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SBJ/March 20 - 26, 2006/Forty Under 40
Published March 20, 2006
UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA
By Ryan Basen
• Age: 36
• Title: Athletic director
• 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, 7; daughter, Kennedy, 4
• Career: Interned at the Southeastern Conference from 1993-94; was director of compliance and operations at the University of Missouri; was assistant commissioner for eligibility and compliance services with the SEC; became associate AD of internal affairs at Georgia in 1998; became AD in July 2004
• Last vacation: Martha’s Vineyard
• Last book read: “The 360 Degree Leader” by John C. Maxwell
• Last movie seen: “Firewall”
• Pet peeve: Complacency
• Greatest achievement: Starting a family, including the births of my children
• Greatest disappointment: That I won no championships as a student athlete at Georgia (the Bulldogs went 29-18 in Evans’ four years as a wideout but did not win any SEC titles)
• Fantasy job: President of the United States
• Business advice: We’re all going to make mistakes, so do what you think is in the best interest of your organization.
A standout wide receiver at Georgia in the early 1990s, Damon Evans still keeps in touch with many of his former Bulldog teammates. Evans, now Georgia's athletic director, doesn't always like what he hears from them, though.
"They tell you they're working," he said, "but you don't know exactly what they're doing."
Many of them struggle because they did not get their degrees while attending Georgia, Evans said. That trend continued throughout the 1990s. Georgia student athletes posted the 12-member SEC's second-worst graduation rate from 1995-98.
Evans wants to reverse that, making it his top priority on a job that has many. Since taking over for Georgia icon Vince Dooley in July 2004, Evans has dealt with many problems. None of them matters to him as much as the Bulldogs' graduation rate.
"At the University of Georgia, they're probably sick of me talking about it," said Evans, who earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Georgia. "[But] if we don't [address it], then I've got to re-evaluate myself."
So Evans has begun several new initiatives. He speaks to new student athletes and meets again with those who post GPAs below 2.0, often individually. He's also requested that school counselors prepare a report to predict student athletes' graduation status after their sophomore year.
"This is a part of his fiber," Georgia President Michael Adams said of Evans. "He feels like … we've got to prepare them before we send them out in the world."
Said Evans: "The reason why I wanted to be an athletic director, I wanted to have a positive impact on the lives of student athletes."
Evans has already positively affected Georgia athletics in other ways. He has worked to heal a rift between many alumni and the school that was created by Dooley's forced retirement. He's overseen a record athletic department budget and kept Mark Richt, the school's much-sought-after football coach, off the market with an eight-year contract extension.
In the last year, Georgia has broken ground on a $30 million practice facility for basketball and gymnastics, among other sports; signed Daktronics to construct new scoreboards for its basketball and football facilities; and extended a deal for the annual Florida-Georgia football game to be played in Jacksonville through 2011.
The past year also has seen the NCAA restore three scholarships to the Georgia men's basketball team that had been stripped after an earlier scandal, and Bulldog teams won three national titles during the year.
"It was a very good year," Evans said. "I feel more comfortable in the job, there's no doubt about that."
But Evans is still uneasy thinking about graduation rates. It is one of many challenges he'll face as he seeks to make Georgia "the premier intercollegiate athletics program both academically and athletically."
"We're going to focus not on eligibility but graduating our student athletes," Evans said. "That's something that is a big question for us right now. That's something that I will devote a lot of time to."