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Half a century in the making, Rob Evans continues touching lives with the Mean Green

Half a century in the making, Rob Evans continues touching lives with the Mean Green

North Texas associate head coach Rob Evans talks with a referee after the Mean Green called a timeout against Charlotte. Colin Mitchell

Half a century in the making, Rob Evans continues touching lives with the Mean Green
February 15
16:13 2017

As men’s basketball associate head coach Rob Evans strides through the glass doors that separate the basketball offices from the concourse of the Super Pit, he stops to say a quick hello to all who cross his path.

The 70-year old Evans gets to his office amid those trying to give their greetings and gets settled at his desk. He looks around, reminiscing on over half a century of basketball memories that include a scrapbook from the Final Four team Evans was a graduate assistant on to something a bit more personal – a picture of his wife of over 45 years.

In his home away from home, that is the thing displayed front and center.

“I enjoy getting up and coming to work,” Evans said. “I’ve spent a lot of time working in college athletics and a lifetime in coaching. I’ve worked with a lot of coaches and I’m not sure if I’ve enjoyed it any more than I have with Tony [Benford].”

In the lobby of the basketball office sits administrative coordinator Bonita White. White has developed a friendship with Evans over the years, something that is not hard to do with the easy-going coach.

“It’s terrific to have him around because he can always make you feel like you’re a part of something bigger,” White said. “It gives you value within the program. He has a way for making people feel valued.”

Just down the hall from Evans’ office sits lifetime friend, head coach Tony Benford. Evans has known Benford since the day he was born, and the pair both grew up in the oil town of Hobbs, New Mexico.

The Sandlot

Evans was born in Hobbs in 1946 and was one of seven children, growing up with three older brothers, a younger brother and two sisters. His love for sports came from tough brotherly love from his older siblings.

He would tag along with his older brothers to play sandlot baseball, basketball and football. Hanging around an older crowd, Evans knew he would have to get tough to survive.

“I would get banged up a little bit and start wanting to whine,” Evans said. “But they would tell me if I wanted to go play with the little guys I could go play with the little guys. Otherwise, shut up and play.”

He shut up.

Evans went on to be a multi-sport standout in Hobbs before blossoming as a shortstop. He caught the eye of MLB scouts from the Colt 45s, now the Houston Astros, who wanted to draft Evans straight out of high school.

But Evans’ mother wanted him and all of her children to get an education.

“She told me it’s great they drafted you,” Evans said. “But if they want you, they can come get you after you graduate. It was not if I was going to go but where was I going to go.”

Education and athletics

Evans started his education at Lubbock Christian University where he became an All-American in 1966. Evans then made the jump to Division I in his home state at New Mexico State University.

The English major captained the Aggies to two NCAA tournament berths, being defeated by Elvin Hayes and Houston in 1967. In 1968 the Aggies were downed by the mighty Bruins of UCLA, led by NBA Hall-of-Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who were the eventual national champions.

Prior to his final year of college, Evans knew he wanted to get into coaching, but an interesting opportunity arose. The football staff had been trying to get him to play football, and when John Madden of the Oakland Raiders was on the New Mexico State campus checking out football prospects, the football staff told him about Evans.

Madden was interested and asked Evans to run a forty-yard dash for him. Impressed, he asked Evans if he would join the Raiders in camp.

After a very quick stint with the Raiders, Evans decided with the help of his mother he would return to New Mexico to become a graduate assistant.

“That’s what I wanted to do with my career,” Evans said. “I’ve been very blessed. I was blessed to have a mother that helped take me down the right path. Every decision was with her blessing.”

The beginning of an illustrious career

Evans always knew he would be a coach, and his time at New Mexico State was just the beginning of a long career. An Aggie team made up of former teammates of Evans’ would earn a trip to the Final Four in 1970 with him as an assistant.

He then helped three Texas Tech squads claim Southwest Conference Tournament titles, and in two years with Oklahoma State University, he and the Cowboys reached two Sweet 16 appearances. After 24 years as an assistant, Evans got a chance he could not turn down.

But it was not the most attractive option.

Evans was a candidate for the head coach job at the University of Mississippi. The problem was, the Rebels only had one winning season in the last nine years.

Evans’ boss at Oklahoma State, College Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Eddie Sutton, warned him to not take the job.

Evans did not heed his friends’ advice.

And with a lot of dedication and early morning meetings with groups on campus, he led the Rebels to back-to-back NCAA Tournament bids in 1997 and 1998. He was named the SEC Coach of the Year in 1997.

“I felt like I could do it,” Evans said. “I had to put my head down and not believe what people told me because of the history of the school. They told me I wouldn’t get Afro-American athletes. Nobody cared about basketball. It was just a bad situation.”

Evans eventually moved on to head Arizona State University, where he hired Benford as an assistant and eventual associate head coach. The hearty veteran would then move on to Arkansas University before a one-year stay at Texas Christian University.

And in 2012, Evans reunited with Benford at North Texas.

“It’s been fun,” Benford said. “He’s a role model for these young players and young coaches in the business. Everybody knows coach. He’s been a great ambassador for our university and for our program.”

Senior guard J-Mychal Reese is just one of many that have been impacted by Evans in his long career.

Whether it’s on the court or off, Evans can offer a guide.

“You can’t deny the wisdom that he has,” Reese said. “It helps us a lot because there’s not a situation that he hasn’t seen.”

Surrounded by his memories in his office, Evans ponders back on a career that spans over half a century. The friends he’s made along the way – whether it be legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski or actor Denzel Washington – are nice.

But for Evans, the joy in coaching lies in his students and how he taught them.

“I did it the right way,” Evans said. “I did it honest. It’s not about Rob Evans. I have no regrets about anything I’ve done in the business of basketball. The kids trusted me and they still trust me.”

Featured Image: North Texas associate head coach Rob Evans talks with a referee after the Mean Green called a timeout against Charlotte. Colin Mitchell

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Clay Massey

Clay Massey

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