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Maryland heads to Iowa, with turmoil surrounding its program

Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin remains on paid administrative leave following the death of Jordan McNair. (USA TODAY Sports)
Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin remains on paid administrative leave following the death of Jordan McNair. (USA TODAY Sports)

CEDAR RAPIDS — What a mess.

Not on the field for the Maryland Terrapins. They’re 4-2 as they hit Kinnick Stadium for Saturday’s game against Iowa, with seemingly a legit shot at qualifying for a bowl game.

That would be quite a feat for a program that’s in a whole lot of turmoil off the field. Offensive lineman Jordan McNair died during a summer workout due to heatstroke, with an independent investigation saying the university was culpable for his death.

The response from the on-site medical training staff was insufficient.

Head coach D.J. Durkin has been on paid administrative leave since mid-August after ESPN reported he precided over a “toxic culture” that included bullying and verbal and physical abuse. Maryland’s strength and conditioning coach was subsequently fired, with the school launching a second investigation.

Results were expected to be made public Friday (great timing on that), but now will not, available only to the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland. It’ll be another week at least, according to a statement Thursday from the USM, before the findings become public.

Thus, Matt Canada remains Maryland’s head coach on an interim basis. Over halfway through the season, there is no concrete resolution about this program’s present and future.

“I think we’re taking it day by day,” Canada said at his weekly press conference. “We said that from the beginning, and I think that was a good plan at the time. That’s what we’re doing. We’re pushing, we’re pushing, we’re pushing. I continue to say how proud we are as a staff of our players, for focusing on football and each other.

“Going through the grieving process, all those things, are what really matter. That’s all we can do. Right now, I’m still the offensive coordinator that gets to stand up here and talk to you guys, which is awesome. Other than that, we’re just working. I don’t think there’s any other answer for it. It is what it is. There are people who are making those decisions. Right now, as a football program, we’re working as hard as we can to do the best job we can today. Tomorrow, we’ll see what tomorrow is.”

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Adding to the drama was a prominent program booster being ushered off the team plane before its flight to Michigan two weeks ago. That came via player request after the pro-Durkin booster made what were considered to be insensitive public comments about McNair’s death.

Then there was a report this week in The Athletic that quoted anonymous player parents saying they are worried that Durkin will be reinstated as head coach. They did not want to disclose their names for fear of retaliation against their sons should Durkin retain his job.

“We are worried that this narcissistic sociopath is going to come back,” The Atlantic quoted a parent. “To me, he should never coach again.”

ESPN reported Thursday there actually are three sets of parents in this situation: one group that is pro-Durkin, one group that is anti-Durkin and one group that is neutral. As was said earlier, what a mess.

That this team, Canada and the remainder of the coaching staff has been able to keep things together well enough to beat Texas, Bowling Green, Minnesota and Rutgers is admirable, to say the least. The rest of Maryland’s schedule is tough, with games against Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State remaining.

But games against Illinois and Indiana are winnable, which would bring the Terps to six victories and bowl eligible.

“I’m certainly not an expert on the grieving process,” Canada said. “I think everybody does it differently. I think our football players have worked very hard at trying to manage all of this. Manage the loss of a friend and a teammate, to lean on each other and to stick by each other and help each other through that. Then also to know that they’ve got to get up and still be a great son, or still be a great brother or be a great friend or be a great student.

“And then try and be the best football we can be, too. Let’s be the greatest teammate I can be. All of those things are what life is. Old, young, whatever that is, everybody deals with that differently. Everybody has to go through that differently. I think that’s what they’re focused on right now.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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