Last night, ESPN dropped a lengthy report into the culture of Maryland football under DJ Durkin. The story, from Heather Dinich, Adam Rittenberg and Tom VanHaaren, went into lengthy detail and cited current and former players and staff members.
It came after the death of Maryland lineman Jordan McNair, who collapsed in practice on May 29th and died on June 13th from what ESPN reported was heatstroke. The report from ESPN details the sort of behavior that is extreme even for the “tough love” world of college athletics:
Over the past several weeks, two current Maryland players, multiple people close to the football program, and former players and football staffers spoke to ESPN about the culture under Durkin, particularly strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, who was one of Durkin’s first hires at Maryland in 2015. Among what they shared about the program:
- There is a coaching environment based on fear and intimidation. In one example, a player holding a meal while in a meeting had the meal slapped out of his hands in front of the team. At other times, small weights and other objects were thrown in the direction of players when Court was angry.
- The belittling, humiliation and embarrassment of players is common. In one example, a player whom coaches wanted to lose weight was forced to eat candy bars as he was made to watch teammates working out.
- Extreme verbal abuse of players occurs often. Players are routinely the targets of obscenity-laced epithets meant to mock their masculinity when they are unable to complete a workout or weight lift, for example. One player was belittled verbally after passing out during a drill.
- Coaches have endorsed unhealthy eating habits and used food punitively; for example, a player said he was forced to overeat or eat to the point of vomiting.
The report made immediate waves, with plenty of outlets calling for Durkin’s dismissal. And even if you aren’t willing to go that far, it’s hard to read that report and be anything less than concerned.
Unless you’re South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, that is. Muschamp went on a lengthy, passionate rant defending Durkin in the face of “anonymous sources”.
#Gamecocks @CoachWMuschamp delivered a fiery response to a question about an @espn story, which portrays the Maryland football program under DJ Durkin in a bad light. Durkin used to work w/ coach. "There’s no credibility in anonymous sources. I think that's gutless." @wis10 pic.twitter.com/ny60Xb8jIO
— Joe Gorchow (@joegorchowWIS) August 11, 2018
Muschamp hits all the highlights of someone determined to protect a former colleague despite fairly overwhelming evidence; the husband and father line is especially choice. There’s also the insinuation that players are “disgruntled” due to lack of playing time, and therefore willing to make up stories in an effort to get a coach fired. (The former players who spoke to ESPN and who wouldn’t under this theory, have a stake in a coaching change apparently made things up for other reasons.)
Muschamp’s rant would be unfortunate in any circumstance, but what makes it even more tone-deaf this time is that this is all coming out in the wake of the death of a player. Jordan McNair isn’t anonymous. And when a player dies after collapsing during a strenuous workout, a report that details all the various ways a coaching staff might be mistreating players is very much relevant, anonymous sources or not.
But to coaches, it’s always more likely that there’s a vast conspiracy between disgruntled current and former employees and coaches and the media than it is a coach is in the wrong. This is the latest and possibly most egregious example.