Athens — Damon Evans is a lucky man. At least for the moment, he still has his job. Were I the president of the University of Georgia, Evans would be out of work.
The Bulldogs’ athletics director met the press here 12 1/2 hours after he left an Atlanta jail. He spoke without notes and with great conviction. “I’m very ashamed and embarrassed by my actions,” Evans said. “I let this university down; I let my family down, and I let so many people down who have supported me along the way.”
Not to be a raging skeptic, but contrition costs nothing. At such a time, contrition is the kneejerk response. What was noteworthy about Evans’ mea culpa was what he didn’t offer.
He didn’t offer to resign.
That gesture would have carried more weight than all his stated remorse. That gesture would have been the right one to make. And it would have been only right for president Michael Adams, who risked what political capital he had left when he anointed Evans to replace Vince Dooley in 2004, to accept the offer.
There’s a difference between losing a ballgame and forfeiting credibility. The images that will chase Evans forever are the video spot he did advising Sanford Stadium patrons not to drink and drive — if you do, Evans said, “”you lose” — and the regrettable mug shot that has already become all the Internet rage. How, if you’re an institution of higher learning, can you square the two?
And how, if you’re the flagship university in a state where an intern in the governor’s office was killed last month by an allegedly drunk driver, can you fail to send the message that there are more important things than ballgames? Evans has done a fine job as AD, but that’s no longer the issue. At issue is that a man heading a department that is charged with educating young men and women has become an issue unto himself.
Said Evans: “My actions have put a black cloud over our storied program,” and there is, sorry to say, only one way to change that. Georgia needs to fire Evans because he has breached the first commandment of leadership. He has failed to practice what he preached.
Evans again: “I think, ‘You’ve got to be the leader you talk about being; you’ve got to be the role model’ … It’s going to take a while to earn trust back, and it should.”
The sad truth is that we can never look on Damon Evans the same again. His teams could win every national championship known to man and woman, and we’d still think of him as the guy with his eyes closed in his booking photo. This isn’t to suggest he’s guilty of a crime — he’s entitled to the presumption of innocence, same as everyone — but clearly he was deficient in judgment.
He was stopped by police driving a car in erratic fashion late at night an hour and a half from home with a woman (who was herself arrested) who wasn’t his wife. “Just a friend,” Evans said of Courtney Fuhrmann. Seated to his right as he spoke was Kerri Evans, his wife and the mother of his two children.
“I have some shortcomings,” Evans said. “That’s part of life.” And it is. None among us is perfect. But not everyone is hired to lead young men and women and paid a half-million dollars to do it.
Evans made it clear he wants to stay as AD but conceded: “I don’t know what is coming my way.” And Adams, who was out of town Thursday, released a statement after Evans spoke. Two lines resonated.
The first: “Certainly this is not an example of the kind of leadership I expect our senior administrators to set.”
The second: “[I] will resolve further action pending a full review by staff and legal counsel.”
The most difficult day of Damon Evans’ life ended with him still employed. That might not be the case much longer. And it shouldn’t be.