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Kevin Anderson taking six-month sabbatical from duties as Maryland's athletic director

Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson, whose job status was the focus of a flurry of reports Saturday, is taking a six-month “professional development sabbatical” while remaining on the job, according to a memo he sent to the university’s coaches Monday.

In the memo, later released by the university, Anderson wrote that he will be working on “various projects focusing on leadership development, including work with a broad coalition of groups focused on issues of equity, student athlete activism and inclusion in college athletics.”

Whether Anderson will return after his sabbatical is unclear. Upon taking the job in 2010, he signed a five-year deal that included an evergreen clause that rolled over each year through the end of the contract. If the school parts ways with Anderson, he would not be owed a buyout, according to a copy of his contract obtained in a public-records request.

Anderson’s current contract runs out in 2019, a university spokesman said Tuesday.

Damon Evans, whom Anderson brought in as senior associate athletic director in 2014, will assume Anderson’s day-to-day duties, according to a statement school President Wallace D. Loh sent Monday to members of his cabinet and university deans.

In wishing Anderson “a productive and fulfilling sabbatical after seven years of valued service,” Loh said that during his three years at Maryland, Evans has “assumed increasing responsibilities as Executive Director, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer of Athletics. Damon will provide stable and strong leadership.”

Evans was considered a fast-rising star in athletic administration at Georgia, where he played football. Hired as the school’s athletic director in 2004 after longtime coach Vince Dooley was forced out from the position, Evans had signed an extension for a reported $500,000 annually in 2010.

The night before the deal was to take effect, Evans was arrested and charged with driving under the influence and forced to resign. He spent the next four years working for a number of private companies before Anderson hired him at Maryland after Nathan Pine left to become athletic director at Holy Cross.

In a statement released Monday by the athletic department, Evans thanked Loh for the opportunity to lead Maryland sports in Anderson’s absence.

“It’s truly a privilege to work collectively with a talented group of students, coaches and administrators who work tirelessly to be at the forefront of the Big Ten both academically and athletically,” Evans said in the statement.

“We have a strong foundation to build upon — we have won the most championships in the Big Ten since joining the conference in 2014 and have an academic profile we are extremely proud of. We will continue to sustain a culture of athletic and academic excellence.”

Monday’s announcements quieted two days of speculation regarding Anderson’s job status.

On Saturday, several media outlets reported that Anderson, the school’s athletic director since 2010, had been fired. The university then sent out a tweet saying Anderson was still the athletic director. A university spokesman would not comment on whether Anderson, whose salary was $587,000 last year, was on paid administrative leave.

Sources within the department said Saturday that Anderson has not been seen in his office since the end of September, and had not attended any of the team’s football games, including Maryland’s home game this past weekend against Northwestern.

Anderson, who replaced Debbie Yow after serving six years as athletic director at Army, could not be reached for comment.

It isn’t clear what led Anderson to his decision, or whether Loh had any hand in forcing it. There have been reports of friction between the two as a result of Anderson’s name surfacing for an athletic director vacancy this fall at California.

While his early tenure at Maryland was marred by the widely criticized firing of Ralph Friedgen in 2010 and subsequent hiring of Randy Edsall, whom Anderson fired during the middle of the 2015 season, recent years were marked by more stability and success.

The men’s lacrosse team’s national championship last spring — one of 10 conference and national titles the Terps have won the past four years, the most in the Big Ten Conference since Maryland joined the league — and the opening of the football indoor practice facility as part of a $196 million Cole Field House renovation project were among the high points.

Former Maryland men’s basketball star Tom McMillen, who had worked closely with Anderson as a member of the school’s Board of Regents as well as in his current position as president and CEO of the Lead1 Association, which works with college athletic directors, said Monday that things appeared to be running smoothly in College Park.

“DJ Durkin and Mark Turgeon are both great coaches,” McMillen said of Anderson’s two most notable hires. “They’ve done well in their minor sports. I think financially, they’re on sounder ground. Obviously, the Big Ten is a big plus there.”

Still, McMillen believes Maryland — particularly its football program — is fighting a constant, uphill battle in trying to become more relevant in the Big Ten as well as in the pro-sports-oriented Baltimore-Washington market.

“It’s a tough AD job because you’re in an extremely competitive league with football, and you’re in a very competitive market for the dollar,” McMillen said. “I know that Kevin was working very hard on [fundraising] and is focused on it.”

McMillen has seen “enormous” turnover among Anderson’s peers. McMillen estimates there have been “around 40” athletic directors either move between schools or leave the business in the past two years. Most recently, Bill Moos left his post at Washington State for the same job at Nebraska, which had just fired its athletic director.

“It’s like musical chairs, really,” McMillen said.

McMillen said running a Division I athletic department is like being the CEO of a multimillion-dollar business.

“You think of Maryland being a $100 million business, but it’s really akin in terms of notability and in terms of impact, it’s probably closer to five to 10 times that,” McMillen said. “It’s a major, major job. Kevin is very well respected amongst his peers. He’ll do well whatever he decides to do. I’m not worried about him.”

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