Former Maryland football players told The Washington Post that head coach DJ Durkin and his staff abused them to the point of depression, humiliated them when they failed to complete workouts and pushed them to return from injuries prematurely, while playing favorites such that only some players suffered their wrath.
ESPN’s report last month on the program’s toxic culture spurred an eight-person investigation now led by the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents. With the investigation nearing its anticipated end date, the Post story published Sunday shed further light on some of the allegations that players have made — and some defenses others have offered of Durkin.
“These allegations, if true, are unacceptable,” athletic director Damon Evans said in a statement this weekend. “We will not tolerate any behavior that is detrimental to the mental or physical well-being of our student-athletes.”
In December 2016, the mother of a Maryland player hand-delivered a letter to the office of university President Wallace Loh and emailed the same letter to then-athletic director Kevin Anderson and other university officials, she told The Post.
“The fact that [Durkin] allows his coaches to psychologically, physically, and emotionally abuse the athletes is paving the way for a multi-million dollar civil lawsuit,” the letter reads, according to The Post.
A statement from Loh issued in response to the Post story does not mention the letter, but a spokesperson said it will be brought to the commission. It remains unclear how many players, parents or coaches the commission has talked to for the investigation.
Following the ESPN report on the program’s culture and the role it may have played in the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair — who suffered fatal heatstroke at a team workout May 29 — the university placed Durkin, head strength and conditioning coach Rick Court and two trainers on administrative leave. Court resigned shortly thereafter, while Durkin and the trainers remain on leave.
The mother who wrote the letter told the Post she was “sad beyond belief that it took the death of one’s child to actually be listened to.”
While the results of Dr. Rod Walters’ investigation into sports medicine practices and McNair’s death were released Sept. 21, little was known, beyond rumors, about the culture investigation before Sunday.
At a town hall hosted by the Student Government Association and Maryland Discourse on Thursday, Evans said he knew as little about the ongoing investigation as the students in attendance but assured them that “based upon what the findings are, we’re going to do what’s appropriate.”
But Kimberly Daniels, the mother of former Maryland defensive backs Elijah and Elisha Daniels, told the Post she’s concerned that neither she nor her sons have been contacted by investigators.
“I have no faith in this investigation,” she told the Post. “If they haven’t called my boys or me, the investigation is botched. They don’t want to hear the truth.”
Durkin heavily recruited the Daniels twins, and after decommitting from Minnesota, they joined the coach’s 2016 freshman class. But they quickly regretted their decision, telling their mother, “You don’t know these people, you don’t know what they do.”
At one point, Elisha accidentally dialed his mother’s number while he was in a meeting with Durkin. After hearing the coach tell her son, “You’ll never be nothing; nobody likes you. Why don’t you just leave?” she resolved to pull the twins from the school.
Another mother told the Post that Durkin is “a psychopath who thinks he is more powerful than God.”
In the past, Durkin has denied a link between concussions and CTE, bragged about intentionally schedules practices during the hottest parts of the day and alluded to the intensity he and Court hoped to bring to College Park when they were hired.
Some players told the Post the environment was appropriate for a Division I football program.
“Coach Durkin and Court never struck me as a bully. They did things with the intent of trying to make you better,” former kicker Henry Darmstadter recalls telling the investigators. “I’d classify it as an intense, competitive atmosphere where they try to foster guys to work hard, take risks and hopefully be successful on the field.”
One anonymous player told investigators that he witnessed the allegations that had been reported — including Court punishing players by forcing them to spend an hour on a stair-stepper while carrying a long pipe across their shoulders — but didn’t feel it qualified as abuse.
“I mean, it was just a punishment,” the player told the Post. “I don’t know if that penalty necessarily fits the crime of being a few minutes late for something.”
Former linebacker Gus Little said his time at Maryland made him lose his love for the game. He recalled a time when Court called him a “pussy bitch” because he was cramping following practice.
When then-Maryland offensive lineman EJ Donahue met with Durkin in December 2016 to express his frustration with the coach’s treatment, Durkin told him that it “sounds like a great story to tell my parents on why I’m quitting.”
The investigation was expected to conclude early next month at the latest, but it’s unclear whether the new allegations will delay that. Regardless, the Post report shows that some people involved have already made up their minds.
“If Durkin goes back, I will be standing in front of that school with a neon sign. I’ll be on the news every day,” Daniels said. “People need to know what it was really like.”