Damon Evans walked through the line of Maryland coaches and offered each a varied greeting: a firm handshake for men’s basketball’s Mark Turgeon, a pat on the shoulder for football’s DJ Durkin, a hug for field hockey’s Missy Meharg, and so on.
This was just after Evans was officially announced as Maryland’s athletic director Tuesday morning. Cameras clicked inside a ballroom of The Hotel at the University of Maryland in College Park. Each embrace included a smile and some form of congratulations.
The introduction of an athletic director is usually a chance for coaches to meet the new boss, feel them out, put a face to a name they’ve been hearing for weeks. This was not that. Evans has headed the athletic department for about eight months.
“You got to get to know a person to really understand who they are,” Evans said Tuesday of how his familiarity with the athletic department and search committee may have helped him get hired. “In order to do that you build those relationships. That will speak for itself. I do think that helped me out.”
Maryland has not had a permanent athletic director since Kevin Anderson went on sabbatical last October. It has had the 48-year-old Evans, who filled the interim role and was officially promoted on Monday. Maryland paid Turnkey Search $120,000 to aid in the process from April 24 to Aug. 22, according to a contract obtained by The Washington Post through a public records request. The decision came just after the midway point of that initial time frame.
There is skepticism among multiple high-level donors that a two-month search could organically produce a hire who’s been with the university since 2014 as Anderson’s second-in-command. But Maryland President Wallace D. Loh, as well as two members of an internal search committee, repeatedly expressed that Evans is the “right person at the right time” for an athletic department facing a number of challenges.
“It was an open and national search,” Loh said Tuesday to emphasize that Evans was not grandfathered into the job without an extensive competition. Loh added that Maryland interviewed six candidates for the opening, though he did not specify who they were beyond Evans and two other previously reported candidates, Temple Athletic Director Patrick Kraft and former Tennessee AD John Currie.
“That is just the way it turned out,” Loh continued after saying that approximately two-thirds of the major searches he’s conducted as president have led to outside hires. “I think anyone who is taking a major, senior role has to compete against everybody who qualifies. And the fact is that [Evans] may have an advantage because he’s well-known, but very often in academia, people don’t hire from the inside, they hire from the outside because there is too much baggage [with the internal candidate] if they have made tough decisions.”
Evans is not free of baggage, from both before and during his time at Maryland.
In 2004, he was named athletic director at University of Georgia, where he played wide receiver from 1988 to 1991. That made him the first African American athletic director in Southeastern Conference history. He held that role until 2010, when he resigned following a DUI arrest and started a four-year run in the private sector. Anderson — who officially resigned as Maryland’s athletic director in April and is now the interim AD at Cal State-Northridge — gave Evans a second chance in 2014.
Maryland’s latest issue is the death of football player Jordan McNair. McNair was rushed to the hospital following an organized team workout on May 29 and died on June 13. The cause of his death has not been announced. He was 19.
Multiple people with knowledge of the hiring process believed McNair’s death hurt Evans’s chances of being named athletic director. But two of those people also thought Evans’s familiarity with the ongoing internal and external reviews into McNair’s death made him fit to guide Maryland through them.
When asked why the university did not wait until the conclusion of the external review to name a new AD, Loh said: “I don’t know how long that review is going to take. They are bringing in an outside reviewer and so on, and that may take a while.” The university said on June 19 that the external review, which started at the end of last week, “could take up to 90 days.”
It also believed by a number of people with knowledge of the hiring process that Evans has had Loh’s support since Anderson departed. Loh did not deny that Tuesday, but insisted that Evans, a skilled public speaker and noted fundraiser, won an open competition.
“I think somebody from the inside has a higher hurdle to surmount,” Loh said, and now it is Evans’s job to help Maryland jump over a bunch more.
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