Kevin Anderson has taken his share of criticism since coming from Army to Maryland 27 months ago.
The athletic director got off to a rocky start with Maryland fans – and many in the local media – for the clumsy way he handled the firing of Ralph Friedgen in December 2010 and the subsequent hiring a few days later of Randy Edsall as the school’s football coach.
And that was before the Terps were a disastrous 2-10 in Edsall’s first season.
Then there was the cutting of seven sports to help trim a multi-million dollar deficit Anderson inherited from his predecessor, Debbie Yow. Given the timing of the announcement – in the middle of that nightmarish 2011 football season – Anderson became something of an easy target.
I should know, since I took as big a shot at Anderson as anyone in the local media.
So here’s giving Anderson some credit for helping get basketball transfer Dez Wells eligible before the Terps take the court at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Friday night against defending national champion Kentucky.
Mark Turgeon certainly did, telling reporters at a Wednesday news conference in College Park that “you choose jobs for a number of reasons – one it’s Maryland basketball and two, who you’re going to work for, and Kevin Anderson and his staff were phenomenal through the whole process.”
Anderson told me it was Wells who sold the NCAA’s legislative relief subcommittee on why he shouldn’t have to sit out the 2012-13 season in accordance with traditional transfer rules after being wrongly expelled for violating Xavier’s student conduct code, even though prosecutors refused to follow through with the charge of sexual assault.
But it was Anderson who stuck his neck out – twice, by my calculations – for championing Wells’ cause, first with university administrators in order to get him into Maryland and then with the NCAA. Given Anderson’s position as the president of the National Association of Athletic Directors, he put his own reputation on the line as well.
Anderson didn’t look at it that way, simply as a chance to test the NCAA’s brave new world of swift (and fair, depending on how you look at it) justice.
“I think particularly with what [NCAA president] Mark Emmert is trying to do now, he’s trying to create an atmosphere where we’re getting away from all these procedures and we do what is right for the student-athlete,” Anderson told me a few hours after Wells regained his eligibility. “Today proves what Mark Emmert is trying to do is starting to work.”
It’s a situation that couldn’t have existed when Yow was the athletic director and Gary Williams was Maryland’s basketball coach, mainly because their relationship was so toxic that it would never have gotten that far.
Yow would have simply turned Williams’ request down – as she did when he tried to bring in Tyree Evans, who had two felony drug arrests for on his record in high school. Evans wound up at Kent State, where he finished his career and did well both academically and on the court.
Whether he wants to admit it or not, Anderson took a big chance by giving Wells a second chance, even with prosecutors in Hamilton County, Ohio, telling the media that Wells was denied due process by Xavier and should never have been expelled in the first place.
Interestingly, one of the schools that reportedly turned down Wells was Kentucky, the first team Wells will face in his Maryland career. Not that Wildcats coach John Calipari didn’t want him – he did – but the university president was afraid of the uproar it might cause given the proximity of the two campuses.
While things have settled down surrounding Anderson – though the questions surrounding Edsall’s hiring won’t be settled until the Terps can go through a season without losing all three scholarship quarterbacks – Turgeon’s rebuilding job has been almost spotless.
Given how improved Maryland was supposed to be already, with or without Wells, another athletic director might have told his uber-competitive basketball coach to be patient, that other good players without any baggage (Wells was also suspended four games for last year’s brawl with Cincinnati) would eventually come.
Instead, Anderson read about what happened to Wells at Xavier and sat down with the 6-foot-5 guard from Raleigh, N.C., in his office.
“We didn’t talk about basketball, we talked about life. The more we talked, the more I was convinced that he would fit into our program, our family, with all that, I was convinced not only tthat bringing him to Maryland would help the school and help the team, but that he was a good young man,” Anderson told me Wednesday night. “It would benefit everybody.”
I told Anderson that a person familiar with what transpired Wednesday on the conference call with the NCAA said that Wells not only made a strong case for himself, but that Anderson acquitted himself well in a supporting role.
Anderson deflected any praise about the presentation.
“Dez was very impressive, the jury is still out on me,” Anderson said with a laugh.
At least one of Anderson’s former critics thinks that he deserves some credit on this one.