Maryland’s football decision is emblematic of a bigger problem

Following a lengthy investigation into the culture surrounding its football program, the University of Maryland’s governing board decided to retain the services of head coach D.J. Durkin and athletic director Damon Evans.

This decision comes five months after 19-year-old offensive lineman Jordan McNair experienced heatstroke after a spring practice session. He died two weeks later.

There’s something to be said for instituting a change in culture around a program that has lacked success. Sometimes, toughness does need to be implemented. This can often come in the form of challenging workouts conducted under the watchful eye of a training staff that genuinely cares about the well-being of its players. But just as toughness needs to be ingrained, so too does accountability.

James T. Brady, head of Maryland’s Board of Regents said that “too many players feared speaking out,” about the tactics of the staff and the program at large. He added that Durkin was a “good man” who had been “unfairly blamed”. The findings also, at least in part, justified retaining the coach and AD because they were still fairly new at their jobs.

There’s the lack of accountability that concerns me.

Strength and Conditioning coach Rick Court resigned in August. He was placed on administrative leave two months after McNair’s death, and only then after an ESPN report made the generally toxic culture of the program public knowledge.

Two other trainers have also been placed on leave.

Maryland president Wallace Loh unexpectedly announced that he would retire next year. He is one of the few in this saga who has stepped up to the plate saying in August that he accepted “legal and moral responsibility” in the matter.

The full report by the Board of Regents mentioned that, “Many players interviewed by the commission felt Mr. Durkin’s and Mr. Court’s coaching tactics reflected those of a ‘big-time football program.”

And that right there is a huge problem.

Tragic deaths like that of Jordan McNair’s have become a common occurrence in sports. It’s a terrible reality as “hard-nosed” coaches consistently attempt to prove that they’re the second coming of Bear Bryant and his Junction Boys. It’s worth noting that Bryant’s brutal training camp —which was wildly irresponsible even by the standards of 1954— yielded a record of just 1-9 in his first season. But they sure were tough, right?

Hard work and sacrifice are fantastic things to teach the value of. I refuse to believe that the only way to impart them are to push kids to the brink of death, or beyond.

Good coaches and trainers understand balance. They understand the physical and mental limits of young adults. Behind any skilled, demanding coach is someone who has a considerable capacity to love and empathize with their players.

Getting away from the accepted norms of what goes on at a “big-time football program” is crucial to sustaining the long-term success of football as a game and sports as a whole. Maryland hasn’t been a member of the ACC for a number of years, but to think that this mindset doesn’t infect programs nationwide is naive.

This problem affects everyone regardless of conference affiliation or school allegiance. Hopefully, unlike at Maryland, the grown-ups around the country responsible for so many young lives will start acting like adults.

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