At least Damon Evans knew what he was getting into when he became Maryland’s new athletic director. He was elevated to the permanent position a couple of weeks ago, having spent the previous eight months in the role on an interim basis.
He wasn’t naïve about the challenges ahead and wasn’t blindsided by repercussions from the past. But events that transpired shortly before and after his promotion probably gave him more gray hair than existed when former AD Kevin Anderson stepped away in October.
Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Jordan McNair experienced a health challenge during conditioning drills in late May and died on June 13. Evans had to address the tragedy then and he addressed it again during his introductory news conference.
“It has been a trying time,” he said. “When you deal with something as significant as a student-athlete passing away, it’s something that you just never imagine or expect to happen at your institution.”
Nothing compares to the death of an athlete during organized team activities. It casts a pall over the campus and makes everyone ask: “Why?” Conversely, recruiting scandals, alleged sexual misconduct and budget shortfalls are common enough to cause a collective shrug … unless it’s your job to handle such issues.
Lots of athletic directors have faced those full plates.
But few of Evans’ peers have a dish of FBI subpoenas on the side.
We sort of forgot about the federal investigation of college basketball that threatens to topple the current system. We were reminded Friday when Maryland acknowledged that U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman has issued two sets of grand jury subpoenas.
Berman is looking for information (preferably incriminating) related to assistant coach Bino Ranson’s pursuit of former Terps center Diamond Stone and former recruit Silvio De Sousa. He also wants to know about the school’s relationship with former sports management executive Christian Dawkins, a leading character in the FBI probe.
“None of the responsive records shows evidence of any violations of applicable laws or NCAA bylaws by University coaches, staff or players,” Maryland said in a statement. “The University has cooperated and will continue to cooperate fully with the ongoing federal investigation.”
That’s a great idea, cooperating and doing so fully. Evans needs to ensure that Maryland is open and honest throughout.
He learned the importance of that posture the hard way, when a DUI arrest led to his departure from the University of Georgia eight years ago. He was pulled over by a state trooper just five minutes before his new contract was to go into effect, paying him more than $500,000 per year.
The DUI was made worse because the passenger was a woman, not his wife, and the trooper said red panties were in Evans’ lap. He resigned in shame and began a recovery process that brought him to Maryland as Anderson’s lieutenant in the fall of 2014.
“My journey has been long,” Evans said. “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.”
He’ll have plenty of opportunities for growth at Maryland, where he’s charged with raising $19 million of the $41 million extra needed to finish the Cole Field House project. He also can use personal experience to counsel athletes on choices, trying to steer them away from compromising situations like the one Damonte Dodd landed in.
The former Terps center was arrested Thursday, accused of having sex with an intoxicated woman against her will on Halloween night. Dodd left the school in 2017 after four seasons, but his association with the Terps is fresh enough to draw Evans’ attention.
For now, the athletic department must focus on reviewing the circumstances behind McNair’s hospitalization and subsequent death. But the federal case can’t be ignored and neither can the need for an influx of donations.
University president Wallace D. Loh said Evans is “the right person at the right time to lead Maryland athletics.” Evans might have preferred a less-demanding time for his first permanent AD gig since Georgia. He also must win over segments of the Terps’ base that disapproved of his selection, wanting a clean break from Anderson.
But he entered the position with his eyes wide open, knowing his hands would be full.
⦁ Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.
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