Devils' Advocate

ASU coach Rob Evans rocks his world

John Madden, the ex-Raiders' coach turned famed sportscaster, came to Las Cruces to scout Evans:

"I didn't really want to play football, and I told him he needed to go to Hobbs to talk to my mother about it. John goes to Hobbs and tells Mom about a three-year contract at X amount of dollars. She says, I don't have any problem with that.' So I went to camp with [quarterback Kenny] Stabler and the boys. Stuck around a while."

Evans faced an early career decision at the age of 22. He could spend the season on the practice squad with the Raiders, wait until the following year, then try again. But his coach at New Mexico State, Lou Henson, already had offered him a job as a graduate assistant.

Irvin Serrano
Rob Evans led his New Mexico State team to two NCAA tournaments in the late 1960s.
Rob Evans led his New Mexico State team to two NCAA tournaments in the late 1960s.

It was a time when conventional and racist thinking still held that blacks weren't smart enough to play quarterback, much less coach. Only three black men were coaching major-college basketball in 1968, and all of them were assistants.

Evans took the coaching job, then was offered a full-time position the following year. Salary: $10,000.

He married Carolyn Marshall in Hobbs on July 25, 1970. The new Mrs. Evans learned firsthand about life as the wife of an assistant coach. That included stretches of up to six weeks without seeing him during the off-season recruiting time.

Evans and fellow assistant Ed Murphy scoured the nation in the early 1970s for basketball talent. They spent a lot of time in the Deep South, a place where the stench of the Ku Klux Klan still hung heavy, and the notion of a black man recruiting kids of all colors to play ball for his team was abhorrent to many.

Because Southern motels still were segregated (and for safety's sake), he and Murphy, who is white, often went separate ways after dark. But this was Rob Evans' job, his life, and he was determined to do it well.

Evans says he was undaunted that many people saw him as a black man first, and as a coach second: "I've always been comfortable with people, no matter what their color. I know it's hard to believe, but I don't see black or white when it comes to recruiting a kid. He's either my type of player or he's not."

New Mexico State's head basketball job opened up after the 1974-75 season, and Evans, then 28, applied for it. But the school looked elsewhere after a painfully protracted process, and an unhappy Evans found a new job as an assistant coach at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

Evans stayed there for the next 15 years, as he and Carolyn raised their two children, Damon and Amber. During that time, Carolyn Evans taught child development for a time at South Plains Community College.

"We decided to focus on the stability of raising our kids in one place," Rob Evans says. "You get one chance to raise your kids, and you have to do it right. Lubbock was a good place to do it."

Texas Tech made it to the NCAA tournament three times during Evans' tenure, and his reputation as one of the nation's top assistants continued to grow. But the Red Raiders fell on hard times in the late 1980s, and after the 1990-91 season, head coach Gerald Myers was promoted into an administrative position at the school.

Evans wanted the head job badly, and stories published at the time called him the clear front-runner. But again, he didn't get the gig.

Bitterly disappointed, Evans sent out his résumé, and quickly got hired by Eddie Sutton, the veteran Oklahoma State coach. Then, after Evans' second season at Oklahoma State a Sweet 16 finish for the Cowboys he became a "commodity."

First, both Rice and Baylor offered him their head coaching slots.

Then a third offer popped up. Though the head coaching job at the University of Mississippi was fraught with momentously uphill challenges on and off the court, Evans decided to give it a go at a starting salary of $90,000.

Without a hint of pretense, he says that "divine intervention" led him, Carolyn and their two children to Oxford, Mississippi, before the start of the 1992-93 season.

It was one thing to recruit players in Mississippi in the aftermath of the civil rights era, but quite another to coach there, even in the early 1990s.

To be sure, the attitudes of many had changed in the Deep South by 1992, though educational and economic opportunities for blacks in Mississippi lagged (and still lag) behind most of the rest of the nation. And basketball at Ole Miss was considered a minor sport compared to the state's top dog, football.

But the school's top brass including Rob Evans' ex-college teammate Gerald Turner were convinced that the time was right for a black coach, specifically Rob Evans. (Ironically, Evans replaced Ed Murphy, his old coaching associate from New Mexico State.)

The University of Mississippi campus and the town were charming, picture-perfect. But most black kids and their parents still didn't want to have anything to do with the school and its racist trappings where the Confederate flag and all it symbolized still waved proudly and defiantly.

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