Heather DinichESPN Senior Writer
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — University of Maryland officials struck a balance between celebratory and somber on Tuesday as they officially introduced Damon Evans as their new athletic director while also still mourning the death of 19-year-old football player Jordan McNair.
“We will forever remember him wearing No. 79,” university president Wallace D. Loh told a crowded ballroom at the Hotel at Maryland. “We are all still grieving. This is a very happy day, but at the same time, all of us are mourning for him, for his family and his friends. I mention that because that’s when I saw that quality in Damon and also in our head football coach, D.J. Durkin. Days and nights at shock trauma, consoling the players, talking to the doctors and to the parents. Those are important qualities in any leader.”
Evans will begin his new role on July 2, while the athletic department is in the midst of a school-issued external investigation into whether the trainers and staff followed protocol on May 29 when McNair needed to be hospitalized after struggling to complete 10 110-yard sprints during an organized team workout. McNair died two weeks later.
The review could take up to 90 days, according to the school, which is why Loh said he decided to make the hire now. Loh said there were six finalists, and approximately 30 candidates were contacted.
“We took a lot of time,” Loh said, “and we had some outstanding candidates.”
Speaking before an audience of high-ranking university officials, coaches, donors and members of the media — as well as his wife, Kerri, and daughter Kennedy — Evans candidly addressed his past mistakes that cost him his job at Georgia, and expressed gratitude for being given a second chance at Maryland.
Evans came to College Park four years after he was fired as Georgia’s athletic director in July 2010. He was charged with a DUI in Atlanta and arrested, along with a 28-year-old female passenger, according to the police report.
“The first days were dark,” Evans said. “I’m sitting there by myself. Let’s just call it what it is. I hurt people who were dear to me. My wife, my kids, my family. … I said I have to get myself together. I can’t let this define who I am.”
Before he was hired at Maryland in 2014, Evans was a managing partner at Evolution Sports Partners in New Jersey, vice president of fundraising at IMG College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and vice president of business development at the Markley Group in Boston.
“I always tell people what happened at Georgia, I’m fully culpable for,” Evans, 48 and the father of two, told a small group of reporters after the news conference. “There’s no one to blame but me. I opened up with the committee. I just opened up and I told them that I made a mistake some eight years ago. My fault, but that’s not who I am. It’s an aberration of who I am. “
Loh called it “truly a human story, a very typical human story of fall and redemption from mountain top to valley bottom.”
“That tells me something about his personal qualities of perseverance of striving forward, of never giving up, and I hope that personal story of redemption is also telling us something about the values of the University of Maryland,” Loh said. “We are committed to excellence and we are committed to inclusion.”
One of the reasons Evans was chosen for the job is his current knowledge of the department and staff, including his close relationship with Durkin. Evans said Durkin has made practices voluntary since McNair’s collapse.
“We’ve had players who haven’t come to the workouts,” Evans said. “… all the kids who haven’t shown up, they have communicated with us, and the numbers aren’t that large, but some players simply said they couldn’t work out until Jordan was laid to rest. We have to respect that. At the end of the day you don’t want a young man to go out on that field if he is not ready. … We are just going to slowly ramp it back up.”
“Someone told me the other day that Texas is practicing,” Evans said. “Unfortunately we have some things that are more important than that right now, and that’s our student-athletes and the McNair family.”
Evans said the investigation is moving forward.
“We’re going to be fully transparent with that,” he said.