DJ Durkin, center, watches as Tyrell Pigrome takes a snap during the 2017 Spring Game. Photo courtesy Maryland Athletics.

“Toxic” Maryland football program depicted in second ESPN article

The University of Maryland football team’s culture under head coach DJ Durkin and members of his staff has been described as “toxic” by current players, according to a report published by ESPN on Friday.

The report, which featured testimonies from current and former players, included stories of harsh treatment of the team by Durkin, strength and conditioning coach Rick Court and other staff members.

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.

To a former staff member at Maryland, what he witnessed was enough to make him tell ESPN, “I would never, ever allow my son to be coached there.”

The reports of the toxic environment in College Park coincide with another ESPN report, focusing on conflicting statements surround the death of Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair.

McNair collapsed at an organized team workout on May 29 — which featured a series of 110-yard sprints — and was eventually transported to Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, before he died on June 13.

While athletic director Damon Evans said that McNair was “having problems recovering” at the conclusion of the workout, the initial ESPN report stated that the McDonough product faced physical difficulties prior to finishing the workout.

According to a current player, the toughness of the Maryland coaching staff could have played a role in McNair’s death, as he told ESPN, “It shows a cultural problem that Jordan knew that if he stopped, they would challenge his manhood, he would be targeted. He had to go until he couldn’t.”

Following McNair’s death, ESPN reported that certain players alluded to the fact that the coaching staff worked on making the practices a little less intense, as some even criticized the methods used by Court and Durkin. However, players said that once preseason practices started on Aug. 3, the practices reverted back to their typical intensity.

“Now that we get to camp, it just seems like regular business,” a current player told ESPN. “That’s when I started to get upset because I feel like nothing’s really changed. Have these guys learned their lesson?”

ESPN reported that it had reached out to both Durkin and Court for comments, but Maryland’s athletic department declined to make them available. However, the university did release a statement, saying, “The alleged behaviors raised in the ESPN story are troubling and not consistent with our approach to the coaching and development of our student athletes. Such allegations do not reflect the culture of our program. We are committed to swiftly examining and addressing any such reports when they are brought to our attention.”

The full article can be read here.

Daniel Oyefusi also contributed to this story.