Baltimore — The attorney for the family of the University of Maryland offensive lineman who died after a strenuous offseason workout is calling for Terrapins football coach DJ Durkin to be fired, citing the abusive culture of the program and the team’s failure to properly react after Jordan McNair fell ill on the practice field.
The 19-year-old McNair was hospitalized May 29 and died June 13. McNair family attorney Billy Murphy Jr. said Sunday he’s seen the preliminary death certificate and has concluded, “This is an obvious heatstroke case.”
Durkin was placed on administrative leave Saturday in the wake of reports that he and his staff verbally abused and humiliated players since his arrival in College Park, Maryland, two years ago.
“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.”
Murphy also contended the climate of the program was all wrong, and cannot be corrected unless Durkin is no longer part of it.
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.
Maryland has put two high-ranking members of the athletic training staff on administrative leave. Murphy said an investigation by his law firm determined the team’s head trainer, Wes Robinson, was on the scene when McNair collapsed.
“We have corroborated facts that Wes Robinson made completely callous statements to Jordan McNair as he was suffering from heatstroke, as his temperature was rising to 106 degrees,” Murphy said. “He yelled at Jordan McNair, ‘Drag (your butt) across the field.’ That is absolutely reprehensible and completely reflects the culture that we’re saying and has been pervading the University of Maryland.”
Keisha Staples, the mother of junior defensive back Antoine Brooks Jr., said after McNair’s death the parents’ major concern was with the Maryland training staff. Staples said parents she is closest with believed Maryland addressed those concerns by putting Robinson and director of athletic training Steve Nordwall on leave.
She had no issues with Durkin, and had little interaction with strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, who was also placed on leave Saturday. Brooks has never complained about either coach, Staples said.
“From all the parents that I know personally, they’re in full support of coach Durkin.”
Staples said parents of players have been reaching out to athletic director Damon Evans to arrange a meeting with him and other university personnel to discuss Durkin’s situation.
Regardless, it’s too late to correct what happened to McNair on a hot spring day in College Park, Maryland.
“I think the coaches expected this to be a severe workout because it was their opportunity to find out who was in what shape for football,” said Malcolm Ruff, an associate of Murphy, Falcon and Murphy. “Ice baths should have been there. That’s the real issue here. You have a young man who is 19 years old who has his entire life ahead of him, but instead of recognizing those symptoms the University of Maryland attempted to re-insert him back into practice.”
Murphy said the law firm knows of this because, “we have spoken to several of the players, and this what they said happened.”