrounding McNair's death. This report was submitted to the Regents' Board on September 21 and outlined mistakes made by staff in Maryland. They found that the school's sports trainers failed to properly diagnose or treat McNair.
The second report came from allegations of abuse and bullying that were originally recorded in an ESPN report of 10 August. These investigators spent eight weeks interviewing former and current players, parents and school workers. The commission's report was published last week by the likes of The Post, but was officially released by the university system on Monday afternoon. The Commission did not find the program's culture "toxic" even though it identified several instances of abusive or bullying behavior and accused Durkin of failing to rein in court.
"If the culture had been" malevolent or harmful, "Mr. Durkin would not have earned the loyalty and respect of many of his student athletes and coaches," the report said. "Many players questioned by the commission felt that the tactics of Mr. Durkin and Mr. Court reflected a" great football program. "
Durkin received very mixed reviews from current players who were interviewed by the commission that examined the program. This group questioned 94 Maryland players on 9 September and asked about Durkin's effectiveness. In a comparison that contained results from 28 other schools, the players rated him from all but one program other than the head coach.
According to the commission, some players indicated in their feedback that Durkin is "innocent" and "deserves to be back," while others said he "should never get another coaching job."
Investigators wrote that they "believe his concern for the welfare of their players is genuine," but they noted that both players and coaches were reluctant to voice concerns about Durkin for fear of "retaliation or dismissal of their concerns."
"Mr. Durkin promoted an open door policy, but many players and assistants thought this would not extend to those whose opinions did not agree with those of Mr. Durkin," wrote the commission.
The school had previously been warned about problems in the football program. One parent sent an anonymous letter in December 2016 expressing concern. "His actions are extreme and outrageous," reads Durkin's letter, "deliberate and reckless, and the only cause of emotional distress."
According to the Commission's study of the culture of the Maryland program, "this anonymous memorandum simply slipped through the cracks from the beginning."
Durkin had the backing of many high-profile football boosters, many of whom signed a letter to the board in August declaring their support for the coach.
Durkin, who has a 10-15 record in his two seasons at College Park, faces challenges that come back into the team, with a campus and fan base split over the controversy, not to mention a locker room, always still mourn the loss of a teammate.
In July, Durkin had expressed momentary optimism for his program at the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. His comments came less than a month before he took office, marking the last time he spoke publicly about Maryland Football.
"I am very convinced of the staff we have and the procedures we have," Durkin said. "We'll look at them and make sure we can do anything better or do it differently, then we can do it."
Sarah Larimer contributed to this report.