The University of Maryland will launch an external investigation to examine the culture within a football program that's under fire for abusive treatment players reportedly received at the hands of athletics staff members.
The environment inside the program and reports of bullying and disparagement already have prompted the school to place at least four employees on leave, including DJ Durkin, the embattled third-year football coach.
>> READ MORE: DJ Durkin placed on leave
In a letter to trustees, faculty, students and alumni Saturday evening, Wallace Loh, the school president, said he's "profoundly disturbed by the media reports yesterday about verbally abusive and intimidating conduct by Maryland football coaches and staff towards our student athletes on the team."
Loh said he intended to hire an outside expert "to undertake a comprehensive examination of our coaching practices in the football program, with the goal that these practices reflect — not subvert — the core values of our University."
The review would mark the second external investigation related to the football program. The school has already contracted with Walters, Inc., an athletic training consulting firm, to examine the circumstances surrounding the death of football player Jordan McNair, who collapsed due to heatstroke at a May 29 workout and died 15 days later. That review isn't expect to conclude before Sept. 15. While the Walters investigation is focused on safety policies and procedures, the second probe would focus specifically on the culture within the school's football program.
"Our responsibility as teachers is to inspire and enable students to perform at their best and expand the boundaries of their potential, in the classroom and/or on the athletic field," Loh said in his letter. "Humiliating and demeaning a student is not only bad teaching and coaching, it is an abuse of the authority of a teacher and coach."
Loh said he instructed athletic director Damon Evans "to take actions necessary to ensure the safety and success of our student athletes." Evans decided late Friday to place Durkin immediately on administrative leave, a drastic measure coming just three weeks before the Terps are scheduled to open their season.
Durkin is in the third year of a five-year contract and oversaw a program that was reportedly rife with abusive behaviors – "a coaching environment based on fear and intimidation," according to a lengthy ESPN report.
Published reports late Friday from The Washington Post and ESPN recounted several instances of players facing demeaning behaviors from coaches or staff members. A former player told The Post about a lineman struggling to lose weight who was humiliated by being forced to eat candy bars as his teammates worked out, and another instance in which an injured player's locker was moved to the showers, distancing him from the team.
"We showed up every day sort of scared of what may happen," the former player said. "It was kind of crazy."
The team continued its preparations Sunday for the new season under interim Coach Matt Canada, who was hired to be Durkin's offensive coordinator in January.