Athletic directors, like attorneys and accountants, often talk shop when they meet at national conventions and regional conferences. Over the past few months, the talk has often turned to what was going on at Maryland.
It came up at the NCAA National Convention in January in Indianapolis, where many of Kevin Anderson’s colleagues tried to get information on what was called his “professional development sabbatical.”
That talk is still going on this week at a conference in Santa Monica, Calif., where a group of athletic directors are meeting. Some of them are trying to learn more about Anderson’s resignation Friday and the search process for his successor.
Many of them are talking to former Maryland basketball star Tom McMillen, who in his role as president of the LEAD1 Association — a trade organization for college athletic directors — is monitoring the situation in College Park and as a proud alumnus is hoping the school can attract the right candidates.
“When they come up to me and ask questions about Maryland, I try to give them the possibilities — the blue sky — of Maryland,” McMillen said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Among those whom McMillen talked to Monday night was John Currie, who after eight years as athletic director at Kansas State lasted nine months at Tennessee before being fired for his inability to find a suitable replacement for football coach Butch Jones.
McMillen also spent some time talking with Damon Evans, who took over as acting athletic director when Anderson began his sabbatical last fall and is hoping to get the job on a permanent basis when the search process ends.
“We were talking about some things that need to be done,” McMillen said of their conversation.
Asked whether he thought Evans, who had been the athletic director at Georgia from 2004 through 2010, might have the inside track on getting the Maryland job, McMillen said: “The advantage he has is that he know the players [those with power in College Park] and the situation. And he’s got a financial bent. That’s big.”
Within hours of Anderson’s resignation last week, Maryland chief communications officer Katie Lawson said Evans, 48, “is expected to be a candidate for the job.”
It has not been announced how Maryland plans to conduct what is being termed a national search.
“No details have been offered on the confidential, national search yet, except that it will be announced in the weeks ahead,” Lawson wrote in a text Monday.
In a statement Monday, Evans said: “I remain focused on running this department in a way that listens to our Terrapin community. Listens to our fan base, our coaches, our student-athletes and work collaboratively across the institution as a whole.
“As I’ve said many times, the road to success is always under construction and we’re in that period. … My goal is to continue to work with our student-athletes, coaches and staff to be an elite academic and athletic program.”
One longtime athletic director at a West Coast school said there should be no shortage of qualified candidates for the Maryland job — as long as the university conducts an exhaustive search and uses an outside search firm, which most schools now do.
“It’s an outstanding academic institution with plenty of athletic tradition in a very fertile recruiting area, and the virtue of being in the Big Ten, they’ve got the TV money and resources to be able to compete at the highest level,” said the athletic director, who asked not be identified. “Maryland will have a very, very deep pool.”
Aside from Currie, potential candidates who have been or currently are athletic directors at Power 5 schools could include former Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long and current Hofstra athletic director Jeff Hathaway, a Maryland alum who previously served as Connecticut athletic director.
Maryland can also look to a rising star from a smaller school, as Auburn did in hiring Allen Greene away from Buffalo. Other athletic directors from Group of 5 schools who might attract interest are Central Florida’s Danny White and South Florida’s Mark Harlan. Another name that has been mentioned is Rutgers deputy athletic director Sarah Baumgartner.
Still, a lot depends on what happens with Evans.
"There’s a lot of people in the industry that think Damon is a strong candidate," the West Coast athletic director said. “People who have good jobs don’t want to get into a search where they think it’s already a fait accompli.”
Regardless of how much support Evans has within the university as well as from well-heeled boosters, what brought him to Maryland in the first place could be a factor, one Midwestern athletic director said Monday.
Considered one of the rising stars in athletic administration, Evans was fired by Georgia just days after being charged with driving under the influence in Atlanta. After being out of the business for several years, Evans was hired by Anderson in 2014.
Though athletic directors occasionally hire big-name coaches with past indiscretions, presidents rarely — if ever — hire athletic directors with those sorts of blemishes on their records, according to the Midwestern athletic director.
“I go back to what [Wisconsin athletic director] Barry Alvarez says, which is, ‘When you’re the head football coach, everybody loves you as long as you win, but when you’re AD, there isn’t anybody to beat.’ You’re as good as your last decision and some of those decisions haunt you for life,” said the Midwestern athletic director, who also asked for anonymity. “I’m not saying that’s an indictment on Damon, but I can’t think of anybody off the top of my head that got a second chance as an AD.”
Another possible deterrent in Maryland’s process was the way the situation with Anderson was handled by university president Wallace Loh. After reports surfaced in mid-October that Anderson had been fired, the school waited two days before announcing that he was taking a six-month sabbatical that most believed was a smoke screen for his ultimate departure.
Nearly six months to the day, the school announced Anderson’s resignation.
While some fellow administrators with interest in Maryland might get past Anderson’s treatment quickly, the West Coast athletic director said: “Kevin is very well-respected in our industry and he’s had a great run of success. If you’re a sitting AD at a Power 5 [school], something like that could make someone take a much deeper look [before getting involved].”
Said the Midwestern athletic director: “People weren’t scared off at Arkansas. They weren’t scared off at Nebraska. It’s a Power 5 job, it’s in the Big Ten, Maryland’s a great institution. For the right person, that will be a great job.”
McMillen, who served on the school's Board of Regents in the past, agreed.
“I think there are questions, but a lot of people look at Maryland like, ‘Gosh, it’s the only FBS school in the Washington, D.C., market. There are only a few cities in America that have one FBS school,” McMillen said. “You really have a major, major market to yourself. Not that there’s not other competition.
”You look at what Lefty [Driesell] did here and turned it into an exciting basketball program. We’ve had football coaches turn it into an exciting football program. What Gary [Williams] did. It’s a great job if basketball and football is done right. You fill your stands. Your fundraising is enhanced. That spark needs to be relit a little bit.”
McMillen said the decision on Anderson’s successor can be viewed the same way.
“The AD doesn’t necessarily light the spark, but he’s the architect of the culture,” McMillen said. “I think the AD can set that tone that we can be the very best.”