University of Maryland President Wallace Loh was supposed to retire in June, following the death of college football player Jordan McNair. But the university announced Wednesday that Loh would stay on an extra year because it’s taking longer than expected to find a new president.
McNair, a 19-year-old offensive lineman, collapsed last spring due to heatstroke during an off-season workout, and died two weeks later. Subsequent investigations found that McNair might have survived had Maryland trainers recognized the severity of his illness. While some called for Loh’s ouster, others — including McNair’s father — praised Loh for accepting responsibility on behalf of the university for the death.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, Loh said he would step down at the end of the 2018-19 academic year. Now, Loh plans to stay on until June 2020.
“The most important responsibility of the board is the successful hiring of a president and the most important responsibility of a sitting president is to ensure that the transition of leadership occurs very smoothly,” Loh told the Baltimore Sun on Wednesday. “It is my job to make sure that happens.” The Sun reported that the search for Loh’s successor “will launch now.” The paper added that, until now, the school’s search had not yet begun.
“We must take the time necessary to identify and select a bold and talented leader,” Board of Regents Chair Linda Gooden said in a statement. It will likely take “up to a year” to select a new president, the school said. The report declared Loh’s leadership as critical with various ongoing projects, including continuing to implement the football reforms recommended by two independent investigations.
An investigation by sports medicine consulting company Walters Inc. concluded that the training staff failed to quickly diagnose and treat McNair’s heatstroke. As NPR reported, if trainers had recognized the severity of McNair’s illness, “there might have been the opportunity to reverse the patient’s core temperature.”
Another investigation found the Maryland football team had “a culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out,” according to the report. Even some coaches “feared sharing criticisms” with ex-Maryland football assistant Rick Court, the report said. Court was the first athletic official to leave the program because of questions surrounding McNair’s death. Head coach DJ Durkin was fired at the end of October, his departure being “in the best interest of the University,” Loh wrote at the time.
The school said it had begun implementing many of the recommendations it had received, including adopting new technology to monitor and respond to rising temperatures, implementing mandatory hydration testing, and emphasizing longer and more frequent recovery breaks.
Loh accepted responsibility on behalf of the university for McNair’s death, admitting in August that the athletic training staff had “misdiagnosed” him when he collapsed, which led to his death. “The university accepts legal and moral responsibility for the mistakes that our training staff made on that fateful workout day,” Loh told reporters.
“It would be a complete shame if, after such a display of decency and humanity, Dr. Loh were to be let go,” McNair’s father, Martin McNair, said in a statement last summer. “Decency and transparency are the only path forward for our family, the University, and its sports programs to heal and emerge as safe places for families to entrust their children. Dr. Loh’s leadership is critical to this happening.”