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The Falcons Are Bringing D.J. Durkin To Training Camp Because No Bad Coach Ever Goes Away

Photo: Patrick Semansky (AP)

Disgraced former Maryland Terrapins head coach D.J. Durkin will, bizarrely, be making an appearance in the NFL this year. As Atlanta Falcons training camp begins, the team has announced that Durkin will serve as a “guest coach,” which means he’ll watch practice for 10 days and consult with head coach Dan Quinn.

If this sounds strange, it’s probably because Durkin is by all accounts an awful football coach, even if you ignore his career 11-15 head coaching record at the college level. Durkin presided over Maryland’s program when the preventable death of 19-year-old Jordan McNair happened because of a heatstroke during team workouts. Even though the coach himself wasn’t directly responsibly for McNair’s death, investigations into Maryland in the aftermath exposed Durkin as the leader of a program defined by intimidation, bullying, and a lack of accountability for coaches who abused players.

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“We are worried that this narcissistic sociopath is going to come back. To me, he should never coach again,” said one parent of a Maryland player while Durkin was under investigation.

“Are any of you aware or do you even care about the number of student athletes suffering from severe emotional distress because of the abusive actions of Coach Durkin?” another parent wrote in a letter to Maryland’s president back in 2016.

Following the investigation into McNair’s death, Maryland’s Board of Regents forced the school’s president to retain Durkin as head coach, but after a universal uproar that came from the players, the governor, and everyone in between, Durkin was fired in October 2018. A few months later, he took a detour through Alabama as a consultant, and now he’ll have a brief job in the NFL for the first time ever.

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, who worked alongside Durkin at Florida and seemed a bit jumpy while talking to the media today, did his best to cut off criticism of the decision to bring in Durkin before it could really begin:

“I didn’t probably because I know who the person is having coached with him before,” Quinn said when asked of any hesitation with the temporary addition of Durkin. “So, I knew his background as a defensive coach and special teams. By doing our due diligence from there. ... An unfortunate situation, of course, but as far as eyes to look at the defense to help us, I definitely knew the advantage of that.”

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It’d be a lot less annoying if Quinn were just honest about what was going on here. Absolutely nobody who did their “due diligence” into what happened at Maryland should come away wanting D.J. Durkin around their football team, so it seems apparent that Quinn is just doing a favor for an old co-worker—laundering him through this guest coaching gig so he’ll be less toxic for other NFL teams that might want to bite.

Durkin scoring a 10-day training camp gig isn’t an outrageous development in and of itself, but it’s an annoying reminder of just how difficult it is for someone like Durkin, who has unequivocally demonstrated how little he deserves to be a member of the high-level coaching ranks, to truly be expunged from the sport. Durkin, who made an estimated $5.1 million when Maryland fired him “without cause,” has yet to publicly apologize for his major role in what was clearly a toxic culture at Maryland, and since moving on from the school he’s never taken any kind of responsibility for the harm he helped cause. When you’re a football coach, it seems like you never have to admit you’re wrong.

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