Maryland suspends trainers, strength coach after report details ‘toxic’ culture under D.J. Durkin

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Ohio State is not the only Big Ten school dealing with a growing scandal on the eve of the season as some serious allegations at Maryland are poised to rock the Terps football program.

Sources told ESPN that the school has placed athletic trainers Wes Robinson and Steve Nordwall, as well as assistant athletics director for sports performance  Rick Court on administrative leave late Friday as the school continues to look into the tragic death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair following a late May workout. It is not coincidence that the Terps waited this long to suspend the trio as ESPN released two detailed reports shortly before on Friday evening, one detailing physical signs McNair was showing before he collapsed and another, much broader, look into what was described as a “toxic” culture that Court and head coach D.J. Durkin have installed in College Park.

“There were multiple people that said, ‘Wow, Jordan looks f—ed up, he doesn’t look all right,'” one anonymous player said of the May workout in question. “We knew he was really exhausted, but we didn’t know he was in danger of his life. But that doesn’t mean that a medical professional shouldn’t know to put him in an ice tub.”

McNair died nearly two weeks after collapsing as the result of what the family said was heatstroke following a workout that included several 110-yard sprints the team was put through.

Just as critical for the program were additional allegations regarding the culture at Maryland that have been established the past few years under Durkin and his top lieutenant in the strength and conditioning program in Court. Per ESPN this included:

  • There is a coaching environment based on fear and intimidation. In one example, a player holding a meal while in a meeting had the meal slapped out of his hands in front of the team. At other times, small weights and other objects were thrown in the direction of players when Court was angry.
  • The belittling, humiliation and embarrassment of players is common. In one example, a player whom coaches wanted to lose weight was forced to eat candy bars as he was made to watch teammates working out.
  • Extreme verbal abuse of players occurs often. Players are routinely the targets of obscenity-laced epithets meant to mock their masculinity when they are unable to complete a workout or weight lift, for example. One player was belittled verbally after passing out during a drill.
  • Coaches have endorsed unhealthy eating habits and used food punitively; for example, a player said he was forced to overeat or eat to the point of vomiting.

Perhaps the most damning statement that the report included was this quote from a former Terps staff member: “I would never, ever, ever allow my child to be coached there.” There were also several current or former players who spoke about the conditions under Durkin in the report as well and none paint a flattering picture.

It’s unclear as to what the next steps are for the team and the program. Durkin remains in charge pending further investigation with fall camp already under way and the season opener against Texas fast-approaching on September 1st. Athletic director Damon Evans, who was elevated from an interim role in late June and who has overseen the department while all this has gone on, could also have his job in jeopardy depending on the outcome of the investigation.

There’s no timetable for how long it will take to sort everything out and get to the bottom of things but needless to say, the Terps will need to be prepared to answer a lot more questions over the coming weeks and months.