Well damn. As Kyle already pointed out, the standard warnings about the presumption of innocence should go without saying. Not everyone who is picked up for driving under the influence is actually under the influence. Some have been drinking but fall below the legal limit for operating a vehicle and are having no difficulty operating, some have medical conditions which mimic the symptoms of intoxication, some are merely tired and some just have a prickly roadside demeanor that gets them locked up for being a jackass. At least those are my observations after 7 years as a practicing member of the State Bar of Georgia.
The Athletic Association (which I would normally abbreviate down to "AA" but under the circumstances, well, you know . . .) and University have not yet commented on the news. Therefore, in this 24 hour news age, we are left to consider the observations of others. My observations as a University of Georgia football fan however are different from my observations as a practicing attorney or a guy who reads college football blogs. Very different. Assume that Damon Evans was actually intoxicated when his mugshot was taken (which, if you've seen it, Jeez, has anyone ever looked more drunk without having to actually be duct-taped into an upright position???). Then the badness of this bad news, at least from where I'm sitting, is off the charts.
It's bad press for the University and Athletic Association, obviously. Especially given that this athletic program has endured a slew of alcohol-related arrests during Evans's tenure, up to and including a student-athlete injuring someone with an automobile while drunk. Especially given that Damon is the one who urges us all not to drink and drive after home games from up on the Jumbotron. It is truly difficult to imagine how this could seem more hypocritical.
And it's the hypocrisy that really galls me. To be fair, college athletes were not going to listen to the Athletic Director lecture about drinking. Because they're college students. If you're not passing out free pizza or free shots, their perceived attentiveness to what you're saying is likely just polite tolerance. But this arrest makes it hard for Damon Evans to even get up in front of a room full of people or cameras and make a plea to our students not to drink and drive. That's a problem.
Also, as David Hale notes, we don't know who Evans's passenger, also taken to the drunk tank, was. I sincerely hope that it was his wife or minister. I hope it was not another University employee. Or a pretty lady in a shiny dress with what appears to be an Adam's apple.
As sad as that would be, I am admittedly even more sad that this could be the end of a very promising career. Damon Evans assumed the mantle as Director of Athletics at the University of Georgia on July 1, 2004. 6 years ago today. It has been, relatively speaking, a good 6 years.
I genuinely like Damon Evans. He is a Double Dawg and a Georgia Bulldog Letterman, sure. But he has also demonstrated himself to be a shrewd and decisive leader and educator. Last year I was talking to Roderick Battle about his sports management major. He surprised me a little when he said that Damon has been very helpful to he and other students in that program, that he would come to classes and explain to them why certain decisions within the Athletic Association were being made, and was always willing to have them stop by and ask him questions. That really stuck with me, because I like to believe that the folks over in that money printing factory known as Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall actually care about students and consider themselves teachers.
Damon Evans has used his own finance degree from the University of Georgia to great effect, running one of the most perennially profitable athletic departments in the country. An athletic department which has sent greenbacks by the millions back to the University-proper in these lean times. He has overseen a difficult basketball coaching search that appears set to pay real dividends in a short time. He has kept apace of developments in the SEC in coaching compensation, program marketing and media issues. Damon Evans has been the paragon of the new-breed CEO/Athletic Director.
Now, if in fact he is forced out, there's no telling what stooge Michael Adams will get appointed to the open position. Adams hasn't yet made two good hires in a row for the same job, and I have little confidence that he will start now. Call me a pessimist if you will, but I just do not have faith in Adams to find someone with the business sense of Damon Evans. And I definitely don't trust him to appoint a native son of our state's flagship school, someone who truly loves the University of Georgia, who has actually sweated and bled for it. Adams will appoint a stuffed-shirt higher ed. bureaucrat in his own image who views the job as either a cow to be milked or a stone to be stepped on. That's my fear until it's proven unfounded.
Finally, and I hate to even bring it up, if Damon Evans is done, attention will be focused almost immediately on the relationship between his successor and Mark Richt. Kyle and I discussed this particular issue today and I think we agree that It's now an inevitable part of hiring a new Athletic Director. If Damon Evans is given his walking papers expect to hear more of that accursed hot seat talk. Evans and Richt have a great working relationship and a lot of history. Damon has stood on the stage with Coach Richt to accept Sugar Bowl and SEC Championship trophies. He's witnessed 2 wins in Jacksonville in his 6 Octobers on the beat, even during the most concentrated period of excellence in Gator football history. Damon Evans realizes that Mark Richt has our football program on the surest long term footing it's ever been on. He remembers the Goff years because, by God, he lived them, on the field. I cannot be sure that his successor would be wise enough to realize that sometimes the best way to change what's happening is to do nothing and let things change on their own. This worries me.
But I may be worrying for nothing. It's far from a foregone conclusion that Damon Evans will not be back on the job. I could easily see a situation in which he accepts a 60 day suspension without pay and agrees to undergo alcohol counseling. He would not be the first athletic department employee to survive such an arrest. You'll recall that former offensive coordinator and ace recruiter Neil Callaway pleaded guilty to DUI back in 2003, and was fined a month's salary. The last I checked he continued coaching at Georgia until he was handpicked to go drive the UAB football program off a cliff. While Damon is in a higher profile position, he's also (in this blogger's opinion) a lot harder to replace.
Feel free to comment on this story below. I intend to stay out of it unless and until there's some more definitive news. In the meantime, I'll be driving to Athens to see if I can help David Hale pack and get his butt on a plane that much faster.