COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Jordan McNair’s father, Marty, stood in front of the Gossett Football Team House on Maryland’s campus answering questions about the university’s decision to fire head football coach DJ Durkin.
McNair was only a few feet from tea lights positioned in the No. 79 to honor his son, who died of a heatstroke on June 13.
The lights, which were set up after Jordan’s death and have long since burned out, were a reminder of how long this process has dragged on for the McNair family and what Marty and Jordan’s mother, Tonya Wilson, have been through emotionally. Finding out that Durkin initially would be retained on Tuesday, McNair said he felt as though he was punched in the stomach and the Maryland System Board of Regents spat in his face.
Now, upon learning that Durkin had been fired Wednesday by University of Maryland president Wallace D. Loh, McNair felt it was the first step in moving forward.
“This is happening so fast, I just feel a level of gratitude that Dr. Loh took it upon himself to do the right thing, in the face of what he was dealing with, the pressure he was dealing with,” McNair said. “It’s a step in the right direction to try to put some closure to this. I know we still have a long way to go, but at least knowing that I’m confident and comfortable with Dr. Loh making the decision and he stands behind his decision.”
Still a long way to go because the family and their attorney, Billy Murphy, have not reached a financial settlement from the university for the mishandling of their son in a workout on May 29 that ultimately led to his death.
Murphy said the family is still prepared and ready for litigation, but they hope that the matter is settled promptly so this debacle can be put behind the family and everyone else involved. Murphy also is now calling for the governor of Maryland to remove board chair Jim Brady for the board’s initial recommendation to retain Durkin as head coach.
Murphy commended Loh for his decision to stand up to the board against their recommendation and also noted the political pressure that had started to mount against the board. U.S. Senators, congressmen and even Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan spoke out against the recommendation and process by which it was handled.
“The next step, I think, is for the board to get rid of Jim Brady as their chairman,” Murphy said. “The governor appoints the chair and the governor can dismiss the chair. We’re urging the governor to do that immediately. [Brady] has always been an impediment for justice for this young man, and that impediment should be removed surgically as quickly as possible.”
That mounting political pressure came from within, as well, as the student body government association had urged Loh to fire Durkin. Student body president Jonathan Allen met with Loh on Wednesday afternoon and expressed the student body’s outrage with the decision to keep Durkin.
“I expressed to him, I urged him, that he must fire Coach Durkin regardless of any repercussion,” Allen said. “I insisted that he needed to get justice for Jordan. That was what our entire actions were about, was to get justice for Jordan and support the student-athletes on the team. I did not believe if Coach Durkin was reinstated and remained the coach, that would be doing so.”
The student body government had planned to introduce legislature urging Loh to fire Durkin in a meeting on campus at 6 p.m. local time Wednesday. While the students were debating the legislature, the decision to fire Durkin came down before they ever filed the motion.
The football team was notified during a team meeting that was called at 6:20 p.m.; the players were notified of the meeting via a text through an app that sends communications. Because they had received so many of those messages over the past few months, no one on the team knew what to expect.
Athletic director Damon Evans delivered the news to the team, and the players filed out quickly, according to offensive lineman Johnny Jordan. A source told ESPN that there was no pushback from the players when the news was announced.
Jordan was McNair’s roommate, and he said the move to fire Durkin was the right decision for the university and the program and that it will allow the team to focus on football and its next opponent, Michigan State.
“Just this whole thing has been very emotional, because every day I relive those two weeks from the end of May to June 20, the day of his funeral,” Jordan said. “I relive every day and this all just kind of brought that back into the limelight as we were beginning, not to forget, but begin to really lock in to the final home stretch of the season.”
The reaction from the players was mixed, according to an anonymous player. Some were in support of the decision, and some were opposed to Durkin leaving. As players trickled out of the Gossett Football Team House, some had their heads hung low, briskly walking past media members, while one player skipped out of the building singing and laughing.
No matter the reaction, all sides believe this decision will now allow the players, the program and the McNair family to start the healing process.
“This program has been in disarray, and everyone should be glad collaterally that now the program has a chance to survive and prosper,” Murphy said. “It did not have a chance to do that under the shadow of the decision made by the board of regents. So hopefully things can, the ship of the University of Maryland can be righted, and Dr. Loh can be retained, Jim Brady can be fired and then we can get justice for young Mr. McNair and his family.”
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