Fire HIM!

A mediocre record and coddling thugs on his team didn't keep ASU football coach Dirk Koetter from getting a big raise

Commentary

"The [win-loss] records of the two programs," Langhough says, "are not that different."


Rob Evans took over Arizona State University's mortally wounded basketball program in April 1998.

Building character was first on his agenda: Fired ASU basketball coach Rob Evans
courtesy of Arizona State University
Building character was first on his agenda: Fired ASU basketball coach Rob Evans
Loren Wade reputedly threatened to kill two other students before he killed former football player Brandon Falkner.
courtesy of Maricopa County SheriffÕs Office
Loren Wade reputedly threatened to kill two other students before he killed former football player Brandon Falkner.

Evans inherited the afterbirth of a point-shaving scandal that earned the Sun Devils an eternal bust in the Sports Betting Hall of Shame.

Illegal betting wasn't the only problem on a messy plate. ASU basketball players had been arrested on sexual assault, theft, disorderly conduct and unlawful use of phone credit cards charges while their coach was busy mastering the Las Vegas blackjack tables.

No coach in the history of the Tempe-based university has taken over a program saddled with such a shameful image. ASU basketball was the object of ridicule and scorn from fans, players and the parents of blue-chip high school prospects across the nation.

The betting debacle was the subject of documentaries.

Shoddy oversight by the ASU athletic department allowed a point-shaving scheme to eventually land two college basketball players behind bars.

What could be worse for a sports-centric university?

Well, unfortunately, a more horrible event would rock the ASU athletic department, but it wouldn't be under Evans' watch.

Evans was eager for the challenge of rebuilding ASU's basketball program.

He already had engineered the University of Mississippi's rise to power, turning the perennial loser into a two-time Southeast Conference champion. He led Mississippi to its first 20-win season in 59 years, accomplishing the feat twice.

Evans took the team to its second and third NCAA tournaments ever.

He built the Ole Miss program by recruiting skilled players with solid character. It was a slow process, but one that led to success and to a job offer from Louisiana State University -- which Evans turned down.

Upon his arrival in Tempe, Evans abandoned the bottom-feeding recruiting practices of his predecessor Bill Frieder, whose coaching regime had put about half a dozen thugs into maroon-and-gold uniforms.

Evans pushed aside a cadre of slimy Sun Angel Foundation boosters who had foisted cash on players, paid for their apartments and provided them cars. Some of these boosters would later lead the charge to have him fired.

Evans focused on recruiting youths who planned to actually graduate from college while conducting themselves admirably on and off the court.

Evans accomplished a remarkable turnaround with virtually no support from the university. ASU failed miserably to market the program while forcing his team to conduct many practices at nearby high schools.

ASU's lack of support for the basketball program is best reflected in its paltry advertising budget. In 1992, ASU spent $32,400 on publicity for the men's basketball program. The spending plummeted to $24,000 in 2004.

Advertising for football, meanwhile, jumped from $93,000 in 1992 to $395,000 in 2004.

The lack of promotion made it difficult to attract many fans to the sterile, 14,198-seat Wells Fargo Arena. That, combined with the fact that the great majority of ASU's 50,000 students live off campus, exacerbated the monumental challenge of overcoming the lingering odor of the betting scandal.

Who wants to root for a university basketball team that is best known for shaving points?

After a brief honeymoon, the media soon turned on Evans, attacking him in part for failing to attract fans. The criticism was unjustified. The lack of fan support at Sun Devil basketball games has been a problem since ASU moved into the bland arena in 1974.

The reality is that Evans had the highest average attendance of any ASU coach. It averaged 7,898 fans per game during Evans' eight years. This was better than Frieder's 7,490 fans over eight years. ASU's legendary coach Ned Wulk attracted an average of 7,462 fans per game during the eight years his teams played in the arena.

Evans' basketball teams were also moneymakers for the ASU athletic department. The squad generated $4.3 million for the department in the 2004-2005 season, and after expenses, left a $1.5 million surplus that was used to help defray the cost of other sports.

The basketball team made money despite the fact that the athletic department did virtually nothing to encourage students, staff, faculty and community members to attend home games. The tickets are overpriced, the food is lousy and there are no beer sales. The halftime shows are dreadful, and the pep band needs a makeover.

Playing before sparse crowds, Evans nevertheless took his teams to the NCAA Tournament once, reaching the second round, and to three appearances in the also-ran National Invitation Tournament. In two seasons his squads went to the NIT, they were perhaps a win or two away from going to the NCAA tourney.

More important, none of his players was ever arrested for anything.

Evans was sending out the signal to the homes of high school stars across the country that ASU's outlaw days were over as long as he was running the program.

Higher-caliber high school recruits started considering ASU as a possibility. Four years after arriving, Evans persuaded Ike Diogu, one of the most sought-after high school players in the nation, that he should come to ASU.

Diogu went on to become one of the greatest ASU players in history. He jumped to the pros after his junior year, leaving Evans with a young, untested team that stumbled this past season to an 11-17 record. It included a humiliating loss to unknown Utah Valley State.

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