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Ole Miss adds Durkin to football coaching staff

OXFORD (AP) — Former Maryland coach D.J. Durkin, who was fired during the 2018 season following the death of a player who had collapsed during offseason conditioning drills, was hired Thursday as an assistant by Ole Miss.

Durkin, who spent part of this past season as a consultant with the Atlanta Falcons, will join new Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin’s defensive staff.

Durkin had stints as defensive coordinator at Michigan and Florida, building up a reputation as a top recruiter, before being hired as Maryland head coach at age 37. He went 10-15 in two seasons at Maryland, but his tenure ended abruptly amid scandal.

On May 29, 2018, offensive lineman Jordan McNair, a 19-year-old sophomore, collapsed during conditioning drills because of heat-related illness. McNair died on June 13.

An independent investigation determined athletic trainers on the scene did not follow proper procedures to treat McNair for possible heatstroke. Durkin was not found responsible for McNair’s death, but he was fired in October after having been placed on administrative leave to start the season.

Reports of dysfunction in the football program emerged after McNair’s death. Durkin and his strength and conditioning coach, Rick Court, were accused by some players of creating a toxic culture where some players were demeaned and bullied.

Court was put on administrative leave by the school and eventually resigned.
Other players and their parents supported Durkin and wanted him to remain Maryland’s coach.

The school commissioned an investigation into the culture of the football program under Durkin and the board of regents decided to retain the coach, saying he was “unfairly blamed for the dysfunction in the athletic department.”

The next day, Halloween 2018, facing scrutiny and criticism from the public and politicians, University of Maryland president Wallace Loh fired Durkin.

Durkin has been out of college coaching since.

Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter said in a statement the university conducted a “thorough” background check on Durkin, speaking with several “highly respected college football coaches, administrators and school officials.

“We received consistently strong feedback about Coach Durkin’s strong character and work ethic and his positive impact on the communities and institutions where he was previously employed,” Carter said, “Once we had the chance to spend time with Coach Durkin, we were even more convinced that he is exactly the type of accomplished coach with strong football credentials who is also a proud and committed family man that will make him a great addition to our new staff.”

Durkin was one of three assistants Ole Miss hired on Thursday. It also added Chris Partridge and Joe Jon Finley.

None of the roles for the new assistants were specified. ESPN reported earlier this week that Kiffin was targeting Partridge as his defensive coordinator.

Partridge has been at Michigan since 2016, and served as the special teams coordinator this season. He was named National Recruiter of the Year by Scout in 2016 and received the same honor from 247Sports in 2017. Partridge was ranked a top-five recruiter again in 2019 by 247.

Partridge also coached the safeties and linebackers during his tenure at Michigan.

Finley will likely serve as tight ends coach, the position he held last season at Texas A&M. Finley also has coached tight ends at Missouri during his nine-year coaching career.

As a player, Finley played tight end for three Big 12 championship teams at Oklahoma. He played parts of five seasons in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers from 2008-12.