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DJ Durkin returns to Terrapins with board of regents' backing

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McNair family reacts to Durkin keeping his job as head coach
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Jordan McNair's family talks with the media Tuesday about DJ Durkin keeping his job and how upset they are with the ruling. (0:24)

BALTIMORE -- Maryland football coach DJ Durkin, who was placed on paid administrative leave in August following the June 13 death of 19-year-old offensive lineman Jordan McNair from heatstroke he suffered at a May 29 workout, has been reinstated, the University System of Maryland board of regents announced Tuesday.

A source said that athletic director Damon Evans informed the team of the decision with Durkin present. Durkin met with the players with no other coaches present before a regularly scheduled practice, and sources told ESPN that several players, including starters, walked out of the meeting with Durkin.

"Everybody's shell-shocked [within the program]," a source said. "Nobody's saying much. Nobody knows what to do right now."

The news was met with outrage by McNair's parents and others.

"I feel like I've been punched in the stomach, and somebody spit in my face," said Marty McNair, Jordan's father, who thought the USM board would "do the right thing."

"The university has an obligation to protect, to educate and to nurture every one of its students," said Hassan Murphy, an attorney representing McNair's family. "... Yet today, the board ratified and validated the heartbreaking actions by Coach Durkin and his staff toward Jordan in May by continuing the employment of the man who failed in his primary responsibility to Jordan. That is callous and it is indefensible."

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued a statement questioning whether the university had done enough.

"Many will understandably question whether enough has been done to address the serious concerns that exist among many in the College Park community," Hogan wrote. "I am one of them."

A source told ESPN that interim head coach Matt Canada led Tuesday's practice, but in a statement Tuesday night, Evans said that Durkin is now handling all head-coaching responsibilities. Canada had served as interim head coach since Durkin was placed on administrative leave in August.

Durkin also issued a statement on Tuesday saying he's grateful for the opportunity to rejoin the team and that he appreciates having the support of the board of regents.

"Our thoughts have and will continue to be with Jordan's family. I am proud that the team has remained united and represented themselves and the University well during this difficult time," Durkin said. "As we move forward, I am confident that our team will successfully represent the entire University in a positive way both on and off the field."

Ellis McKennie, an offensive lineman for the Terrapins, tweeted his displeasure with Durkin's reinstatement on Tuesday night.

Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Tyran Hunt echoed McKennie's statement with a tweet Wednesday morning, saying "a paycheck was chosen" over McNair's life.

University president Wallace D. Loh and Evans also will keep their jobs, although Loh announced his plans to retire in June 2019.

The long-awaited decision on the futures of the three men comes after two separate investigations into the football program and five meetings and calls between the 17-member board of regents.

"We believe that Coach Durkin has been unfairly blamed for the dysfunction in the athletic department," USM board chair James T. Brady said at a Tuesday news conference. "While he bears some responsibility, it is not fair to place all of it at his feet."

Sources with knowledge of the process told ESPN that retaining Durkin was the board's chief objective and that Loh was forced to keep the coach or risk losing his own job.

"This is really not Dr. Loh's decision," a source said.

The USM board of regents has authority only to retain or remove a university president. Loh didn't mention Durkin by name during his opening remarks Tuesday, saying only he accepts the board's recommendation to reinstate the coach.

"The board of regents insisted that DJ return, and this has been their highest priority," a source with knowledge of the situation told ESPN. "Some regents appeared to be obsessed with it. The problem is they don't have the authority to hire and fire DJ, but they made it clear that is their main priority here. Because they can't hire and fire anybody, which they finally realized, they told Wallace Loh that they wanted him to bring DJ back, and the clear message was that if Loh was not willing to bring DJ back right away they would fire [Loh] immediately and then see who the acting president was and get that person to [retain Durkin]."

On Friday, the board of regents met with Loh, Evans and Durkin at its headquarters in Baltimore. Brady said Durkin was "incredibly forthright" with the regents after participating in more than 10 hours of interviews with an eight-person commission that spent more than two months investigating the culture within the football program. Brady added that even though no personnel changes were recommended, the board "must ensure that the recommendations in these two reports are implemented swiftly in College Park and as appropriated at every campus across our university system."

The investigation into the culture of Durkin's program was initiated after an ESPN report on Aug. 10 that detailed allegations of an atmosphere built on fear and intimidation. While the commission's report stated the culture was "not toxic," it concluded there was a "culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out." The report contained statements from players, parents of players, assistant coaches and others both supporting Durkin and criticizing him.

The findings of the first investigation, conducted by sports medicine consultant Dr. Rod Walters, were released on Sept. 21 and found that Maryland athletic trainers did not follow proper protocol and failed to recognize and treat the symptoms of heatstroke that eventually led to McNair's death on June 13. Two athletic trainers, Wes Robinson and Steve Nordwall, were placed on administrative leave along with Durkin on Aug. 11. Loh on Tuesday deferred the decision on Robinson's and Nordwall's future employment to Evans.

In August, Loh publicly accepted "legal and moral responsibility" for the mistakes the athletic trainers made during the May 29 workout.

"Today, I stand by that statement 100 percent," Loh said Tuesday, "and I will do everything possible to fulfill that responsibility."

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Maryland board of regents chair recommends Durkin's return

Maryland board of regents chair James Brady says DJ Durkin "has been unfairly blamed for the dysfunction in the athletic department" and recommends he remain football coach.

Brady added Tuesday that the board of regents "believes the university bears responsibility for what happened to Mr. McNair."

Loh added that he and Evans intend to "implement a new culture in football that emphasizes the well-being of the student-athletes and their success."

Brady later said that Durkin, Evans and Loh "have accepted that they share responsibility for the dysfunctions within the athletic department. We also found that all three individuals share our commitment to improving the culture in the university's football program and to implementing the recommendations from both the Walters report and the independent commission."

Brady said that as president, Loh bears responsibility for the dysfunction in the athletic department and has acknowledged this to the board of regents. Since the summer, Loh has begun to implement a series of reforms cited in the Walters report.

Brady said that Evans, both as deputy athletics director and interim athletics director, reported to then-athletic director Kevin Anderson, who went on sabbatical last October, and was in a transitional role.

"We believe that Mr. Evans should be given the opportunity to lead the athletic department," Brady said, "and accordingly recommend to the university leadership that he be given that opportunity. ... We believe he is the right person to move the department forward at this critical time."

Brady said Durkin "failed to adequately supervise strength and conditioning coach Rick Court," but Brady also noted that Court has since resigned. Asked about the organizational chart cited in the commission's report that shows Court directly below Durkin, Brady said there were other charts that indicated confusion in reporting responsibilities. Durkin made Court his first staff hire after getting the Maryland job, and players described the two to the investigative commission as "the same person."

"We also acknowledge the many individuals who spoke with the independent commission, those comments as detailed by the commission were at times very critical of Coach Durkin and his lack of oversight of Mr. Court," Brady said. "But many others, players and families, spoke very positively and with great affection about Coach Durkin and his deep commitment to the football program and his players and their families."

McNair's parents, Marty McNair and Tonya Wilson, have repeatedly called for Durkin's firing. Brady said possible litigation from the McNair family, Durkin or Evans did not factor in the board's recommendations to Loh.

On Tuesday, Murphy, the attorney representing McNair's family, said: "How can a student-athlete be called a p---y as he is in the early stages of death, dying before their eyes, with no action taken, and yet no one be held accountable. The university had an obligation to keep its students safe, and it failed."

Murphy said the investigation commissioned by the report found that Durkin failed in his responsibilities.

"The only person who has paid for those failures is Jordan McNair," Murphy said. "And for their outrageous behavior, Jordan paid with his life."

Murphy said his firm will explore "every possible avenue" to seek justice for McNair and will continue to investigate, but he declined to specify any next legal steps. Murphy remained supportive of university president Loh, saying Loh had his authority stripped by the board on the Durkin decision.

"I miss my son every day," said Tonya Wilson, McNair's mother, "and today, it just didn't help. It didn't help at all."

Asked what message he has for McNair's family, Brady said, "The regents have looked at this very carefully and are very conscious of [the calls for Durkin's firing], and we made a decision based upon a very strong belief that DJ is absolutely prepared to move in a direction that is totally consistent with the values of the university."

Hogan, who said in his statement that McNair's death "must never be forgotten," said he'll be watching how things unfold going forward.

"I've said from the beginning that this was a very serious matter that required action and transparency. Although our administration was not a part of the process and I do not know how the regents arrived at their conclusions, in the weeks ahead, we will be pushing for assurances that the issues outlined in the report will be effectively addressed," the governor said.

Brady said the board of regents will establish an independent monitoring group to ensure its reforms are implemented at Maryland. The members of the group will be named in the next few weeks and report to the board. The group is expected to have full access to Maryland's athletic department, personnel, facilities, practices and games. Brady described it as "a group of knowledgeable people who will report directly to the full board of regents."

"[Durkin] is committed to ensuring the proper reforms, working with the independent monitor to see that they are implemented," Brady said.