In a news conference filled with hope, sorrow and redemption, Damon Evans was introduced Tuesday morning as Maryland’s athletic director.
The 48-year-old Evans, who had served the past eight months in an acting role, seemed grateful for the opportunity given him by university president Wallace D. Loh. It came eight years after Evans was forced to resign from the same position at Georgia.
Evans replaces Kevin Anderson, who brought Evans to Maryland in 2014 as the department’s chief financial officer. Evans took over on an interim basis when Anderson went on what was called a six-month “professional development sabbatical” last October.
Anderson, who had been the athletic director since 2010, resigned in April, days before the sabbatical was to end.
Terms of Evans' contract have not been announced.
“I am thrilled and excited to be standing here before you,” said Evans, who was accompanied to the news conference by his wife, Kerri, and their teenage daughter, Kennedy. “As I sat there and heard everyone say everything [in introducing him], I was thinking, ‘Is that me?’ Do they have the right person?’ ”
Loh said he believes he does.
Calling Evans “the right person at the right time to lead Maryland athletics,” Loh said he used the six years Evans spent as athletic director at Georgia as a gauge for judging how effective his new athletic director could be for the Terps.
“The best indicator of how someone will perform on the job is how that person has performed in a similar job in the past,” Loh said. “Damon was an outstanding athletic director at the University of Georgia. I am very confident that he will be an outstanding athletic director for the University of Maryland. He has those qualities of leadership. He’s a visionary. He’s seasoned. He’s strategic. And he has those personal qualities of integrity and compassion.”
Loh said that the news conference, held at the new luxury hotel across from the campus, was more “somber, more quiet” than it normally would have been because of the recent death of Maryland football player Jordan McNair.
“We are still grieving for Jordan McNair,” Loh said.
After thanking the coaches in attendance for their support, Evans acknowledged that the timing of the announcement was difficult.
“It has been a trying time,” Evans said. “The past couple of weeks, when you deal with something as significant as a student athlete passing away, it’s something you never imagine or expect to happen at your institution. And it really makes you understand what we are here for. We lost a member of our family. … He will forever be a part of who we are.”
Loh said he saw Evans' compassion first hand in the days after McNair had problems recovering from an offseason workout on May 29, when Evans and football coach DJ Durkin visited the hospital, The 19-year-old McNair, who was from Randallstown and starred at McDonogh, died on June 13.
“Days and nights at Shock Trauma, consoling the players, talking to the doctors and to the parents,” Loh said, “Those are important qualities in any leader.”
Loh said Evans’ rise from being the youngest athletic director in the Southeastern Conference at 34, as well as the first African-American AD in the conference, to his demise after being charged with DUI in 2010 and now to his elevation at Maryland is “a very human story of fall and redemption.”
“From mountaintop to valley bottom and then over eight years of slow, painful ascent back to the top,” Loh said. “That tells me something about his personal qualifies of perseverance, of striving forward, of never giving up. I hope that personal story of redemption is also telling us something about the values of the University of Maryland.”
Said Evans: “My journey has been long. Dr. Loh mentioned it. It’s interesting when you go through things in life that are difficult for you, but most important, difficult for your family and people who count on you so much. But what you have to do is you have to get back up and you have to learn. And you have to grow. … I’m not through growing, I’m not through learning, I’m not through changing.”
Evans comes into a challenging job. There is an external review being conducted into whether protocols were followed on the day McNair was hospitalized. Evans will be charged with helping raise $19 million that the athletic department has been asked to contribute to the $41 million in extra funds needed to finish the Cole Field House project.
While the university president and others are confident that Evans is better equipped to do that than Anderson was, Loh joked, “I like to remind him that vision without money is hallucination.”
Speaking of Loh, Evans said, “Talk about someone I truly, truly admire. A gentleman from probably the first week I was here invited me into his office and had a 45-minute conversation with a guy he didn’t even know. Our relationship has blossomed. I’d like to consider him as a mentor, a great leader and most importantly, a friend. Dr. Loh, I thank you for believing in me and giving me this wonderful opportunity. Thank you so much.”
Evans tried to lighten the mood.
In mentioning the eight-person search committee that recommended Evans being hired, he said with a huge smile, “You guys did a heck of a job. You were marvelous in what you did. I know all of you. It’s funny, I’ve never been so nervous until I came in that room [for an interview]. But I enjoyed it. From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate the work you put in. I appreciate your due diligence. But most of all, I appreciate you selecting me."
As he done before, also thanked Anderson, who is now reportedly a candidate to be athletic director at Fresno State.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Kevin Anderson,” Evans said. “Kevin gave me this opportunity. Kevin called and took a chance on me, and I am forever grateful and appreciative to his family."