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Report on Maryland football culture cites problems but stops short of 'toxic' label

Maryland head coach DJ Durkin.

JONATHAN NEWTON/THE WASHINGTON POST

By RICK MAESE AND KEITH L. ALEXANDER | The Washington Post | Published: October 25, 2018

The exhaustive eight-week external report that will help the University System of Maryland Board of Regents decide the fate of football coach DJ Durkin paints a troubling picture of the program but stopped short of saying the environment in College Park was "toxic."

"The commission found that the Maryland football team did not have a 'toxic culture,' but it did have a culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out," according to a copy of the report obtained Thursday by The Washington Post.

The board received the report from the commission at its regularly scheduled meeting last Friday. They also received a PowerPoint presentation from the committee, summarizing the findings at that time. The board then reconvened for a special meeting Tuesday in Baltimore, where the 17 regents discussed what actions to take. They agreed only to meet again Thursday afternoon via conference call to further discuss the matter. The report has not been made public and no commission members or regents have publicly discussed its findings.

The report made no recommendations regarding Durkin or any other athletic department personnel. The board has made no personnel decisions but could announce some actions in the coming days.

The commission found that "during Mr. Durkin's tenure, the Athletics Department lacked a culture of accountability, did not provide adequate oversight of the football program, and failed to provide Mr. Durkin with the tools, resources, and guidance necessary to support and educate a first-time head coach in a major football conference."

According to the report, the commission interviewed 55 former players who played under Durkin, the parents of 24 players, 60 current and former athletic department staff, 12 University officials not in the athletic department and 14 other people with "college football expertise" or "miscellaneous individuals."

Investigators say they met with Durkin for more than 10 hours and "we believe his concern for his players' welfare is genuine." But the report was not as kind to Durkin's strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, who has already negotiated a settlement and left the school.

"Yet many players, parents, and coaches lodged complaints with the Commission about both Mr. Durkin and Mr. Court," the report states. "Frustrations were shared about the intensity and length of practices and workouts, insufficient recovery time, and the aforementioned issues with Mr. Court."

Durkin advertised an "open door" policy, but many players and assistants felt this did not extend to those whose opinions did not align with Mr. Durkin's. Some coaches feared sharing criticisms about Mr. Court."

Court was "was effectively accountable to no one," the report states, and never received a performance review. The commission met with Court and his attorney times during its investigation and ultimately found that Court "on too many occasions, acted in a manner inconsistent with the University's values and basic principles of respect for others," according to the report.

"This included challenging a player's manhood and hurling homophobic slurs (which Mr. Court denies but was recounted by many). Additionally, Mr. Court would attempt to humiliate players in front of their teammates by throwing food, weights, and on one occasion a trash can full of vomit, all behavior unacceptable by any reasonable standard. These actions failed the student-athletes he claimed to serve," the report states. At another point, investigators wrote: "There were many occasions when Mr. Court engaged in abusive conduct during his tenure at Maryland, as we document. While some interviewees dismissed this as a motivational tactic, there is a clear line Mr. Court regularly crossed, when his words became 'attacking' in nature."

Still, the commission determined that "Durkin and leadership in the Athletics Department share responsibility for the failure to supervise Court" and faulted the school for allowing the situation to fester.

"During the 2016 to 2018 seasons, the Athletics Department did not effectively fulfill its responsibilities. University ombudsman and assistant to President [Wallace] Loh, Cynthia Edmunds, described the Athletics Department's operations during this period as 'chaos and confusion,'" the report states.

The report highlighted seven bullet-point conclusions, including:

  • "During Mr. Durkin's tenure, the Athletics Department lacked a culture of accountability, did not provide adequate oversight of the football program, and failed to provide Mr. Durkin with the tools, resources, and guidance necessary to support and educate a first-time head coach in a major football conference."
  • "Mr. Court, on too many occasions, acted in a manner inconsistent with the University's values and basic principles of respect for others."
  • "Both Mr. Durkin and leadership in the Athletics Department share responsibility for the failure to supervise Mr. Court."
  • "The University leadership bears some responsibility for the ongoing dysfunction of the Athletics Department;
  • "Maryland should institute a strong "medical model" for student-athlete care to improve health outcomes and ensure that the University is a leader in collegiate sports medicine best practices."

The investigation was originally called by Maryland President Wallace Loh on Aug. 10, the night Durkin was placed on administrative leave. He appointed three members to the commission before the board of regents took over control of the investigation days later, adding five more members. The report was a product of work done by all eight commission members: retired federal judges Alex Williams and Ben Legg; Redskins Senior Vice President Doug Williams; former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich; journalist Bonnie Bernstein; Baltimore attorney Charles Scheeler; Tom McMillen, the former Maryland basketball star who served three terms in Congress; and Frederick Azar, the chief of staff at Campbell Clinic Orthopaedics in Memphis.

The Washington Post's Roman Stubbs and Sarah Larimer contributed to this report.

Former University of Maryland strength coach Rick Court runs players through a drill in June 2017. Court resigned in August after negotiating a $315,000 settlement.
TONI L. SANDYS/THE WASHINGTON POST

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