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  • Aryeh Brickner

Accountability: Does it always start at the top?


The University of Maryland made headlines with its recent 180 turn regarding its coach D.J. Durkin. You may recall that he was the head coach when Maryland football player, Jordan McNair, died after suffering heat stroke during practice. The short of the story is that it took the medical staff far too long to identify his condition and call for an ambulance.


After an investigation, the Maryland University school board decided to retain the services of the head coach. Naturally there was severe public backlash and less than 24 hours later they reversed that decision and fired him.


Should Durkin have been held accountable for this death even if he wasn’t the one dispensing medical advice? Bear in mind that responsible and accountable aren’t always the same thing. Durkin certainly wasn’t responsible for treating McNair, but he may be held accountable for how his medical staff responded.


I believe that Durkin made an enormous mistake in judgement and should have held HIMSELF accountable. After all, a student athlete entrusted to him died on his watch. Whether or not he was the one administering treatment is irrelevant. It’s his football program and he should have been more actively involved. At the point when McNair collapsed, practice should have been called off or handed off to an assistant, while the coach personally looked into the condition of his athlete.


Let's take this to the corporate world: Should a manager or CEO always be held accountable for the actions of their employees? Some people manage large teams of people and some CEO’s manage hundreds if not thousands of employees. Should they be personally accountable for every single action of every single employee? While there’s obviously no black and white answer I think it depends on the nature of the offense. Widespread malpractice in the finance team who may be doctoring quarterly reports do not reflect well on the CEO. An individual employee who is attempting to double bill clients might be a different story. Having an office culture which is toxic, nasty, or even dangerous, reflects poorly on management, while a secretary who steals from petty cash is probably not directly related to leadership.


I think the dividing line in accountability depends on whether or not it’s the actions of an individual who acts outside the cultural norms or if there is a widespread problem affecting multiple teams’ members or multiple teams.


In the case of Durkin, it was a systematic failure of the medical team, medical supervisors, coaching staff, and Durkin himself which led to untimely death of this poor young man. Durkin should have been held accountable from the start and never even been considered for reinstatement. At the very least, the honorable thing would have been to immediately resign. At least the public got it right this time..


Let me know what you think!

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