James T. Brady, chair of Maryland's board of regents, is stepping down immediately, he announced in a statement Thursday.
On Tuesday, Brady had announced that the board recommended reinstating DJ Durkin as football coach, over the objection of Maryland president Wallace Loh, following investigations into the death of 19-year-old football player Jordan McNair as well as the culture of the program. Loh announced that he would retire at the end of the school year.
McNair collapsed on the practice field and died two weeks later of heatstroke. Durkin was put on administrative leave in August and, following the board's recommendation, returned for one day, before Loh fired him on Wednesday, acting without the board's approval.
The board's decision to retain Durkin was roundly criticized by students, faculty, politicians, McNair's family members and some players.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called on the board to reconsider the decision, saying, "I am deeply troubled by the lack of transparency from the board of regents, and deeply concerned about how they could have possibly arrived at the decisions announced yesterday."
Hogan appointed Brady, 78, and the majority of the 17 board members, and had a close relationship with him.
On Wednesday, acting without the board's approval, Loh fired Durkin.
In his statement, Brady said he respected the many people who disagreed with the board's recommendations.
"They were difficult decisions, based on information included in reports stemming from two investigations and a great deal of thought and deliberation. I understand that reasonable people could come to other conclusions," he said. "And even among our board, some did.
"Going forward ... I believe the board needs to be able to return to the important business of supporting and advancing Maryland's public university system, for the benefit of its students and families, and of people across the state.
"In recent days, I have become the public face of both the board and its decisions related to these matters. In my estimation, my continued presence on the board will inhibit its ability to move Maryland's higher education agenda forward. And I have no interest in serving as a distraction from that important work."
"Accordingly, I will step down from the Board of Regents immediately."
After Brady's announcement, Hogan's office issued a statement that read: "Governor Hogan thanks Mr. Brady for his service on the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, as well as his many years of distinguished public service under three governors of both parties. The governor believes that the university system must move forward in an open and transparent manner to restore public trust in Maryland's flagship university."
Understanding this, the board announced that it would be open to a review.
In a statement, the USM board of regents said: "The board has ... heard from many, including Governor Hogan, members of the legislature, who strongly disagreed with the recommendations that were shared Tuesday. The board deeply respects the views of Maryland's elected leaders and will participate in any process they request."
A commission that reaffirmed the university's accreditation last year requested more information about the athletic program, so it can make a decision at a meeting later this month about potential action. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education could decide to take no action, issue a warning, put the university on probation or remove accreditation, said Brian Kirschner, a spokesman for the commission.
The accreditation review came after McNair's death on June 13. The offensive lineman was hospitalized after suffering heatstroke during a spring practice on May 23 and never recovered.
An independent investigation found the university culpable in McNair's death. Members of the Maryland athletic training staff failed to quickly diagnose and properly treat the heatstroke symptoms, the investigation found. Had the athletic training staff provided him adequate care, he might have been saved, the report found.
A second investigation was commissioned after an Aug. 10 ESPN report, citing former and current players, alleging a culture of humiliation and harsh punishments under Durkin and strength and conditioning coach Rick Court. On Aug. 11, Durkin was placed on paid indefinite suspension pending an investigation. Court resigned in August.
On Oct. 25, the results of that investigation were made public. The commission found there was not a "toxic culture" under Durkin, but there were "many occasions" when Court engaged in abusive conduct, including hurling homophobic slurs and attempting to humiliate players by throwing food, weights, and on one occasion a trash can full of vomit at them.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.