New Maryland Athletic Director Finds Redemption - Higher Education
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New Maryland Athletic Director Finds Redemption

by Gregory Clay

Damon Evans was officially named the full-time athletic director at the University of Maryland after serving as the interim since October 2017, when his predecessor Kevin Anderson announced he was taking a six-month sabbatical before ultimately leaving the school altogether.

Damon Evans

Evans was arrested in a drunk-driving incident in 2010 while athletic director at the University of Georgia, an incident that cost him his job.

Some saw it as a collegiate comeback when Maryland president Dr. Wallace Loh introduced Evans at a news conference on Tuesday, saying: “That tells me something about his personal qualities of perseverance of striving forward, of never giving up, and I hope that personal story of redemption is also telling us something about the values of the University of Maryland. We are committed to excellence and we are committed to inclusion.”

Evans said at the news conference: “I always tell people what happened at Georgia, I’m fully culpable for. There’s no one to blame but me. I opened up with the (search) committee. I just opened up and I told them that I made a mistake some eight years ago. My fault, but that’s not who I am. It’s an aberration of who I am.”

Dan Wolken, national college football and basketball columnist for USA TODAY, noted on Twitter that “with Damon Evans getting hired as Maryland’s permanent AD, 11 of the 65 Power 5 programs are led by African-Americans.”

Evans, 48, worked private-sector jobs from 2010 to 2014 before re-entering college athletics as Maryland’s senior associate athletic director and chief financial officer, a position he held until Anderson went on leave last fall.

That’s when Evans, in the interim position as acting athletic director, oversaw all day-to-day operations for Maryland’s athletic department.

Maryland officials have touted the school’s successes during Evans’ interim stage, such as 89 student-athletes graduated and 151 student-athletes received Academic All-Big Ten honors. Nine programs earned perfect single-year Academic Progress Rates, while the football team turned in its best score (.981) since 2003.

Additionally, six programs advanced to postseason play in 2017-18, including the field hockey, men’s lacrosse and women’s lacrosse programs, which each advanced to their respective national semifinals. Individually, 26 student-athletes earned All-America honors while 42 earned All-Big Ten honors.

Evans also oversaw a $21.25-million gift by Barry and Mary Gossett to establish the Barry and Mary Gossett Center for Academic and Personal Excellence, which will help student-athletes secure internships while in school and full-time jobs after graduating. And Evans overhauled the school’s athletics budget and financial operations, resulting in an operating surplus, according to Maryland.

Anderson, who had been Maryland’s athletic director since 2010, was named the interim athletic director at Cal State Northridge in April.

Evans takes the helm as Maryland’s new athletic director as the school mourns the loss of Jordan McNair, a football player who died this month after an organized team workout. His death prompted a university-issued external review, which will examine all policies and protocols and could take up to 90 days.

“Someone told me the other day that Texas is practicing,” Evans said during the news conference. “Unfortunately, we have some things that are more important than that right now, and that’s our student-athletes and the McNair family.”

Loh indicated that Evans’ familiarity with Maryland’s internal athletic issues gave him a major advantage over the school’s outside candidates for the athletic director position, of which there were 30, with six finalists, according to ESPN reports.

Evans was in his 30s when his professional career began to rise precipitously. The May 5, 2003 edition of Sports Illustrated rated Evans as one of the “101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports.” In 2004, he became the Southeastern Conference’s first Black athletic director. The same year, he earned the Sports Business Journal’s “Forty Under 40” award and did so again in 2005 and 2007. In 2009, he was named the Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year for the Division I Southeast Region while at Georgia.

During Evans’ tenure as Georgia athletic director from 2004-2010, the school accumulated 19 SEC titles and 13 national championships in such sports as golf, gymnastics and baseball.

But 2010 brought public humiliation. On the night of June 30, a Georgia state trooper in Atlanta pulled over the 2009 BMW that Evans was driving and charged him with drunk driving and failure to maintain a lane. Police also handcuffed and charged a female passenger with disorderly conduct. Evans was married with two children, and the woman – whose panties were discovered in his lap, according to the police report – was not his wife.

Evans’ arrest late that night occurred minutes before his Georgia contract extension – which included pay of over $500,000 per year – was scheduled to take effect.

He later publicly apologized for the incident, and he and the university reached a settlement for him to leave the school on July 4, 2010.

Evans was sentenced to 12 months of probation, 40 hours of community service and a fine of $750, as a first-time offender. In addition, he was ordered to undergo an alcohol and drug evaluation and participate in a panel for the Mothers Against Drunk Driving organization.

“The first days were dark,” Evans recalled at Tuesday’s news conference, which was attended by his wife. “I’m sitting there by myself. Let’s just call it what it is. I hurt people who were dear to me. My wife, my kids, my family. …I said I have to get myself together. I can’t let this define who I am.”

After leaving the University of Georgia, Evans took a marketing job as vice president of business development at the Markley Group in Boston. After his stint in Boston, Evans was vice president of fundraising at IMG College in Winston-Salem, N.C., and was managing partner at Evolution Sports Partners in New Jersey.

Evans is an alum of the University of Georgia, earning a bachelor’s degree in finance in 1992 and a master’s degree in sports management in 1994. He also was a four-year starter on the football team.

Loh called Evans’ journey “truly a human story, a very typical human story of fall and redemption.”

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