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Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson resigns at end of six-month 'sabbatical'

Since Oct. 16, when Maryland president Wallace Loh announced athletic director Kevin Anderson was taking a six-month leave of absence, few expected Anderson to return to College Park.

Three days before the “professional development sabbatical” was to run its course, the school announced Friday that Anderson had resigned.

In a statement that included compliments about Anderson’s accomplishments during his nearly eight-year tenure, the school also announced that a national search for his successor would begin shortly.

“I’m grateful for all that Kevin has done to support our student-athletes to be successful in the classroom, on the field or court, and in life,” Loh said in the statement. “I wish him every success in his future endeavors. I know he’ll inspire many more student-athletes for years to come.”

Anderson, who had declined numerous interview requests from The Baltimore Sun since he went on leave last fall, was not available for comment.

In a letter to his staff that was included in the release, Anderson wrote, “It has been a sincere privilege to work with so many talented coaches, administrators and student-athletes who have proudly represented Maryland athletically, academically and in the community. We were outstanding members of the ACC and continued to thrive in a seamless transition to the Big Ten.”

Saying that “it wasn’t much of a secret” that Anderson was leaving after the sabbatical ended, former Maryland basketball All-American and former Board of Regents member Tom McMillen said Friday that Anderson had a difficult job nearly from the day he took over.

Inheriting a financially strapped department from Debbie Yow in 2010, Anderson had to cut seven sports in 2012 and then help oversee the transition to the Big Ten after 61 years in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Neither were popular moves, but they seemed necessary for the athletic department to move toward solvency.

“He had to make a lot of consequential decisions,” McMillen said Friday.

McMillen, who is currently president and CEO of LEAD1 Association, a trade organization for Division I athletic directors, said Anderson “is one of the most student-athlete-centric ADs in the country. He is not someone who is a boardroom AD. That’s really his passion. That’s one of his distinguishing features.”

Still, Anderson’s tenure in College Park was often tainted by controversy.

Anderson’s decisions regarding the hiring and firing of coaches came under almost immediate scrutiny. He fired popular football coach Ralph Friedgen, a Maryland alumnus who had just been named ACC Coach of the Year for leading the Terps to a 9-4 record during the 2010 season, and then replaced him with Randy Edsall.

Less than five months after firing Friedgen, Anderson had to find a successor for future Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame men’s coach Gary Williams, who retired suddenly in early May 2011. Despite rumors that Sean Miller was ready to leave Arizona to come to Maryland, Anderson later settled on lesser-known Mark Turgeon of Texas A&M.

Anderson eventually fired Edsall before the end of the 2015 season, and hired Michigan defensive coordinator DJ Durkin to take over the football program. While the fan base is still excited about the recruiting of Durkin and his staff over the past two years, fans have turned dramatically on Turgeon, especially after the Terps failed to reach the NCAA tournament this past season.

The announcement of Anderson’s sudden departure last fall had its own share of controversy. After several media outlets reported that Anderson had been fired, the university took two days to release a statement that said he had taken a leave of absence.

Sources close to Anderson and familiar with the situation at Maryland said he hired a New York attorney — the same attorney Anderson had brought in to help former basketball star Dez Wells in a defamation suit against his former school, Xavier — to negotiate a settlement for his contract.

Anderson’s contract, which paid him $580,000 in 2017, was to run through August 2019. Terms of the settlement he eventually signed are not known, but sources believe Anderson’s silence during the past six months was an indication that he also signed a nondisclosure agreement.

During a meeting with The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board in January, Loh said Anderson, as a university employee for several years, “earned” his paid sabbatical and as long as he was “not just sitting on a beach,” Loh said he was supporting the move.

Loh’s most interesting comment that day was in regard to whether there needed to be a change in the emphasis or leadership of the athletic department.

“Big-time athletics, I've always said, is like a dormant volcano,” Loh said of what was one of his popular metaphors to those familiar with his speeches to the athletic department. “And it can explode at any point and blow up the presidency. That and rebuilding and remodeling presidential houses.”

Exactly who will now remodel the athletic department — and how long it will take to find that person — is a source of debate.

Damon Evans, who has served as acting athletic director since Anderson left in the fall, is expected to be a candidate for the job, according to a university spokesperson. Many with knowledge of their relationship say Loh wants to promote Evans.

Evans served as athletic director at Georgia from 2004 to 2010 before being fired days after being charged with driving under the influence. After Evans was out of athletic administration for several years, Anderson brought him in as the department’s second in command in 2014.

Mike Freiman, the president of the Terrapin Club, said in a recent interview that “Damon is a very capable guy, and in the event that Kevin doesn’t come back, I think we’re fortunate to have someone there who’s been able navigate us with some continuity during this period.”

Freiman said he thought Evans “would be the front runner” to become the permanent athletic director.

Unlike Anderson, who struggled in his role as a fundraiser and public speaker, the 48-year-old Evans has a strong background in both areas, and has engendered support from coaches, including Durkin and longtime field hockey coach Missy Meharg, as well prominent boosters such as Barry Gossett, whose name adorns the football team house.

Anderson’s departure last fall came shortly after he was told by Loh that the athletic department had to raise an additional $19 million in order to help complete the Cole Field House project, which because of cost overruns had seen its construction price tag increase from $155 million to $196 million.

Several prominent Maryland alums, such as former basketball All-American Len Elmore, are privately pushing for the new athletic director to be someone with ties to the university — such as Jeff Hathaway, who rose from student manager under Lefty Driesell to assistant athletic director under Lew Perkins.

Sources familiar with Hathaway, who followed Perkins as athletic director at Connecticut and filled the same position at Hofstra, was contacted over the winter by Thomas V. (Mike) Miller Jr., the president of the Maryland Senate, to gauge his interest in the job. Hathaway, whose contract runs out June 30, is said to be interested in the job, sources said.

Whoever gets the job will have to a difficult job in terms of fundraising, McMillen said.

“You always have pressures to raise money. It’s always hard,” McMillen said. “It’s tough because it’s was a commuter school for so long. It’s an important part of the job.”

Given his current position with LEAD1, McMillen is staying neutral on the outcome.

“I have to love all ADs,” he said. “It’s like the NCAA tournament: let the best person win.”

don.markus@baltsun.com

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