New Maryland athletic director Damon Evans speaks at his introductory news conference in College Park. (Don Markus/Baltimore Sun video)
The four years Damon Evans had spent since being forced to resign as athletic director at Georgia had been among the most difficult of his life. He moved his family twice as he changed jobs, going up to Boston for one and then settling outside Charlotte, N.C., for another.
So when Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson called the then-44-year-old Evans in the fall of 2014 asking whether he wanted to join his staff as the department’s chief financial officer and his second-in-command, Evans said he initially thought about turning the offer down.
Evans then recalled talking to his wife, Kerri.
“I told her, ‘Ker, I got a call about this job up at Maryland, but I’m going to call them back tomorrow and say no,’ " Evans said Tuesday. “She said, ‘Why?’ I said because we said we’d never move our kids again. And she said, ‘It’s time for you get back in.' We’ll make it work out.”
With his wife and teenage daughter, Kennedy, sitting in the front row of chairs in a ballroom at a luxury hotel across from the Maryland campus, Evans spoke about how grateful he was for being given a second chance by university president Wallace D. Loh.
Evans, who had served in an interim role since former athletic director Kevin Anderson went on a six-month sabbatical in mid-October before resigning in April, was named Monday as Anderson’s successor and introduced Tuesday before a packed audience that included 13 of Maryland’s head coaches.
Terms have not yet been revealed for Evans, who had a salary of $374,000 in 2017, according to the state’s salary database. Evans beat out two other finalists, Temple athletic director Patrick Kraft and former Tennessee athletic director John Currie, from among the six candidates Loh said were interviewed for the job.
Along with thanking his wife and Loh, Evans also thanked his predecessor.
“Kevin gave me this opportunity,” Evans said. “Kevin called and took a chance on me. And I forever grateful and appreciative to him and his family.”
Loh acknowledged in his opening remarks that the “somber, quiet” mood at the news conference was not as celebratory as it could have been.
“We are still grieving for Jordan McNair,” Loh said.
The other overriding theme of the news conference was redemption for Evans, who lost his job at Georgia days after being charged in Atlanta 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?"
Evans had a 28-year-old female, identified as Courtney Fuhrmann, in his car who told police they were dating. She was initially charged with disorderly conduct, but the charge was later dropped.
“I always tell people, what happened at Georgia I’m fully culpable for,” Evans said Tuesday. “There’s no one to blame but me. People said, ‘Are you mad at Georgia?’ I said, 'No, Georgia just gave me an opportunity to get an education, get two degrees, play football, then hired me back as the athletic director. So I’m forever grateful.”
Evans said that the first few days, maybe weeks, afterward were “dark” as he contemplated what he had lost and his uncertain future.
“I was sitting there by myself,” he said “Just call it like it is. I hurt people that were dear to me. My wife and my kids [the Evanses also have a son] and my family. You start to look around and you’re kind of sitting there by yourself. “But then I said I’ve got to get myself together, I can’t let this define who I am.”
Evans, who worked for a few years outside college athletics, said he was honest in talking about the situation with the search committee.
"I told them I made a mistake some eight years ago,” he said. ”My fault. But that’s not who I am, it’s an aberration of who I am. But the thing is it made me a better person, a better father, a better husband, a better friend, a better colleague. And you grow from those things. I think it’s important to address up front and move on. ...I think everybody deserves a second chance.”
Loh, whose relationship with Evans over the past four years helped make him the favorite for the job since Anderson went on sabbatical, called what Evans experienced “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.”
That, and the job Evans had done at Georgia from the day he started as the youngest and first African-American athletic director in the history of the Southeastern Conference gave Loh confidence that Evans was right for the job.
Asked about the perception that the outcome of the two-month search — which included Maryland spending a reported $120,000 on an outside search firm to identify potential candidate — was decided before it began, Loh reiterated that “it was an open and national search” and that Evans was simply the best person for the job.
“I think anybody who’s going to take a major, senior role has to compete against everybody who applies,” Loh said. “The fact is he may have an advantage because he’s well-known [on campus]. But very often, in academia, people don’t hire from the inside. They hire from the outside, because they get too many baggage if they have made hard decisions. I think somebody from the inside has a higher hurdle to surmount.”
Though Evans had a different kind of baggage, in the end Loh called him “the right man at the right time to lead Maryland athletics.” Evans inherits an athletic department that will need to raise $19 million to help cover part of the $41 million in costs when the Cole Field House project was expanded.
“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.”