Damon Evans marks five years as UGA’s athletics director Wednesday, and the Athens Banner-Herald takes a look at how he’s fared so far, noting that financially he’s been something of a superstar, with the athletic budget growing from $50.2 million to $84.8 million under Evans. Also in his tenure, a $30 million state of the art basketball practice facility was finished and a $40 million expansion of the Butts-Mehre complex is about to begin.
Of course, Evans had a head start on success considering the high level of the program when he took over. As Evans himself says, he inherited from mentor Vince Dooley “something that had an unbelievable foundation from a financial standpoint, from the sports programs. We inherited some veteran, champion coaches that have done great jobs.”
The recent signing of a new $92.8 million eight-year media rights deal with ISP Sports has to rank as Evans’ biggest achievement to date, but UGA having the SEC’s top Academic Progress Report in football perhaps is just as noteworthy, considering the challenges the school has faced in that area in the past.
Evans also gets points (though perhaps not from coach Mark Richt) for his aggressive upgrading UGA’s nonconference football schedule in an effort to build the brand nationally. One indication of progress there is UGA ranking No. 2 or 3 nationally the past two quarters in royalties on merchandise.
But Evans recognizes that managing the expectations of the Bulldogs fan base, particularly in football, requires even more progress. He told the ABH: “We’ve grown to a recognizable program in the country. The next step that we want to take is to be … one of those programs that are mentioned year after year for the national championship, one that’s consistently going to BCS bowl games.”
Elsewhere, promoting assistant Jay Clark, the recruiting power behind the throne in UGA gymnastics, to replace ultra successful Suzanne Yoculan looks like a good move by Evans.
The verdict is still out on is other marquee hire, new basketball coach Mark Fox. While Evans didn’t flinch in pulling the trigger on firing the sinking Dennis Felton midseason, he did let the public relations aspects of his search for a new coach get out of hand, with all sorts of big names being bandied about before he settled on a dark horse candidate in Fox. Evans’ choice may end up being a brilliant one, but it came off as underwhelming after all the hype.
Overall, though, I believe Evans was the right man for the job and so far has lived up to expectations. And I like the way he thinks big.
How do you grade Evans after five years?