ATHENS – Starting his first full day on the job as Georgia’s interim athletics director, Frank Crumley addressed more than 100 staff members Wednesday morning, imploring them to carry on “business as usual.”
Exactly one week earlier, at the start of the day that would end with him being pulled over by the Georgia State Patrol, Damon Evans had gathered the same folks in the same room for a quarterly staff meeting. At the end of that meeting, door prizes were handed out.
So when Crumley opened the floor for questions after brief remarks Wednesday, he got only one:
“Are there any door prizes?”
Rocked by the arrest and resignation of Evans, and still absorbing UGA President Michael Adams‘ statement that he’ll “first look outside” for a permanent successor to Evans as athletics director, Georgia’s staff seemed to seek some normalcy on Wednesday — and even an occasional laugh.
“It was short and sweet,” Crumley said of his remarks to the staff. “I said, ‘We’ve all had a stressful Fourth of July.’ . . . I said, ‘We’re going to keep doing the good things we were doing before.’
“It was just to get us all together because we’re one big team. . . . Everybody is relaxing a little bit more now. It was the sudden shock of it all. Everybody in one room today, I saw smiles out there. We’re in it together. And let’s keep working hard.”
Call it the calm after the storm.
On the fourth floor of the Butts-Mehre athletics headquarters building Wednesday, Evans’ old office was darkened and cleaned out. Crumley, who had been Evans’ executive associate AD for finance and administration, continued to work out of his smaller office and said he’ll stay put. Construction continued on the building’s massive expansion, the workers seemingly oblivious to the turbulence within the existing walls the past week.
The department’s highest-profile employee was back at work, too. Football coach Mark Richt was on vacation when the Evans firestorm erupted last week.
“Everyone is saddened by the news of losing Damon because he has done a bunch of wonderful things for us,” said Richt, standing in the Butts-Mehre atrium. “He has been an outstanding athletics director.
“But we all know we’ve got a job to do and an exciting season ahead of us, and we are very excited about moving forward. And this situation, as sad as it was, we don’t believe it will hinder us from going where we want to go and doing the things that we want to do.”
Richt endorsed Adams’ appointment of Crumley as the interim AD. “Frank is a very, very sharp guy,” Richt said. “I’ve got a lot of faith in Frank’s ability to lead.”
Crumley took delight in a return to fairly mundane tasks after the drama of recent days.
“It’s been a welcomed relief to be back doing the day-to-day stuff,” he said in his office near the end of a long Wednesday.
“First thing this morning,” he added, “we were back talking about issues like we would have two weeks ago. We were talking about a marketing piece. It was refreshing.”
Crumley’s phone was a bit busier than usual. Among his voice-mail messages: one from Evans, congratulating his former assistant on being named the interim AD.
Crumley, 46, has spent 19 years in the Georgia athletics program, starting in the promotions and marketing department and holding a series of escalating positions -– assistant ticket manager, director of business operations, assistant and associate AD.
Adams named Crumley the interim athletics director on Tuesday with a pretty clear caveat that Evans’ permanent successor is likely to come from outside, creating new uncertainties for the current staff.
“Any time there is a change at the top, there is always some level of unease,” Adams acknowledged.
But for his part, Crumley expressed no anxieties about what comes after his interim stint as boss.
“I know this sounds like a canned answer, but I’m really just focusing on making sure I do what Dr. Adams asked of me,” Crumley said. “I am not thinking of anything else other than that.”
Crumley, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UGA, probably will be in the job long enough to see to completion three major construction projects that are underway — the $40-million Butts-Mehre expansion, plus a renovation of Stegeman Coliseum and the creation of an entry plaza behind the north stands of Sanford Stadium.
“Those projects are far enough along that the major decisions have been made,” Crumley said. He said associate AD Arthur Johnson will continue to be the point person on the projects, working with campus architects.
As the work of the athletics department resumes, the empty office on the fourth floor remains prominent in everyone’s mind.
“Damon is my friend and always will be my friend,” Crumley said. “This came as a shock. It surprised me because it was not characteristic of the Damon I knew. So I think we’re dealing with that. There’s some processing. It’s less than a week ago, and everybody’s lives have changed a little bit.”