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Coaching legend has earned Mean Green’s respect
Brett Medeiros / Staff Writer
From the first day Tony Benford took the helm as Mean Green men’s basketball coach in April, he set out to bring in close friend Rob Evans to assist him in his new campaign with UNT.
“It was very important to me to bring him in,” Benford said. “He was the person on the top of the list no matter what head coach job I would get. Coach [Evans] has been through it all. There isn’t a situation he doesn’t know how to handle.”
In 1968, when his playing career at New Mexico State University came to an end, Evans became the third African-American Division I coach in NCAA basketball history when he joined the Aggies staff after his senior season.
“I remember the other assistant coach on the staff asking me what I wanted to do, and I said, ‘I want to be a head coach at a major college,’” Evans said. “His response was that I need to shoot my sights a little shorter…and that challenged me.”
From playing under Hall of Fame head coach Ralph Tasker at Hobbs High School to becoming an All-American at Lubbock Christian University to appearing in the final four with NMSU and being named National Coach of the Year in 1997 with the University of Mississippi, Evans has no shortage of accolades under his belt.
Every day Evans still wears his 1968 Final Four ring that he earned as a player at NMSU, but another one of his accomplishments stands out. Evans was the first African-American head coach at Ole Miss in 1992.
Evans had to battle the state’s racial divide and unfavorable recruiting while taking over a program that was considered to be “below ground.” The Ole Miss job was in some ways considered an occupational hazard.
“I made it a point that I was going to go to Mississippi,” Evans said. “I felt like there was a reason that we [Evans’s family] needed to go to Mississippi and take that job. We can show a different light on some things if we can go there and be successful. I was told that not even Dr. James Naismith, basketball’s creator, could ever win there.”
In his seven years at Ole Miss, Evans produced three winning seasons, two SEC regular season titles and two NCAA tournament appearances.
Evans’s experience and wisdom is not lost on the UNT players. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Evans delivered a speech to the team.
“What he told us was that every single day when you wake up, take pride in your life and never waste a minute of it because you’ll never know when it’s going to be your last,” senior guard Roger Franklin said. “Coach Evans is an idol, a legend. What he has taught me over these past couple of months I will never forget.”
With the experience Evans brings to UNT, he is respected by everyone in the business.
“What he brings is invaluable, there is no price you can put on it,” UNT Athletic Director Rick Villarreal said. “When Coach Evans talks in front of that team everyone’s eyes are on him because of that respect.”