Longform

Devils' Advocate

Page 4 of 7

The two struck up a conversation, then a friendship.

"I grew up in the same kind of background as Rob," Carolyn Evans says, "with no money by any stretch of the imagination, but with the knowledge that you just have to be productive and go from there. But it was still a stretch for a black kid from Hobbs to ever think he or she could go to college, even if they had that aspiration. To have the money to do so was an issue." (She later would earn her college degree from Wayland Baptist University, near Lubbock.)

As for her feelings for Evans, she recalls, "In my mental list of what I'd be looking for in a spouse, Rob was the only guy. First, it had to be a love thing. I was independent and willing to persevere, and that prepared me in becoming part of Rob's quest to become a head coach. In the context of the times, that wasn't going to be easy."

Evans transferred to New Mexico State after his sophomore year, and became team captain soon after workouts for the 1966-67 season started in Las Cruces. In his two years there (both seasons ended with NCAA tournament bids), the 6-1 Evans won respect for his leadership qualities, knowledge of the game and relentless defensive play.

He also continued to battle in the classroom, and earned his bachelor's degree in education in May 1968. His parents and Carolyn Marshall were among those attending the graduation ceremony.

For a long time, Evans' ambition had been to get his degree, then return to Hobbs and teach high school English. But now he was hungering for a career as a basketball coach, specifically as a major-college head coach.

But other possibilities loomed. The Dallas Chaparrals of the American Basketball Association drafted Evans after his senior year. And football's Oakland Raiders offered him a free-agent contract as a wide receiver, surprising because he hadn't played organized football since high school.

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.

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.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin