UGA fans angry, sad over Evans

This one wasn’t in any playbook.

University of Georgia sports teams have survived their share of freak injuries, gut-rending losses, suspended players and a disgraced, dismissed basketball coach. Their fans even soldiered on after beloved bulldog mascot Uga VII died last November.

But athletics director Damon Evans’ arrest on a DUI charge Wednesday night as he drove with a woman passenger blindsided the Bulldog Nation. Moreso because Evans was the face of UGA president Michael Adams’ ongoing campaign to scrub clean the university’s reputation as a party school.

Could the popular AD whose videotaped anti-drunken driving message played at every home game survive this blow to his promising career?

Should he survive it?

“I don’t think he’s got a snowball’s chance in hell of keeping his job right now,” said Robert Hughes, a longtime season ticketholder and Bulldog Club member from Thomasville. “And he might not be able to save his marriage.”

Even as Evans made his public apology, fans feared that more bad news would come.

And it did.

A police report released Friday included damning information of Evans’ attempt to negotiate his way out of an arrest, and the discovery of a pair of red panties in his lap.

As the titillating details of the arrest raced across the state via newspaper, TV, Internet and grapevine, public opinion appeared to turn: A resignation would be best, fans allowed.

“As more information has come out it’s only gotten worse for Damon and that’s a shame because he’s been doing a great job,” said Jim Sommerville, a 1971 UGA grad and president of the Cobb County Bulldog Club. “The DUI is bad enough. But to be found at midnight in another town 70 miles from home with a woman who isn’t your wife — that’s more troubling than even the DUI. So the only options left, really, are to resign or be terminated.”

Protecting the ‘brand’

President Adams is due back from vacation next week and is expected to make a decision on Evans soon thereafter. Yet UGA’s reputation, said Mike Stone, transcends the fate of its popular athletics director.

“He is the face of one of the top five brands that the state of Georgia produces, behind Coca-Cola, Delta and maybe Home Depot,” said Stone, onetime president of the Columbus-area Bulldog Club. He wants Evans dismissed swiftly.

“The Bulldogs are a brand, and he’s in charge of controlling that, definitely, from the business side. If it was one of the top three or four folks at Delta who did this, you wonder what would happen to them,” Stone said.

Four AJC reporters had conversations with 20 or so fervent Dogs supporters, boosters and others who know the team. Their comments suggested plenty of soul searching for those who believe UGA’s image off the field is just as important as its win-loss record in football.

While it’s unlikely Evans’ predicament would discourage top recruits from signing with Georgia, some were having a hard time making peace with the situation.

“It’s unfortunate for Damon, his family and for the university,” said Kevin Butler, an All-America placekicker for the Bulldogs back in the 1980s, who wouldn’t say Saturday whether Evans should resign. “We all have a way to survive. He’s got not only the University of Georgia and his job to concentrate on, but also righting the wrong he’s done his family.”

At Patricia Price’s exercise class Friday morning, a man she didn’t know said Evans should be fired. But Price, who thinks Evans has done “a really good job” as UGA’s athletic director, hadn’t made up her mind .

“I can see, when football season starts, him making a personal apology,” said Price, a 50-year season ticketholder from Conyers. “I could see them taking away some of the bonuses in this new contract of his, saying, ‘OK, you’ll be on probation for the next two to three years if anything else happens.’ ”

Of course that was before the latest details of the arrest came out late Friday afternoon. According to an incident report released by the Georgia State Patrol, Evans admitted he’d drunk three vodka cocktails and informed the arresting officer he was UGA’s athletic director.

“We go through life and we all drink and jump in a car,” Evans reportedly told Trooper M. Cabe.

And the panties?

The passenger, Courtney Fuhrmann of Atlanta, “took them off and I held them because I was just trying to get her home,” Evans told the trooper.

Evans’ new contract, which was set to kick in at midnight June 30 — just minutes after he was pulled over — contains the usual “moral turpitude” clause, though it remained unclear Saturday if the athletics director’s transgressions could legally trigger a firing or a suspension. Hired to replace Vince Dooley five years ago, Evans, 40, was set to make $550,000 this year, a $110,000 boost from his previous contract.

UGA spokesmen couldn’t be reached Saturday.

And yet it could have been worse, some said.

“First off, I appreciate the policeman who stopped him,” Dee Matthews, a UGA alumnus and longtime president of the Albany area Bulldog Club, said earlier Friday. “He not only maybe saved Damon’s life, but also possibly that of the person with him.”

‘A huge mistake’

Ah, yes, that person with him. Fuhrmann, 28, of Atlanta, was charged with disorderly conduct because the trooper said she ignored his order to stay in Evans’ car during the 11:54 p.m. stop near Roswell and Chastain Roads. Evans, a married father of two, described Fuhrmann as a friend.

That was more than enough for most fans, who didn’t want to touch that angle of the story. Regrettably, though, it’s part of it, said one.

“It was a huge mistake and absolutely a young lady that was not his wife in the car is not helping his cause,” said Chuck Welch, president of the Forsyth County Bulldog Club. “I hate it for his family and not just the DUI, but for his personal life and his family, it makes it particularly tough.”

Welch said he’s been deeply impressed by Evans as the head of the UGA Athletics Department. He lauded Evans’ hiring of Mark Fox to be the head coach of UGA basketball.

“I just hate it for him,” said Welch, adding that he was putting his faith in president Adams to do a thorough review of the facts and make an informed decision on Evans’s fate. “I really do, because he’s made this huge mistake.”

It’s doubly painful considering all that UGA and Evans have done to sober up the atmosphere surrounding football.

Toughened policies

Evans was the front man when Georgia’s Athletic Association firmed up its alcohol policy, mandating suspensions for players arrested on charges of alcohol-related offenses.

Under the guidelines approved by Evans, football players must sit out 10 percent of the season for their first alcohol-related offense.

In 2006 under Evans’ watch, the school rewrote its rules governing pregame tailgating, to curtail excessive partying. Tailgaters were banned from setting up tents and tables until 7 a.m. and from several “family friendly” areas around campus where alcohol was banned.

Before each home football game, Evans appeared in a video on the Sanford Stadium scoreboard, warning imbibers that, “You drink, you drive, you lose.”

Sommerville, of the Cobb Bulldog Club, has seen it. Sadly, he says, it’s part of why he feels Evans ought to go.

“As he says himself on the video ... ‘If you drink and drive, you lose,’ ” said Sommerville. “He drank and drove. He’s lost.”

Staff writers Chip Towers, Rosalind Bentley and Helena Oliviero contributed to this report.