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With Wallace Loh's support, Damon Evans gets second chance as Maryland's athletic director

Damon Evans, Executive Athletic Director; DJ Durkin, head football coach; and physician Frank Henn at a press conference at the University of Maryland to talk about Jordan McNair. Two weeks after collapsing during a team workout and being hospitalized, the football player died Wednesday.

When former Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson brought Damon Evans in to be his top aide in the fall of 2014, it was viewed as a way to help Evans get back into a business he had been forced to leave four years before.

Evans had led the athletic department for six years at Georgia, where he had played football, but resigned days after he was charged with drunken driving in July 2010.

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Initially named acting athletic director in mid-October, when Anderson began a six-month sabbatical, Evans was elevated Monday to the position on a permanent basis, effective next Monday. The job officially opened when Anderson resigned in April.

An introductory news conference is scheduled for Tuesday.

“Since the day I arrived, I have been inspired by the student-athletes, coaches and support team that strive for success in Maryland Athletics, and I look forward to many successes ahead in our Big Ten era,” Evans, 48, said in a news release. “I’m guided by the principle that we learn from our wins and losses, and I am eager to lead an athletics department that ultimately achieves greatness together.”

Evans’ promotion comes at a time when the university has retained an outside consultant to investigate the football program’s protocols after the death of redshirt freshman offensive lineman Jordan McNair. The athletic department is also facing the challenge of raising an additional $19 million to help defray $41 million in costs after the initial plans for the Cole Field House project were expanded.

In a conference call with members of the University of Maryland College Park Foundations’ Board of Trustees on Monday, Evans reiterated what he said at a news conference June 14, a day after the former McDonogh star died. According to a member of the board who listened to the call, Evans said McNair “didn’t pass out.”

Evans was hired over two other candidates, Temple athletic director Patrick Kraft and former Tennessee athletic director John Currie, both of whom had been identified by an outside search firm and interviewed by an eight-person search committee selected by university President Wallace D. Loh.

“Throughout his tenure here, Damon has demonstrated visionary, transparent, compassionate and ethical leadership,” Loh said in a news release. “In Damon, the University​ of Maryland​ has the right person at the right time.”

Yet Evans has become a polarizing figure at Maryland, especially in recent months as he got rid of two of Anderson’s closest confidants in the department.

Jamie Williams, who was hired by Anderson in the fall of 2016 to help mentor student-athletes, was fired eight days after Anderson’s sabbatical was announced. Lori Ebihara, the senior women’s administrator, went on personal leave in December and has not returned.

Neither has commented publicly about their situation.

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Jaron Smith (Oakland Mills), a rising junior wrestler from Columbia, is a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the Athletic Council, the advisory group to Loh. In a telephone interview Monday, Smith said he was not surprised by Evans’ hiring. At a November meeting to discuss the departure of Anderson and the firing of Williams, Loh told a group of athletes that Evans would be “a good fit” for the athletic director’s job.

Asked how he felt about Evans’ hire, Smith said: “I don’t feel like it’s a decision that was made — this might sound extreme — with the welfare of the student-athlete [in mind]. It seems like some of the issues we had with it weren’t necessarily addressed. … We had talked to Loh because we felt some of the decisions weren’t made in the best interest of the the student-athletes. To find out that something like this happened, it’s not only like they’re saying, ‘We don’t care.’ It’s, ‘We don’t care even more now.’ ”

More than a few boosters have questioned the fairness of the search process. Although the university hired Turnkey Sports, an outside search firm, for a reported $120,000 to identify potential candidates, some boosters said Evans was always the favorite.

Longtime booster Barry DesRoches is among them. DesRoches wrote a 14-page letter in May to Loh, chancellor Robert Caret and members of the Board of Regents imploring them not to hire Evans.

DesRoches, who estimates he has donated ”between $350,000 and $400,000” to Maryland athletics over the past couple of decades, said Monday that he is done supporting the Terps financially — and emotionally.

“I don't think the University of Maryland cares a whole lot about its alumni, its students and its donors,” said DesRoches, a 1980 graduate “I’m done. ... I don’t see a commitment to the student-athletes, to the donors, to the students as being on a level I can support.”

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Steve Baldwin, another longtime booster, sent Loh an email in May voicing his displeasure with the makeup of the search committee. It included one member of Evans’ senior staff, senior associate athletic director Cheryl Harrison, but not Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Gary Williams.

“I hope Damon reverses Loh’s legacy of poor athletics hires during his tenure,” Baldwin wrote in an email to The Baltimore Sun on Monday.

Former men’s basketball All-American Len Elmore said he respects the job Evans has done but wonders whether there’s still some risk.

"Everyone deserves a second chance,” Elmore said Monday. “You know that he’s capable of doing the job. But in the back of one’s mind is always a bit of trepidation. But I’d rather look forward than backward.”

Evans clearly has support in the department. Several coaches have embraced Evans as their leader. They range from third-year football coach DJ Durkin, who got to know Evans during the search process that led to his hiring, to the department’s two most veteran coaches, field hockey coach Missy Meharg and men’s soccer coach Sasho Cirovski.

Cirovski said in a telephone interview Monday that he is excited about Evans taking over on a permanent basis.

“I’m very pleased that Damon is going to be our athletic director,” Cirovski said. “I think he understands all of the challenges that we have, all of the issues. He is a very bright person, he is very pragmatic. His finance and business background is going to come in very handy as we move forward.”

In an interview with The Sun in December, Evans seemed aware of the controversy surrounding him.

“You’re going to have people like what you’re doing, the decisions that you make, you’re going to have people who are going to like you personally and you’re going to have that other group, they’re not going to like what you’re doing, they’re not going like you personally, they don’t think you’re the right individual,” he said.

“You’re not going to make everyone happy. That doesn’t mean you’re not going to try. Everything I do since I’ve been in the business is to try to do what’s in the best interest of the institution, so those individuals who are associated with that institution can have a sense of pride that the institution is moving forward.”

In any discussion regarding Evans and the future, his past is often brought up — particularly the circumstances surrounding his departure at Georgia. Evans was arrested July 1, 2010, in Atlanta and charged with drunken driving.

According to a police report, Evans told the arresting officer, "I am not trying to bribe you, but I am the athletic director of the University of Georgia." Evans later asked the officer whether he could take him to a motel, and said, "I am not trying to bribe you, but is there anything you can do without arresting me?"

A passenger in Evans' car, identified at the time as 28-year-old Courtney Fuhrmann, was initially charged with disorderly conduct, but the charge was later dropped.

"Sometimes mistakes are just opportunities in disguise and they’re not mistakes if you learn from them,” Evans said as he sat in his office one night in December. “That’s what I plan on doing.”

Eight years later, Evans will get his second chance.

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