ATHENS -– The six days since a shocking telephone call interrupted his vacation in Nashville have been “clearly one of the most difficult times I have been through,” University of Georgia President Michael Adams said Tuesday.
The early morning call last Thursday brought the news of Damon Evans’ arrest in Atlanta on a DUI charge. By the time all the details emerged, Adams said, there was only one possible conclusion: Evans, Georgia’s highly regarded athletics director, had to go.
“The tragedy of all of this is what a terrific job he has done the last six years,” Adams said, speaking publicly about the matter for the first time. “I regret deeply the closure and the kind of closure this relationship had. But, once I learned all the facts, I felt like there was no choice in my role to do what is best for the university.”
Adams, who cut his vacation short and drove home Thursday night, made it clear to Evans in a meeting Friday that he could not remain in the job. Evans offered his resignation Saturday and agreed to a financial settlement Sunday. Tuesday, Adams tried to begin the process of moving Georgia’s dazed athletics program forward.
He appointed Frank Crumley, who was Evans’ executive associate athletics director for finance and administration, to serve as interim athletics director while a search committee seeks a permanent successor to Evans.
Adams said the search will focus, at least initially, on candidates not currently on the Georgia staff. And he said he would not to be surprised if the process takes six to 12 months.
Georgia hardly expected to be in need of an athletics director. Evans was just 34 years old when Adams named him to succeed the legendary Vince Dooley in 2004, and Adams said Tuesday that part of the reason he put Evans in the job was the hope of “a long period of stability.” Just five months ago, Evans signed a new contract that was to keep him in the job until at least 2015.
But all of that changed after Evans’ DUI arrest and the devastating details contained in the police report, which said Evans had a 28-year-old woman’s red panties between his legs and invoked his position as Georgia’s AD and asked if he could avoid arrest.
Adams was asked Tuesday if such details sealed the decision to oust Evans.
“I would simply say to you it was the totality of this situation and what it said about good judgment or lack of such at this level that led me to my conclusion,” Adams said.
Later, he added: “What troubles me the most is the loss of potential here.”
This episode is the latest high-profile, athletics-related firestorm of Adams’ tenure as UGA president, which dates to 1997. Earlier this decade, major controversies erupted around Adams’ feud with Dooley and an academic scandal involving the men’s basketball program.
Adams spoke Tuesday at one of his regularly scheduled media briefings, which are held monthly from September through May and once during the summer. The briefings typically are held in a small conference room in the Administration Building on north campus and draw a few reporters. This one was moved to a sprawling auditorium at the Georgia Center for Continuining Education on south campus, drawing a large turnout of media members and TV cameras.
“You are all welcome back at any of those monthly press conferences,” Adams said, “but I am not blind to why many of you are here today.”
In fact, every question except one dealt with the Evans arrest and fallout.
Adams was asked if he’d ever before had reason to question Evans’ judgment.
“I have not,” he said. “I’ve never seen any evidence of the kind of conduct that led to this unhappy conclusion.”
Pressed on whether he’d gotten any complaints about Evans’ conduct in the past, Adams said: “At this level, you hear rumors about [everything], but I don’t deal in rumors. I marvel sometimes at some of the stuff that my wife reads on the blogs about me. She wonders who she’s married to sometimes when she reads it. But you just can’t deal in rumor-mongering, and I had no evidence of any kind of conduct like this.”
As for the resignation settlement that will pay Evans $237,500, a small fraction of the $3.25 million he would have earned over the next five years, Adams said it was the result of “some back and forth” between lawyers.
“I didn’t think it needed to be too generous under the circumstances,” Adams said. “At the same time, this is a person who has given us 12 years of his life [six years as AD and another six on the staff] and has made a number of very important contributions. And he has two degrees from here, and he is one of us, and that matters to me.
“I think we got it about right. I hope and pray we did.”
While acknowledging the difficulty and sadness of recent days, Adams said: “We still have important work to do, and it is time for us to move on.”
One revelation from Tuesday’s news conference was Adams’ inclination to hire Evans’ successor from outside the current staff.
“I think we have three or four people currently on the staff who are very, very strong people,” Adams said. “But my first look in this case is going to be outside.”
The reason, he said, is that “I want an outside opinion to take a hard look at what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. As well as we’re doing it, can we do it better?”
He said he’s seeking a person with a high level of athletics experience, although he stopped short of limiting the field to someone who is or has been a major-college athletics director.
“This is one of the five or six best AD jobs in America, in my opinion, and I can assure you there’s no shortage of interest,” Adams said.
He named UGA law professor David Shipley to serve as chairman of the search committee. Also on the committee: Swann Seiler, a member of the UGA Athletic Board; Jack Bauerle, UGA’s swim coach; Tom Landrum, UGA’s senior vice president for external affairs; Carla Williams, the senior associate athletics director; and student representative Robert “Trey” Sinyard.
Shipley said that, given the academic calendar and the “caliber of candidates we’re going to be getting,” he expects the process to be protracted.
“To say we could get somebody much earlier than the New Year would be really, really optimistic,” Shipley said.
As the committee does its work, Crumley will oversee the athletics department.
He has worked there since 1991 and was chief financial officer under Evans. Crumley said Adams asked him Sunday if he’d step in as interim AD.
“I said yes, and he said, ‘Do you want to sleep on it?’” Crumley said. “I said, ‘Absolutely not. I’ll do whatever I can.’
“If anything comes up,” Crumley said, “I’ll lean on the president and the senior VPs and the Athletic Board for guidance. And other than that, we’ll chug along.”
Adams, too, expressed confidence that UGA, including the athletics program, will weather the storm of the past six days.
“This university is bigger than any one person,” he said. “It is bigger than the person that we regretfully have lost. It’s certainly bigger than me. It’s bigger than any of us.”