SBJ/February 28 - March 6, 2005/Forty Under 40

Damon Evans

DAMON EVANS, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA

BY ROSS NETHERY
MANAGING EDITOR

It’s a good thing Damon Evans knows how to take a hit.

Damon Evans
• Age: 35
• Title: Director of athletics
• School: University of Georgia
• Education: Bachelor's degree, finance, University of Georgia, 1992; master's degree, education in sports management, University of Georgia, 1994
• Family: Wife, Kerri; son, Cameron, 6; daughter, Kennedy, 3
• Career: Interned at the Southeastern Conference in 1993-94; was director of compliance and operations for a year at the University of Missouri; rejoined the SEC for three years, becoming assistant commissioner for eligibility and compliance services; returned to Georgia in 1998 as an associate athletic director of internal affairs; took over as AD in July 2004
• Last vacation: Disney cruise, June 2004
• Last book read: "Up Country" by Nelson DeMille
• Last movies seen: "Ray" and "Coach Carter"
• Greatest disappointment: When I played football, I wish we had won a championship.
• Executive most admired: [Former General Electric CEO] Jack Welch.
• Business advice: Don't let people tell you you can't accomplish whatever your goals are.
When the former University of Georgia wide receiver became the school’s athletic director in July, his honeymoon period was over before it had begun. Not only did he have to deal immediately with NCAA sanctions against his men’s basketball program, as well as an infraction in the gymnastics program, but he had to do it while trying to solidify ties with some alumni who were unhappy over the departure of Evans’ predecessor, Vince Dooley.

Never mind that Evans had been intimately involved for six years in most of the department’s decisions, the majority of the time as senior associate athletic director, and that he was Dooley’s hand-picked successor. Some among the Bulldog faithful were upset that the university’s president, Michael Adams, didn’t renew Dooley’s contract when it ended last year, sending the Georgia legend — he was athletic director for 25 years and head football coach for 15 — into semi-retirement. (Dooley still works for the athletic department in a mostly fund-raising capacity.)

As if all that weren’t enough, almost as soon as Evans took over, he fired a few longtime employees, including three department heads.

He didn’t do it on a whim, though. He had known for six months that he would be taking over the top job, giving him time to plan how he would reshape the department.

“I downsized our senior staff because I wanted a leaner management team,” Evans said. “I also wanted to get some people in here who had a fresh set of eyes and a similar philosophy to mine.”

That philosophy involves using a business-oriented approach to meet the demands of running a $55 million athletic program while also focusing on the priorities of a university: educating students and fielding winning teams, and doing it with a strict adherence to the rules.

It’s the fact that Evans has those priorities, and the gumption to make the hard decisions, that helped convince Adams that he was right for the job.

“I had watched him for six years as senior associate AD,” Adams said. “I thought he was a quick study, had a good grasp of things and usually came down on the right side of an issue.”

Evans got the AD job at age 34, a fact that caused many people to question whether he had the wisdom and experience for the job. Evans has frequently pointed out that he already had 12 years of experience, adding that if he had been 44 years old with the same experience, few people would have questioned his credentials.

“Everyone was saying I was too young to be athletic director,” he said. “If I had listened to that, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

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