ATHENS, GA - MAY 02: Martin Piller (L) and Daniel Summerhays (R) walk up the 10th fairway during the final round of the 2010 Stadion Athens Classic at the University of Georgia Golf Course on May 2, 2010 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
On Damon Evans, Zach Mettenberger, and why the decision to look for a new athletic director was a sad but necessary one.
The moving trucks will be pulling up to Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall any day now to begin loading up Damon Evans' personal effects, and an otherwise promising career may very well have been snuffed out. It's a sad, and embarrassing, end to the tenure of someone who, up to this point, had fit the definition of the "Damn Good Dawg" both as a football player (he was a four-year starter at wide receiver for UGA, helping them to a pair of bowl wins) and as an athletic director -- overseeing a period in which Georgia went from being a very profitable athletic department to one of the three most profitable departments in the country on an annual basis.
But the ax had to fall, and contrary to Mark Bradley's increasingly typical melodrama in the AJC Sunday morning, it doesn't have anything to do with what you or I think about the situation, how embarrassed we are, or whether our Georgia diplomas have been in any way "cheapened" by Evans' shenanigans. The company that hired me a little over a month ago isn't going to pink-slip me on Tuesday because the UGA degree I listed on my résumé has somehow become irrevocably linked with a traffic stop and an errant pair of red women's underthings.
What I'm more concerned about is the effect that these revelations would have on Evans' relationships with the athletes at the University of Georgia -- yet strangely, the one athlete that keeps popping into my head isn't technically a UGA athlete anymore: ex-QB Zach Mettenberger.
I'm certainly not the first person to have seen the parallels between Mettenberger and Evans, but I think they're apt enough to bear repeating. Mettenberger, as we all know, was arrested a few months ago near Valdosta for underage possession/consumption and presenting a fake ID. Initially, he was suspended for the Dawgs' 2010 season opener, as per the athletic department's policy of suspending players for 10 percent of their team's games should they be found in violation of the school's alcohol policy. A month later, however, Mettenberger had been kicked off the team entirely -- supposedly for having withheld information from Mark Richt and Mike Bobo about the true nature of his arrest. (Observe the difference between the charges that were initially reported and the charges to which Mettenberger pled guilty two months ago -- which involved two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery that hadn't been disclosed previously.)
In Evans' case, too, there was a one-two punch of an initial arrest -- which was embarrassing enough on its own -- followed by an even more embarrassing revelation of the true sordid details of the incident: the red panties in Evans' lap, the attempt to wriggle out of a DUI charge by capitalizing on his status as Georgia's AD, the "crying uncontrollably" once it became apparent that strategy wasn't going to work. None of this, of course, was mentioned during Evans' press conference on Thursday, nor, as T. Kyle King pointed out on Dawgsports, did we even get much of an apology.
In both cases, an individual broke the law, then tried to minimize the impact of those revelations in a way that severely damaged their credibility with the rest of the University of Georgia community. Now, an athletic director is expected to be a strong leader, a savvy evaluator of coaching talent, and a shrewd businessman -- but he's also expected to be, to some degree, a role model for the athletes who fall under his purview.
If Zach Mettenberger was stripped of his status as a Georgia Bulldog, but Damon Evans was allowed to retain not only his job but also his half-million-dollar salary, what kind of message would that send to the athletes at UGA? Among other things, it'd say that our leaders have less of a responsibility to obey the law -- or even tell the truth -- than the people they're supposed to be leading. It might also send the message that once you get to a certain level of wealth, power, or public stature, you're not held to the same standards of integrity as everyone else. And that's a dangerous signal to be giving to young, up-and-coming athletes whose talents may soon earn them big money in the pros -- or, heck, major stardom at UGA itself.
So no, this isn't about me, my diploma, or how much shame I feel about going out in public with a super-G on my jacket or a Bulldog logo on my license plate. (Which is still zero, in case anyone was curious.) It's about Damon Evans' ability to do his job effectively, an ability that -- in spite of all his demonstrated talents and intelligence -- has been severely damaged by his actions on Roswell Road last Wednesday night.
None of this is to say that I don't hope Evans can rehabilitate his career, or his public image, or his relationship with his family; I certainly hope all of those things happen. But based on the events of the past week, it's become clear that he's going to need to do a lot of soul-searching -- and, as condescending as it might sound, a lot of growing up -- to make that happen. And while I wish him well on all those tasks, I don't think it's UGA's obligation to let him do them on company time.
In short order, I expect we'll all be writing posts speculating about our new athletic director in much the same way we were all speculating on our defensive-coordinator hire back in January, and Georgia will hire one of those people, and we'll move on. I hope Damon Evans and his family will be able to do the same.