Where the Georgia Bulldogs Stand One Year After Damon Evans's Wild Ride

Shortly before midnight on the evening of June 30, 2010, Damon Evans was pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence. In other words, it was right about this time a year ago that Vince Dooley’s successor as the University of Georgia athletic director was in his car on the fateful ride that changed his life, ultimately (and necessarily) leading to his eventual resignation.

I revisit these events not to criticize Damon Evans; he made his mistakes (plural), and he paid (and is paying) for them. I believe Bulldog Nation is unanimous in the conviction that, under the circumstances, he had to go, but we wished him well as he went, and we hope he has been able to get his life back in order, both personally and professionally. When---I hope "when," rather than "if"---he stands on the field in Sanford Stadium at a reunion of one of the Georgia teams on which he played, I hope and believe he will be greeted with cheers for all that he did right, rather than boos for what he did wrong.

My reason for returning to the shocking events of one year ago is to place in context an occurrence we no more could evaluate in its totality at the time than we could have anticipated in advance. Among the unfolding facts that rapidly became apparent were the ways in which the world had turned between 1960 and 2010; had Georgia’s then-athletic director, Wally Butts, been pulled over for drunk driving in Atlanta while in the company of a woman other than his wife 50 years before, there can be little doubt that an arrest would not have ensued. Had Coach Butts, under the same circumstances, asked the officer what Evans reportedly asked the state patrolman---namely, to take him to a hotel, where he could sleep it off---the officer almost certainly would have complied.

In that respect, Evans suffered from a change in social mores regarding the seriousness of drinking and driving. On the other hand, the way in which the incident was handled illuminated other changes, as well. If, in 1960, a 40-year-old black man had been caught driving drunk in Georgia with a younger white woman in his car and her undergarments in his lap, being arrested very well may have been the least of his problems. Evans both suffered for and benefited from living in the world in which he lived, but, in any case, he knew that world well enough to apprehend the risks he was running, and the cylinder did not spin his way in the game of Russian roulette he foolishly chose to play with his life.

When we remember Wally Butts, though, we begin to see the ways in which the worlds in which the two Georgia athletic directors lived essentially were the same, for the constituencies they served, if not for the men themselves. Coach Butts, it is to be recalled, resigned amid scandal, as well, albeit not one involving accusations of alcohol abuse and allegations of adultery (though Coach Butts was dogged by both of those, as well). Confronted with accusations of conspiring with Bear Bryant to "fix" a Georgia-Alabama football game which gave rise to a sensationalistic Saturday Evening Post expose, Coach Butts resigned abruptly one day after the charges were leveled, even though doing so cost him financially because it affected his pension.

One week after the Post article hit the newsstands, Coach Butts filed suit against the publisher, ultimately winning a substantial verdict in a landmark defamation case. Not only was Coach Butts vindicated by the jury, but even James Kirby, who observed the trial and wrote a highly critical book about it afterward, acknowledged that the former coach thereafter "lived an exemplary life." That life ended in Athens in 1973, after which Coach Butts was buried at Oconee Hill, in the shadow of Sanford Stadium. The headquarters building of the athletic association he once led now bears his name.

The Saturday Evening Post story rocked the University of Georgia more so even than Damon Evans’s arrest, but what followed that regrettable episode undeniably was positive. Given his long years of service, many justifiably were saddened to see Wally Butts go, but he ultimately was succeeded by Joel Eaves, whom the Bulldog faithful eventually would be glad had come to the Classic City.

Eaves hit the ground running in Athens, wasting no time before implementing a sweeping program to modernize the sports administration at Georgia. The former Auburn basketball coach presided over the dedication of the Coliseum in 1964, and he swiftly moved to boost the budgetary bottom line by expanding Sanford Stadium for the first time in 15 years.

The unsightly light poles dating back nearly a quarter of a century were removed, ending for nearly three decades the practice of hosting night games between the hedges, and Eaves scheduled more home football games. In the first fall after he became athletic director, the Bulldogs played more than four football games in Athens for just the third time since 1951. To top it all off, on just his twelfth day after being hired, Eaves introduced 31-year-old Vince Dooley as the new head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs.

In short, 1963 saw a tumultuous shakeup in the Georgia athletic administration resulting in the loss of a well-liked athletic director with a strong Bulldog pedigree but also leading to the hiring of a new head administrator who ushered in a new era from which the Red and Black profited handsomely in finances, in facilities, and on the field. Out of the ashes of the Saturday Evening Post scandal, there arose a phoenix.

Fastforward to 2010. Damon Evans’s ill-advised ride was a tremendous embarrassment to us all; that police report couldn’t have been worse unless that woman’s panties had been orange instead of red. In 2010, as in 1963, Georgia looked to the campus of an orange-and-blue-clad rival, this time finding Greg McGarity, a man with an unassailable Bulldog background who had learned much from Jeremy Foley in the belly of the beast. At one time, it appeared that Damon Evans was the man to guide Georgia athletics to the pinnacle, but, by the end of his tenure, the ship had begun to list a bit. Evans’s loss, while sad, may ultimately have been Georgia’s gain, as the recent transition in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall may benefit the University of Georgia as much as the previous transition from Wally Butts to Joel Eaves.

One year ago tonight, Damon Evans unwisely took a drive that capped off a tumultuous and sordid offseason with a shameful sequence that left us feeling as though a bomb had gone off in Athens, but, out of the ashes of that blast, another phoenix may be rising.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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