ATHENS — Hooray for Damon Evans. He was named the new athletic director at the University of Maryland. I was really happy to hear that when the news circulated Monday.
Not everybody feels that way. Upon me retweeting news of this development in the life of the former UGA athletic director and football letterman, I immediately heard from a few who weren’t. Well, at least one person right away, and his response was liked a couple of times by others.
That surprised me on both a personal and professional front. It probably shouldn’t in this age of often mean-spirited, social-media reactionism. And I imagine there will be some division in opinion along the lines of loyalty, as in pro-Georgia readers versus non-Georgia readers. But I actually wasn’t looking to launch a debate.
In retweeting the first news I saw of Evans’ appointment, I wrote: “You have to feel good about a former Bulldog overcoming setbacks and climbing back up. I do, at least.”
That initiated a little back-and-forth on Twitter. The chief dissenter was a person whose handle is @Athens_Grease. I don’t know who the actual person is behind the Twitter account — there used to be an Athens band by that name that did some terrific commercial spots for Locos Grill and Pub — but the description does include “Go Dawgs x2.” So I assume the person to be pro-Georgia.
The reply to my tweet was: “remember this dude? gotta love those (completely self-imposed) ‘setbacks.’ lmao”
This person had a little more measured response when I asked whether he was just being anonymously cynical or genuinely lacked empathy.
“I mean, I don’t want the dude’s life to be over or anything,” @Athens_Grease said, “but I have a hard time feeling like he’s been victimized by some cosmic circumstance. He endangered people’s lives by driving drunk and completely humiliated his family, both of his own doing.”
He is right about that. But that takes me back to where we began. We all know what Evans did to lose his job as Georgia’s AD in July 2010. I remember it like it was yesterday because it all happened about this time of year, heading into the Fourth of July holiday. And nobody saw it coming.
I’m not going to rehash the details here because it’s simply not necessary. Click here if you need a refresher. But the bottom line is Evans had a human failing of the like that has befallen many a man before him and presumably will into perpetuity.
Lest we forget, things were going pretty well before that. In its official news release, the University of Maryland does not get into what initiated Evans’ departure from his alma mater. But it does detail the many accomplishments under his watch.
“Prior to Maryland, Evans served as the director of athletics at the university of Georgia from 2004-10, where he managed a program with 600 student-athletes, an $85 million budget and a staff of 250. The Bulldogs won 13 championships and 19 SEC titles during Evans’ tenure. Under Evans’ guidance, Georgia annually finished in the top 10 of the Learfield Director’s Cup and also amasses $65 million for the athletic department’s reserve fund, an increase of over $56 million in just a six-year period. Student-athletes achieved the highest-ever graduation success rate at Georgia in his final year as director of athletics.”
All true, indeed. But it wasn’t all roses and sunshine while Evans was here, either. Georgia never won a national championship in football under his watch. In fact, with the gift of time and perspective, there is some evidence that some of Evans’ administrative practices might’ve held back the Bulldogs in football.
Think about it. His tenure in 2004 began at the height of former coach Mark Richt’s ascension. The Bulldogs won the second their SEC championship in 2005, finished No. 7 nationally the previous year as well and were poised to take over the East, just like Kirby Smart is in the process of doing right now.
The difference was, Evans wasn’t advocating for all the facility improvements that Richt was asking for behind the scenes at the time. Yes, even way back then, Richt was politicking for an indoor practice facility, new coaches offices, locker rooms and training complexes. Evans was one of the first to be pitched the idea of redoing the team locker rooms at Sanford Stadium and including some sort of recruiting lounge therein.
He and UGA President Michael Adams passed on all that. They settled on the once-scorned and now completely eviscerated Nalley Indoor Multipurpose Facility. It was all about the bottom line with that administration, it seemed, and the swelling of UGA’s reserve fund is even trumpeted in the Maryland release on Evans’ appointment.
But that’s a different kind of debate. The fact is, Evans was one of UGA’s own, rose to a position of prominence in a relatively short amount of time and then suddenly and unmercifully was cast out in disgrace by his own actions. Not only was he out at Georgia, he and his family quickly left the state.
And that’s when the slow and methodical rebuild began. Evans followed his wife home to the Washington, D.C., area and disappeared from public view. First, he repaired his marriage, then he started to work on his career. He started out working in consulting roles. Then, his father-in-law helped get him a job as vice president with the Markley Group, a data storage company in Boston. Soon, he would resurface in athletics at IMG College in North Carolina and Evolution Sports Partners in New Jersey. Finally, he got back into the college athletics game as a senior associate AD at Maryland. And now he has risen to the top spot there.
The AJC’s Tim Tucker caught up with Evans about mid-rung on his ladder-climb out of the abyss in 2012. Tucker encountered an extremely contrite, remorseful man who counted himself better for the experience when he spoke on a panel at Atlanta’s Morehouse College.
“I learned a lot about myself,” Evans said of his fall from grace. “Sometimes, through the storms, you come out on the other end a better person.”
I buy that. I also buy that Evans is and will continue to be an exceptional sports administrator. I actually think his bottom-line, financial focus, honed in the halls of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, will be well-suited for the challenges Maryland has as a relative newbie in the Big Ten Conference.
Regardless, I see him as a man who deserves the second chance he is being given. Yes, what he did at Georgia was stupid and harmful in a lot of different ways. But I would hope the people who cheered him on as a wide receiver and as an up-and-coming administrator also can applaud him for having completed a career comeback.
I, for one, plan to wish him the best of luck.