With DJ Durkin gone, there's a massive question that I want to find out about Maryland
A tip of the cap to you, Wallace Loh.
In the end, you stared in the face of the Maryland Board of Regents and made the ultimate “sorry, not sorry” move to fire DJ Durkin. University presidents should have a spine, and not simply mold it to whatever Play-Doh shape a group of extremely biased people demand.
Despite his bizarre and brief reinstatement, Durkin is out as Maryland’s football coach. That was after roughly 24 hours of players walking out of team meetings, students threatening protests and basically a potential armageddon for a coach who spent a pair of lackluster seasons in College Park. We’re no longer asking the question that’s been at the forefront ever since ESPN reported on the “toxic” culture at Maryland that could’ve played a part in the death of Jordan McNair. That is, what will happen to Durkin?
There’s a new question that my mind has already moved on to. It’s one that we probably won’t get an answer to for another month, but in many ways, it could define how the Terps escape this embarrassingly disastrous chapter in their history.
What does this job look like now? And who will want it?
As we know, public perception dictates a lot in college football. If not for it, a tone deaf board of regents would still have Durkin as its head coach.
Public perception, one has to think, will limit the list of possible candidates willing to step in and provide a completely new identity to this program. That’s what’s needed. And call me crazy, but the strong disciplinarian-style coaches might as well stop filling out that job application before they even start.
Maryland is going to want to do a complete 180 from the Durkins and Rick Courts of the world, who apparently think it’s chill to throw trashcans of vomit at kids and subject them to horror movies to “motivate” them.
It’s 2018, and Maryland needs to realize that. What happens beyond 2018 is complicated for a variety of reasons.
We don’t know what kind of fundraising support the program is going to get, especially after it was reported that high-level donors strongly advised that Durkin retain his job. And while the $196 million facilities upgrade certainly helped Maryland look the part in its new conference, dwindling attendance numbers (32,913 fans per home game this year after watching ticket sales drop to $6.6 million in 2017) and not getting the full B1G revenue share until 2020-21 is holding Maryland back.
This isn’t a situation that Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank can pour a bunch of money on and expect to fix. The Under Armour branding/financial benefits are still attractive, but Maryland is in a hole, and playing in one of the toughest divisions in college football doesn’t exactly suggest it’ll be easy for the program to dig its way out.
And let’s not forget that whoever takes this job is agreeing to work with an administration that looked completely clueless throughout this process.
That’s why I question if this list of candidates that Yahoo’s Pete Thamel threw out is really this star-studded:
- Charlie Strong, USF
- Dino Babers, Syracuse
- Ryan Day, Ohio State OC
- Tony Elliott, Clemson OC
- Ken Niumatalolo, Navy
- Mike Norvell, Memphis
- Greg Schiano, Ohio State DC
- Jason Candle, Toledo
- Mike Houston, James Madison
- Geoff Collins, Temple
A lot of the names on that list will be top candidates for any Power 5 opening. To think that someone like Babers, who currently has a top-25 team and is already earning Power 5 money, would leave for Maryland seems far-fetched. Even someone like Day, who will likely have his pick of the litter at season’s end, might not want to touch Maryland with a 10-foot pole when he’s already making seven figures in Columbus (and could actually be the coach in waiting at Ohio State).
Let’s also not forget that for as big of an investment as Maryland made into the football program back in 2012, Durkin made $2.5 million in 2018. That was 53rd among FBS coaches and 12th in the B1G, according to USA Today’s annual database. This is the same administration that decided paying Durkin a $5 million buyout was too steep a price compared to the PR hit it would inevitably take from reinstating him.
When you factor in the likely steep settlement that Maryland is going to fork over to the McNair family, it’s not like the university has a ton a financial freedom right now.
In a perfect world, Maryland would make a splashy offer to one of the top candidates and the rebuilding process would start off on the right foot. I question how that’ll happen.
This feels more like a job that’s either going to stay with interim coach Matt Canada, who’s probably not getting enough credit for having Maryland on the brink of bowl eligibility despite a season of turmoil, or it’ll go to some young Group of 5 coach.
I’m not sure there’s a P.J. Fleck-like candidate out there. That is, a rising, pro-player coach who could rebrand the program the moment he steps on campus. And if there is that candidate, I’m not confident that candidate is affordable.
Of course the sell will be the facilities, the fertile DMV recruiting ground, the eventual full B1G revenue distribution and the relatively low expectations playing in the B1G East. Recruit a top-30 class, have a few sellout home games a season, make it to a bowl and you’re golden. Knock those off the to-do list in four years and get that marquee job elsewhere.
But man, that was a much easier sell when Durkin got the job in 2015. Now, I’m not convinced Maryland will be able to run through those bullet points and pretend that there aren’t a bunch of limiting factors.
It doesn’t take a marketing major to realize that Maryland’s brand took a significant hit the last few months. We don’t know how long the stench of this entire mishandled debacle will linger, but it’s hard to imagine it clearing out in the next month before the university has to make a decision on who will be its next coach.
Maryland’s best hope is that the list of Power 5 programs looking for a new coach remains slim. Or maybe the hope is that they can just get Canada to stick around and weather the storm.
Who knows what’s next for Maryland? What we do know is that its administration has been completely unpredictable.
Trying to map out its next step is probably wishful thinking.