Maryland focuses on safety at practice
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Maryland interim coach Matt Canada has taken steps to ensure that the Terrapins are poised to deal with the heat of summer during his practices following the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair.
In the first workout since Maryland publicly accepted responsibility for mistakes that contributed to McNair’s death, two tents were in the place at the practice field Wednesday to provide shade. Underneath the awnings are several fans, along with liquids and ice.
Practice sessions have been shortened to less than two hours, with time for breaks.
“The focus of our player’s health and safety is No. 1, and our players are feeling that and understanding that,” Canada said before leading the team onto the field.
Overcome by heat and exhaustion, the 6-foot-4, 325-pound McNair collapsed during a preseason conditioning drill on May 29. He died on June 13. According to the family attorney, the preliminary death certificate listed the cause of death as heatstroke.
On Tuesday, the school accepted responsibility for mistakes made in treating McNair at the scene, and promised safety would never again be an issue.
“We will do everything within our power to ensure that no University of Maryland student-athlete is ever again put in a situation where his or her safety and life are at foreseeable risk,” university President Wallace Loh said.
Canada took visible steps in that direction.
“We have two cooling tents, water, Gatorade, snacks in the breaks, all those things,” he said.
Head coach DJ Durkin was placed on administrative leave Saturday after McNair’s death and a subsequent ESPN report revealing that coaches bullied players.
While making a point not to criticize Durkin, Canada insisted that the players are in good spirits as they work toward the Sept. 1 opener against Texas in Landover, Maryland.
“Our culture right now is awesome. Our kids are excited to practice, excited to play,” Canada said. “They’re loving each other.”
That’s not to say that McNair isn’t on their minds.
“At times, are we grieving for Jordan? We are,” Canada said.
This was the first time this summer that the media was allowed to watch practice. No players were made available.
Understanding that some parents might be wary of the program in the wake of McNair’s death, Canada and athletic director Damon Evans are looking to establish more transparency and better communication.
“We’ve got a meeting that we set up on Saturday morning,” Canada said. “We have a scrimmage. They’re going to come to that and we wanted to be available, so we’re going to talk to them.”
McNair’s death and the ensuing revelation that some members of the staff were physically and verbally abusive brought about the resignation of Rick Court, the strength and conditioning coach. Two other unidentified staff members remain on administrative leave .
One of Canada’s challenges is to bring stability to the program while the investigation into McNair’s death continues — and the interim coach said he is getting a lot of help.
“Our entire staff has done a tremendous job of coming together, of bonding together of making it about our players,” Canada said. “It’s amazing what you can accomplish when nobody cares who gets the credit, and we’re seeing that now in our building.”
Just in case there’s another medical issue, a staff has been put in place to deal with any potential situation.
“We’re pulling them from all parts of our department. Outside of our department,” Canada said. “We’re making sure that everything is taken care of.”
Canada, 46, came to Maryland after a one-year stint at Louisiana State as the Tigers’ offensive coordinator. He has never been a head coach at the college level.
After being thrust into the top job, he had a brief conversation with Durkin.
“I’ve talked to coach Durkin to call him and support him in a situation that’s really challenging,” Canada said. “That’s as far as I’m going to go with that.”