(Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics)
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Damon Evans returned to collegiate athletics four years ago and quickly dove into building Maryland into a juggernaut as it navigated its first few years in the Big Ten.
He helped hire football coach DJ Durkin in 2015. He ran the department for nearly a year.
And now, he’s an athletic director for the second time in his career and prepared to further invigorate Maryland in the years to come.
“I’ve learned a lot,” Evans said Tuesday morning when he introduced as Maryland’s permanent athletic director. “Where I was at 34 years of age compared to where I am now at 48, I believe I have more knowledge and a better understanding of our world. Not just focusing on the task at hand, but knowing the relationship piece and understanding everything that goes into being an athletics director.”
Evans’ hire caps a search process of more than two months since predecessor Kevin Anderson’s resignation, and provides Maryland with an athletic director with high-end experience from his time at Georgia from 2004 to 2010.
He also brings extensive knowledge of the department he’s lead on a temporary basis, a vital starting point for a school that views athletics as a key gateway to the general public.
“I am confident that we have found the right person for the right time to lead Maryland Athletics,” university President Wallace D. Loh said.
With the vast majority of Maryland’s varsity coaches in attendance, Evans thanked his staff for their support since he began handling the Terrapins’ day-to-day operations in the fall.
Yet his impact on Maryland began far earlier than that. He’s played a key role in the department’s budgeting since coming to College Park, and has also been at the center of the Cole Field House project that will serve as one of the Terps’ key facilities in the decade to come.
Facilities, budgeting and fundraising — which are all tied together — figure to be among Evans’ biggest priorities. But it’s clear the greatest attraction of the full-time job was something else.
“A lot of people say ‘Why do you like Maryland so much? What is it about Maryland?’” Evans said. “This is what it’s about. It’s the people who make us who we are. It’s the community we reside in. It’s the collaborative effort across campus. It’s about doing what’s in the best interest of our student-athletes.”
The built-in understanding of how to achieve that is a significant asset. Darryll Pines, the dean of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering and the chair of the search committee, pointed to the strengthened relationship between the athletic department and the academic units on campus over the last year as part of Evans’ appeal.
While there are differences between serving as an acting athletic director and filling the full-time role, there won’t be an acclimation period as Evans navigates his new job.
“I think he understands the issues and the challenges facing the University of Maryland,” longtime men’s soccer coach Sasho Cirovski said. “I think there would be a steep learning curve for any outsider and it would really slow us down. He’s proven himself to be one of the top ADs. He has a chance to be one of the best ADs we’ve ever had.”
Cirovski has worked for several ADs while turning the Terps into one of the best programs in the country. So, too, has field hockey coach Missy Meharg, another member of the search committee.
As the longest tenured head coach in the department, Meharg has an exceptional perspective on the strengths of several former bosses. In Evans, she sees the best traits of all of them.
“I was fortunate enough to be hired by Lew Perkins, the businessman,” Meharg said. “Many of us worked with Andy Geiger, quite an educator. We worked with Debbie Yow, the master. And we worked with Kevin Anderson, the integrator. Amazing people in those areas, and Damon has it all. He has a bit of every one of those great leaders. We’re in great hands.”
Evans is aiming high, too. Several coaches on staff — Cirovski, Meharg, Brenda Frese (women’s basketball), Cathy Reese (women’s lacrosse) and John Tillman (men’s lacrosse) — have led Maryland to national championships during their respective tenures, and Evans hopes to have all of his programs competing for titles.
Evans made his goals clear Tuesday as he attempts to elevate Maryland’s athletics department to a new level, both in the Big Ten and nationally.
“I’m going to work hard to put us in the forefront,” Evans said. “I want people to know who we are and what Maryland is about, not just athletically but academically. We are going to take over this conference and we’re going to do things where other people might say ‘How in the heck did we do that?’ We did it because we work together and I’ll make sure of that.”
Evans takes over a college athletic department for the first time since resigning in 2010 at Georgia, where he was a four-year starter on the football team before rising through the ranks at his alma mater.
After a stint in the private sector, he came to Maryland and has already left an imprint during his time as Anderson’s executive athletic director.
“It is truly a human story, a very typical human story of fall and redemption, from mountaintop to valley bottom,” Loh said. “Then over eight years of slow, painful ascent back to the top. That tells me something about his personal qualities, of perseverance, of striving forward, of never giving up.”
Added Cirovski: “Athletics is about dealing adversity. Whether you’re a coach, a student-athlete, you’re going to have some adversity in your life. This is what we teach. He deserves this chance. He’s worked hard to get this chance. It’s a valuable lesson in not quitting. We all fail sometimes, but we don’t quit. He’s someone has jumped back up and now he’s on the horse and we’re going to let him ride.”
It’s a wiser, more experienced Evans who takes over at Maryland. As a tested athletic director in a Power Five conference, there won’t be much he hasn’t encountered. And as someone who has spent four years in College Park, he is already deeply invested in the Terps’ success.
“I’m not through learning,” Evans said. “I’m not through changing. I want to take all of that I’ve learned over my career and in my life and apply that to this great institution. I’m committed to doing that. This is where I want to be.”