Last Wednesday, the University of Maryland announced that football coach D.J. Durkin would be relieved of his duties. This came 24 hours after announcing that he would be reinstated to his post following a lengthy investigation into the death of former player Jordan McNair.
Let me be clear in saying that I thought all along that Durkin should be fired. I’ll leave it up to you to dig in to all the facts of the McNair case, but it seemed to me (and most reasonable people whose last name isn’t Durkin) that the coach was guilty of neglect at best. At worst, he was guilty of establishing a culture that directly caused McNair’s death. Either way, he had to go.
Therefore, many people are now applauding Maryland University President Wallace Loh for ultimately delivering the news of Durkin’s dismissal. While I agree that Loh ultimately arrived at the correct decision, I stop well short of labeling him as a hero here. You see, Loh had apparently wanted to fire Durkin all along. However, the Board of Regents was not in agreement. In fact, according to the Washington Post, Loh warned the regents that there would be a firestorm of backlash from both the media and student body.
It was at that point that the regents threatened to dismiss Loh and replace him if he ignored their recommendation to retain the controversial coach. So Wallace Loh, feeling that his hand was forced, stood aside as Maryland announced that Durkin would be reinstated. Why then, would so many now paint Loh in a positive light?
Well, at the same time that Durkin’s reinstatement was announced, Loh announced his eventual retirement — in June 2019. That announcement was Loh’s way of distancing himself from the school’s decision. Well wouldn’t you know it, Loh’s warning to the regents was prophetic.
News of Durkin’s reinstatement was met with a widespread backlash on and off campus that only the Board of Regents failed to see coming. Even Maryland Governor Larry Hogan got involved by issuing a statement asking to the regents to reconsider their stance. Boy did they. Whether due to the urging of the governor or not, the board did reverse course the next day and fired Durkin once and for all. Next came calls for Loh to stay on as President as well as the misguided hailing of him as the leader that the university needs. I beg to differ.
If Loh was so courageous, why didn’t he just go ahead and do the right thing from the beginning. He felt strongly that Durkin needed to be fired, but not strongly enough that he wanted to go against the wishes of the board and fire Durkin when it was his job to do so. He was so incensed that he was willing to retire — next year, after this storm had blown over.
In answering questions about his retirement, Loh spoke of staying on through June to insure a “smooth transition.” But my question is — where is the smooth transition for Jordan McNair? Or better yet, for the family he leaves behind. In that same press conference Loh went on to say that he was proud of the “shared legacy that has been created” during his tenure. To which I can’t help but wonder — what would McNair’s legacy have been?
Ultimately Wallace Loh put the interests of Maryland University and the protection of his own legacy ahead of doing what was right. The threat of retiring is an about-face just to let us know that he did recognize right from wrong, despite allowing the school to proceed in reinstating Durkin. The decision to eventually fire Durkin is an about-face to make up for a moral compass having gone horribly askew.
It seems that everyone is consumed with covering their own backside in this one. And again, I’m left with an unanswered question. Who had Jordan McNair’s back?