Damon Evans has a bright vision for the future of Terrapin athletics

The University of Maryland athletic director talks about his life, journey and goals for the future

Published on: September 30, 2022 6:00 AM EDT

As the director of athletics at the University of Maryland, Damon Evans runs a department with more than 200 employees and an annual budget of $95 million. He oversees the inner workings of 20 varsity sports programs played by over 500 student-athletes.

He previously held the same post with his alma mater, the University of Georgia, where he played wide receiver on the football team and earned a bachelor’s degree in finance in 1992 and a master’s degree of education in sports management in 1994. The Bulldogs won 13 national championships and 19 SEC titles from 2004 to 2010.

Evans is looking to put those numbers to shame in College Park, where Maryland has captured 40 Big Ten championship and tournament titles and five national championships since his arrival in 2014.

At an age when most athletic directors are getting their first jobs in the big seat, 52-year-old Evans is already a veteran, and among the most visionary in his profession.

With the recent construction of the state-of-the-art Jones-Hill House football complex, Maryland boasts a home for its program that rivals any in the country. The basketball program is up next, with plans underway for the $40 million Barry P. Gossett Basketball Performance Center.

The Terps were the only Big Ten school without a dedicated practice facility for its men’s and women’s teams. Soon, they’ll have their own 60,000-square-foot space complete with a shared strength and conditioning facility; state-of-the-art space for hydrotherapy, physical training and sports medicine; theaters for film study; and a pathway connecting the building directly to its home arena, the Xfinity Center.

In short, Evans is handling his business, constructing something appreciable in College Park and within the larger landscape of intercollegiate athletics.

The Baltimore Banner caught up with Evans prior to the Big Ten home opener against Michigan State at the newly-christened SECU Stadium, for a wide-ranging discussion about his life experiences, goals, and vision moving forward for University of Maryland Athletics.

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Head Football Coach Michael Locksley and Athletic Director Damon Evans

Banner: Before we jump into your professional journey, tell me a little about growing up in Nebraska, your parents’ background and the influence they had on you?

Evans: I lived in Nebraska until I was 15 and grew up loving the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers football team. My parents got me involved in a lot of sports and made sure I stayed focused on education. My grandfather was very influential in my life, and he always preached to me about the importance of education. My parents had me at a relatively young age, so I spent a lot of time with my grandparents.

When did playing sports begin to appeal to you, and at what point did you realize you had a chance to play at the highest level in college?

My father ran track at the University of Nebraska Omaha. I started playing youth sports around the age of 7 — playing football, basketball and running track. When I was finishing up the ninth grade, I started getting football recruiting letters from the University of Nebraska. That’s when I knew I had a shot.

It became clearer after we moved to Gainesville, Georgia. After one game my junior year, I was walking off the field and a coach from the University of South Carolina came up to me and said, “Young man, we’d love to have you come play for us. You have the potential to do some really good things at the next level.”

What happened from there?

I was named All-State in Georgia after my junior season, and that’s when I started getting letters from schools in the SEC, the Big Ten, the ACC and others. That’s when I really knew that I was going to have an opportunity to play at the highest level in college.

You grew up in a time when Nebraska had some amazing teams. I’m a college football junkie and loved guys like Mike Rozier, Roger Craig, Irving Fryar. Who were some of your favorites, guys you wanted to emulate playing on the sandlot and in youth football games?

You mentioned most of them. I’d watch the Nebraska games and while playing in my little league games, I’d say to myself, “I’m going to do what Mike Rozier did.” Or Roger “the Dodger” Craig, Irving “The Flyer” Fryar and Turner Gill.

I remember being young and seeing highlights of Johnny Rodgers. I loved watching those battles against the Oklahoma Sooners when they would run the wishbone with guys like Billy Sims. That was a great era of college football, with some great rivalries.

You excelled in multiple sports during your prep years in Georgia — All-State wide receiver, captain of the basketball team, set a school record in the 220-yard dash in track. But you were equally accomplished in the classroom. Talk about your academic drive, where did it come from, how did you nourish it?

I enjoyed school and wanted to be on the honor roll. My grandfather worked in a steel mill and didn’t have much of an education. He always told me, “You get your education, it can take you a long way.” I had this internal drive and wanted to be as accomplished in the classroom as I was in athletics.

You majored in finance at the University of Georgia, a very rigorous course of study. When did you realize that the NFL might not be in your future and what was it about working in athletic administration that appealed to you?

Going into college I knew that I wanted to major in business, specifically finance. There were 25 freshmen in my recruiting class. When we got there, they sat us all down and asked what our goals were. Twenty-three of them said they wanted to play pro football, one dude said he didn’t know and when it got to me, I said, “To graduate from college.”

I try to distinguish between dreams and goals. Graduating from college was something I knew was totally in my control. The goal for me was to graduate, the dream was making it to the NFL. After my junior year, I realized that the NFL wasn’t in the cards for me. And that was okay.

So what was the next goal?

I wanted to work on Wall Street. I graduated and still had another year to play, so I was going to get my MBA. But one day my inner voice said, “Hey, it might be cool to stick around sports and work in the business of athletics.” My academic adviser told me about the graduate degree program in sports management and that set me on my course. What differentiated me in terms of moving up the ladder was having that background in finance, that helped push me out to an early lead.

Give me the Cliff Notes version of your rise, from your first gig as an intern with the SEC after earning your master’s degree to now being the athletic director at Maryland, one of the most prominent athletic and academic institutions in the country.

You don’t do it without the help of a lot of people along the way. I tell our student-athletes, “If you can find a person out there who’s done everything by themselves, I’d love to meet them.” Because I don’t believe anyone accomplishes anything significant by themselves. I had a lot of help along the way. It started with my former head coach at Georgia, Vince Dooley, who gave me an opportunity, along with so many others and the upbringing that I had.

Life is all about relationships, and I built some really good relationships with the right people while at the same time having some really good luck. Being here at the University of Maryland, I’m extremely fortunate to work for a great institution, a Top 20 public university.

As the AD at Maryland, you are essentially the CEO of major corporation. What are the most important and most fulfilling aspects of the job?

I get to work with young people. They help to keep you young and energized. When you can have an impact on someone’s life and career, to me that’s significant. I know that each day I have a great responsibility to impact the lives of young people, whether it’s talking to them about what they want to do in the future, helping them through a difficult personal situation or sharing some of my own struggles, I take that responsibility seriously.

And I get to work with some incredible people. We want to turn this into one of the premier athletic programs in the country. It’s about working as a collective to do the things that are going to set this world of intercollegiate athletics on fire.

Between the move to the Big Ten, the construction of the new football facility and the soon-to-come new basketball facility, there’s a big buzz around what you’ve accomplished in terms of the groundwork, upon which something significant and lasting can be built. Talk about your vision for Maryland Athletics and what are you most proud of thus far?

We want to provide our student-athletes with the best, most supportive environment possible, to instill pride in our fans and constituents and, as I said before, we want to be one of the premier programs in the country. We want to be bold.

What areas do you see room for growth and improvement?

We need to improve in the area of facilities. I’m proud of what we’ve done with the Jones-Hill House, our new football facility. The basketball performance center getting underway is significant. We have a project underway for our women’s field hockey and lacrosse programs.

I want to constantly see bulldozers and cranes and construction signs because that means progress and you know that you’re growing. We want to build a program that everyone associated with the university will be proud of.

Speaking of buildings and making moves, the football program will play its Big Ten home opener this weekend at the newly-christened SECU Stadium in College Park. The partnership between (State Employees Credit Union), the university and athletic department is indicative of what you’ve been talking about, a 10-year partnership valued at over $11 million. How did that deal come about, how long had you guys worked on that and why was that important to you?

That deal is important for many reasons. First, I have to give a shoutout to Capital One, which remains a partner of ours. This was a long process. We’ve been working with SECU over the last 18 to 24 months on this. We wanted to make sure that this was not just a sponsorship but rather a partnership.

We wanted to make sure that we were partnering with an organization that had similar core values that we have as an institution. They believe in service to others and are going to partner with us on campus in ways that will benefits all students, faculty and staff, not just the athletics department.

They’ll be sponsoring financial wellness workshops and helping to create some financial literacy courses, among other community initiatives. Unveiling SECU Stadium this weekend for our Big Ten home opener is another step in the right direction for Maryland Athletics.

One last question, you ever bump into a young Terp defensive back and have the urge to tell him, “I would have burned you back in the day?”

I tell them all the time!

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