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Ole Miss hires former Maryland coach D.J. Durkin as assistant

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SEC Network's Ryan McGee examines the ramifications of Ole Miss hiring Lane Kiffin as head coach. (1:44)

Former Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin, who was fired in 2018 following two separate investigations into the death of 19-year-old offensive lineman Jordan McNair from heatstroke, has joined the coaching staff at Ole Miss to work as an assistant under Lane Kiffin, it was announced Thursday.

This will be Durkin's first college coaching job since Oct. 31, 2018, when Maryland president Wallace D. Loh fired him one day after the University System of Maryland Board of Regents had decided to reinstate Durkin against the president's objections.

McNair died on June 13, 2018 from heatstroke suffered during a May 29 workout. Durkin was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 11, 2018, while Maryland conducted investigations into both the workout that led to McNair's hospitalization and into the culture of Durkin's program after allegations of abuse, humiliation and troubling tactics had surfaced in an ESPN report.

Durkin, who spent last season as a consultant for the Atlanta Falcons, was added to Kiffin's staff along with Chris Partridge and Joe Jon Finley.

"I just wish the best for Durkin and his family," Jordan's father, Marty McNair, told ESPN on Thursday. "We wish the best for him and his family and hope he'll take what happened at Maryland as a serious life lesson in dealing with other people's kids."

Durkin will work with the defensive players at Ole Miss, but the assistants' roles and titles haven't been specified yet, according to a school spokesman.

"As part of our standard vetting process for all hires, the university conducted a thorough background check on Coach Durkin, and we connected with several highly respected college football coaches, administrators and school officials about their experiences working with him," Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter said in a statement.

"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. 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 brings 14 years of coaching experience to Ole Miss, including his three seasons at Maryland. He was the defensive coordinator/linebackers coach for Michigan in 2015, when the Wolverines' defense allowed only 16.4 points per game (sixth in the FBS). He also coached five seasons at Florida.

Durkin was entering his third season at Maryland when McNair died. According to sources and eyewitnesses, McNair had difficulty finishing a set of 110-yard sprints during the workout and had a body temperature of 106 degrees at a local hospital. Sources later told ESPN that McNair did not finish the runs on his own strength, and he was eventually walked around the practice field before being taken for treatment.

After evaluating McNair at the football facilities, EMT responders called in a "male patient with a seizure," and McNair was transported to Washington Adventist Hospital, where he died on June 13.

Maryland hired Rod Walters, a sports medicine consultant, to conduct a review into whether the university's training staff followed proper protocol in its treatment of McNair. On Aug. 10, 2018, an ESPN story detailed allegations of a toxic coaching culture under Durkin and head strength and conditioning coach Rick Court. Multiple sources close to the program described past behavior of intimidation, humiliation and verbal abuse that created a culture of fear for the players. The sources also alleged unhealthy eating habits and using food punitively against the players.

Head athletic trainer Wes Robinson and director of athletic training Steve Nordwall were placed on leave, and have also since been fired.

On Aug. 14, Loh and Maryland athletic director Damon Evans held a news conference and acknowledged mistakes by the athletic training staff on May 29 eventually led to McNair's death.

"The university accepts legal and moral responsibility for the mistakes that our training staff made," Loh said at the news conference.

Loh also announced a second investigation into the culture of the football program, and later that August, the USM Board of Regents assumed control of it and the investigation into the handling of the May 29 workout.

Among those on the committee to investigate the culture were former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich and former U.S. Congressman Tom McMillen, a former All-American basketball player at Maryland.

In September 2018, the USM board released the findings by Walters into the workout, which revealed Maryland's athletic trainers were too late in recognizing McNair's symptoms and didn't properly treat him for heatstroke, including failing to implement cold-water immersion.

In late October of that season, the eight-person commission investigating the culture of the football program concluded in a 192-page report that there wasn't a "toxic culture" at Maryland, and that the culture of the program did not contribute to McNair's death. Investigators found disturbing things about the program under Durkin's leadership, though, including instances of bullying and humiliation by Court.

"Hopefully he'll do better," Tonya Wilson, McNair's mother, said of Durkin on Thursday. "I hope the experience with Jordan has taught him a lesson. That's it. What's happened has happened, and that's it. That's my thought."