Maryland regents meet with DJ Durkin; AD says, ‘We just have to wait to see what happens’

University System of Maryland Board of Regents Chair James T. Brady, seated, with Maryland Chancellor Robert L. Caret before the start of Friday’s special meeting to discuss the university’s football program. (Cheryl Diaz Meyer for The Washington Post)

BALTIMORE — DJ Durkin met Friday afternoon with the University System of Maryland Board of Regents as it weighed whether the Maryland football coach should be allowed to return to the sideline.

The board also met with Maryland President Wallace D. Loh and Athletic Director Damon Evans at the university system’s downtown headquarters.

Evans said, “We just have to wait to see what happens,” when he was asked about his job status as he left the meeting at about 4:30 p.m. He declined to comment further. Durkin declined to comment when he was seen leaving about an hour later. Loh was not available to comment.

The board convened the special session to discuss the Maryland football program for the fourth time in the past week at the conclusion of an independent investigation launched in August following media reports that alleged abuse and bullying in the program in the wake of offensive lineman Jordan McNair’s death. McNair, 19, suffered exertional heatstroke during a team workout on May 29 and died 15 days later.

Regents have been internally debating what actions to take and have studied the findings of a 192-page report produced by an eight-member commission. The commission said Maryland was not plagued by a “toxic” culture under Durkin’s watch, but it did outline troubling incidents, finding fault with leadership and oversight at virtually every level.

The board has made no personnel decisions, and it is unclear when it might do so. According to multiple people familiar with the board’s inner workings, there has been no clear consensus on what to do next, with some of the 17 regents in favor of parting ways with Durkin, Evans and Loh, some in favor of retaining just the president and still others who think all three should remain in place.

The regents were not expected to make any formal announcements following the meeting, which continued into Friday evening.

Durkin had met three times with investigators who were probing the culture of his football program but until Friday had not met with the body that will ultimately decide his fate. Durkin and two training staffers, Wes Robinson and Steve Nordwall, have been on administrative leave since August.

As the board considers what actions to take, speculation and pressure have ramped up in recent days. Lawmakers, school donors, sports boosters and College Park colleagues have all reached out to the regents, voicing support for some or all of the imperiled Maryland figures.

“I would urge the Board to not remove President Loh, who I believe has added very substantively to the University’s status as an academic institution and who took important steps to ensure the McNair family got answers,” said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the House minority whip. “I believe he will continue to take steps to address this situation and change the culture of the Athletic Department.”

Board Chair James T. Brady also received a letter Friday from Billy Murphy, the Baltimore-based attorney representing the McNair family, charging the board with a “clear abdication of moral responsibility and leadership” and saying the board is evading responsibility for the player’s death.

“It is obvious that you are punishing Dr. Loh for taking legal and moral responsibility, and for other reasons completed unrelated to the death of Jordan McNair,” Murphy said.

The letter accused Brady of disagreeing with Loh over the renaming of Byrd Stadium — “and how you fought publicly to retain the name of an ardent segregationist on a stadium where African American athletes play,” the letter states.

“The McNair family will not rest until you accept legal and moral responsibility for the death of their son,” Murphy wrote.

In 2015, Loh successfully pushed to rename the school’s football stadium. It had been named for Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd, the university president from 1935 to 1954 who was also an ardent proponent of racial segregation.

Brady was among five board members who voted against the change. “There is an inherent danger in my mind in looking back 65 years in a prism of 2015, and making judgments about how things happened and what drove decisions,” Brady said at the time, according to the Baltimore Sun.

A spokesman for the university system issued a statement defending the board’s actions during the investigations, saying, “Any suggestion or attempt to inject other, unrelated issues, is a disservice to the many talented and honest people involved in these investigations, including Chair Brady and every member of the Board of Regents.

“Every investigator, commission member and regent has been, and continues to be, determined to serve the university, the university system and the state of Maryland responsibly and transparently by uncovering and responding to issues related to Terps athletics and football,” the statement read.

On Thursday, after The Washington Post published the commission’s report, the board also began receiving letters from coaches and employees in the Maryland athletic department in support of Evans. Evans’s leadership team also sent a letter to the board Thursday, stating it was “obligated to share with you our perspective on the state of affairs and current culture of our department under the leadership of Damon Evans ahead of Friday’s regents meeting.”

The letter makes a case for Evans and his impact on other sports in the athletic department, which includes 20 teams, 500 athletes and 250 staff members. It also addresses the transition Evans has overseen within the department over the past year.

“Over the course of the last year, we have witnessed and been a part of a sea change with how our department operates and the morale of our staff,” the letter states. “Our department is beginning to rebuild a sense of cohesion and purpose thanks to Damon’s ability to build relationships and instill confidence through his leadership style and capabilities, his enthusiastic championship of the people who work in our department, and his deep knowledge of the landscape of intercollegiate athletics.”

The letter also campaigns for Evans through recent feedback from the university’s human resources department, which identified Evans as “a top performer across campus management based on the independent Gallup survey related to staff performance and morale.”

Both Evans and Loh requested time to speak with the regents on Friday.

The board has said it intends to publicly share the commission’s findings and announce any personnel decisions by next Tuesday, though even those close to the situation still weren’t sure heading into Friday’s meeting what those might be. From the start, the board has pledged to be thorough in its work. Brady said this month, “As public servants, we have an obligation to take the time necessary to get this right.”

That time, though, has invited plenty of others to weigh in.

“I continue to have faith in Dr. Loh, and I am deeply concerned that palace intrigue is taking focus away from where it ought to be: On the tragic death of Jordan McNair and any reforms needed to protect student athletes,” Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) wrote to Brady last month.

The 17 regents are all politically appointed to the board, which oversees the state’s 12 public universities. Four were originally appointed by former governor Martin O’Malley (D), and the rest were appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R). The regents’ looming decision could come barely one week before Election Day, which has many power brokers in Annapolis closely monitoring the board proceedings.

“This is a very serious situation, and the governor believes that it must be handled appropriately by the regents and the university,” Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for the governor, said. “It is the responsibility of the regents, who act as an independent body free of political influence, and the governor expects them to take any necessary action consistent with the best interests and well-being of the entire University of Maryland community.”

Ovetta Wiggins, Erin Cox and Emily Giambalvo contributed to this report.

Read more:

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