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

While Evans' accomplishments might not turn heads at perennial national powers such as UCLA or Arizona, the 59-year-old coach from Las Cruces, New Mexico, pulled off an incredible feat by reviving a Sun Devil program that was branded as criminal and corrupt.

"Coach Evans entered a basketball program that was previously filled with scandal and athletes who did not represent the university in a positive manner," ASU alum Harry Burton wrote in a March 9 e-mail to Lisa Love encouraging her to hang on to Evans. "Coach Evans was able to build the program, I believe, into a respectable one. . . . He is a dynamic leader and a very good coach."

(This and other e-mails from alums were obtained by New Times under the Arizona Public Records law. The university is withholding all e-mails involving Loren Wade.)

Murder victim Brandon Falkner
courtesy of Student Media
Murder victim Brandon Falkner

Instead of keeping Evans, Love kowtowed to the wishes of powerful boosters, one of whom obtained a FIREROB vanity license plate.

The ironic thing is, Evans could have avoided such an ignoble ending at Arizona State if he wasn't such a loyal guy.

In 2002, the University of New Mexico made a sweet overture for Evans to return to his home state. The Lobos dangled more money, prestige and power. In New Mexico, college athletics is all there is, and Evans would have had the opportunity to floor teams before a packed house of fanatic fans in an arena nicknamed The Pit.

Evans would have been treated as royalty -- the virtual Lute Olson of Albuquerque.

But Evans politely turned down the $4.9 million, seven-year offer. At the time, Evans was making $400,000 a year. But he wasn't about to bolt on his players. And, he had not yet accomplished his goal of turning the Sun Devil basketball program into a national powerhouse built on the shoulders of solid citizens.

When given the chance to return the tip of the hat, ASU athletic director Love and president Michael Crow displayed an appalling lack of appreciation and respect for Evans. The coach who not only remained loyal, but who always did the right thing in handling his players -- even if it cost the team victories -- was out.

Instead of coaching a squad with many promising recruits that has a real chance of winning 20 games and beating archrival Arizona next season, Evans faces the possibility of not coaching for the first time in 38 years.

Ever loyal, Evans politely declined to comment when he was told that this column would question why he was fired and why Koetter, despite his team's off-field problems, is still around and financially prospering. Koetter and Love stonewalled New Times, refusing repeated requests to be interviewed about the apparent inequities in the athletic department.

In statements made to the media after his dismissal, Evans contended he accomplished what he set out to do: Clean up a troubled program, get to postseason play and prepare the team to jump to the next level of competition.

"We felt like we had it on track to make some noise with the kids coming in for next year," Evans said in a March interview with Channel 12. "The program now has a chance to move forward."

Former ASU basketball player Brandon Goldman in a March 7 letter urged Love to keep Evans as coach. Goldman was a non-scholarship player but an inspiration to the team and fans, and was named team captain his senior year in 2004.

"Coach Evans brought the respect and the integrity to the ASU program that was never seen before," Goldman wrote. "From a coaching, recruiting, scholastic, and integrity standpoint there is no better man for this job. Everyone at ASU owes Coach Evans and his staff the time and the patience to see this through."


Dirk Koetter left his job as head coach at Boise State University and took over as ASU football coach in December 2000.

It was his dream job.

Koetter says on his personal Web site that he had coveted the ASU coaching job for a decade before landing the position.

"In the end, make no mistake, this is where I want to be, because Arizona State has the ability to win a national championship," Koetter says.

Koetter inherited a program with a long tradition of championship football that included two Pac-10 titles and two trips to the Rose Bowl.

But Sun Devil football was in decline from the heyday of the 1996 team that ran the table in the regular season, shutting out defending national champion Nebraska along the way. The Sun Devils came within a minute of winning the national title in the 1997 Rose Bowl before losing to Ohio State, 20-17, in one of the greatest Rose Bowls ever played.

After five seasons at the helm, the 47-year-old Koetter has not yet come close to establishing himself among the elite of ASU's coaches who include the late Dan Devine and the legendary Frank Kush, both of whom coached undefeated teams.

Nor has he reached the level below that occupied by John Cooper and Bruce Snyder, who won Pac-10 titles in 1986 and 1996, respectively. Cooper's team won the 1987 Rose Bowl against Michigan, while Snyder's team lost the 1997 Rose Bowl to an Ohio State team coached ironically by Cooper.

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