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The Winner's Circle

Venturing from rows & rows of corn in Nebraska to rows & rows of fans at The University of Georgia. Damon Evans has had an arduous journey made easier thanks to the guidance of those he met along the way.


Sanford Stadium on Gameday.

Moving from Nebraska to Georgia at the age of 15. Evans was eventually recruited by iconic football coach Vince Dooley to play wide receiver at the University of Georgia. According to an interview with The Gainesville Times in the year 2000, Evans' father, Sam, decided to move his entire family to Georgia because he:


“Always envisioned him being a Georgia Bulldog.”

Sure enough, a few years later, Evans was playing between the hedges of Sanford Stadium as a starter. Evans would go on to earn his Bachelor's degree in finance and later his Master's in sports management.


Receiving mentorship from the likes of UGA legend Vince Dooley and former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, Evans says he was the most heavily influenced by his grandfather who was a man who didn't go to college, but still preached to him the importance of an education.


In addition to being his role models, each of these men held one thing in common— relationships. “They all talked about building relationships and that there's no one in life who can do it by themselves, you always need other people to help you along the way,” said Evans.


Damon Evans speaking to his student athletes.

For Evans, relationship building eventually came in handy when his football career came to an end and his professional career began in 1992. After a few stops along the way working for the SEC and The University of Missouri, Evans was hired in 1998 by his former head coach and AD Vince Dooley as his second in command. Several years later in 2003, it was announced by then UGA President, Michael F. Adams, that Evans would succeed Dooley as Athletic Director.


Becoming an athletic director at the age of 34 was and still is something rare, especially at an institution as big as Georgia. Evans believes he was the youngest Power 5 AD in the country at the time and implores those student-athletes who wish to follow in his footsteps to be patient, but also emphasizes that it takes a lot of work saying:


“You can't just look for instant gratification, you've got to be willing to work hard. You've got to be willing to put the time and the energy and the effort in. Things are more rewarding when it's a little bit difficult. So, I would say if you're willing to work hard; If you're willing to seek advice; If you're willing to go the extra mile; If you're willing to do things that others aren't, then you have a great chance to get to a position like this. If you want to be at the Power 5 level, there are only 68 of these jobs. Which means you have to be 1 of 68 in all of the United States who wants this role. If you want to be a part of the FBS, which is 133 positions, that's still a limited number of jobs. So you've got to really, really position yourself to build relationships because you're not going to get to this level by yourself.”



During a conversation with Arthur Johnson, Temple University AD and one of Evans's former classmates at UGA, Johnson mentioned that leadership can be an isolating experience. Although Evans agrees, he adds that:


“It can be very, very isolating. There's that old saying it's lonely at the top, but that's only if you allow it to be isolating because you've got to bring people into the fold. You can't be this individual who sits at the top all by yourself and thinks you can do it alone. That's why you need to build good relationships and make sure that you include people in the decision-making process because ultimately the decision falls on you and that's where it becomes very, very isolating. Once that decision is made, good, bad, or indifferent, you're either going to bear the brunt of that decision, or you're going to get the praise for it.”



After nearly 20 years in the field, Evans says one of the most difficult parts of his role is keeping up with the evolving landscape of intercollegiate athletics. This has only proven more difficult in the era of NIL.


Despite constant change, Evans has continuously demonstrated success over the years earning numerous recognitions at both UGA and Maryland.


During his time at Georgia, the university was named the nation's most profitable intercollegiate athletics program by an annual EADA report sent to Congress in 2005. In addition to managing a budget of $85 million, Evans led his student-athletes to victory in 19 SEC titles and 13 national championships. Accomplishments that earned him recognition and a spot in the Sport Business Journal's “Forty Under 40” list in 2004, 2005, and 2007.


After leaving the University of Georgia in 2010, Evans took a four-year hiatus during which he founded a business. In 2014, Evans made his return to sports administration as Senior Associate Athletic Director and CFO at Maryland. He was eventually named Athletic Director in 2018 following former athletic director Kevin Anderson's 2017 sabbatical. Since then, Evans has led Maryland's 500 student-athletes and 200 staff members to victory in 49 Big Ten Championship titles and 7 national championships, while also overseeing an annual budget of over $120 million.


Now a seasoned leader in the industry, Evans still refers to lessons instilled in him from those who have tread the path before him. Now in their shoes, Evans has walked the path and is showing the way for those who wish to follow behind.

 

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