North Texas Daily

Men’s basketball coaches stand the test of time

Men’s basketball coaches stand the test of time

Men’s basketball coaches stand the test of time
January 22
00:07 2015

Scott Sidway / Staff Writer

When Mean Green basketball associate head coach Rob Evans first met head coach Tony Benford, Lyndon B. Johnson was still president, the Beatles appeared on the “Ed Sullivan Show” for the first time and there was no such thing as a Super Bowl.

But 51 years ago, Benford had no idea he was meeting a lifelong friend and mentor. That is because 51 years ago in March, Benford was born.

“Tony is a relative of mine,” Evans said. “My uncle is married to his grandmother, so I’ve known Tony since he was born. I went to school with his dad and his mom.”

Both Mean Green coaches grew up in Hobbs, New Mexico, an eastern border city that is only an hour and a half drive from Lubbock, Texas.  Evans was a multi-sport athlete in high school and college and was drafted in baseball by the Houston Colt 45s, which would later become the Houston Astros. He also spent a year under John Madden with the Oakland Raiders as a wide receiver.

Eventually, Evans settled in with basketball and found his niche coaching.  At this time, Benford was growing into his own as a point guard, so Evans recruited him to Texas Tech University where he served as an assistant coach.

“Early on, I watched Tony as a pre-teenager working at jobs with his grandmother and my uncle so I knew his work ethic,” Evans said. “I watched him all the way throughout junior high school develop into a highly skilled basketball player, so I started recruiting him.”

Benford blossomed at Texas Tech by winning two Southwest Conference championships, and was drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1986. But for Benford, he said coaching was always on his mind because of the influence that Evans and his high school coach Ralph Tasker had on him.

“The impact they had on my life early on and watching the success they were having, I thought, ‘Man that would be fun to have an impact on young lives like coach Evans has had on myself,’” Benford said.

Evans knew of Benford’s coaching aspirations so the two stayed in touch throughout Benford’s early days outside professional basketball.

“I continued to follow his career and knew he wanted to get into coaching,” Evans said. “So I helped him get a job at a private school in Lubbock, knowing all that time that eventually if I became a head coach, I was going to want him on my staff.”

After his coaching days at Texas Tech, Evans went on to become the head coach at the University of Mississippi for six years, where he won two Southeastern Conference championships. While at Ole Miss, Evans said he talked to Benford four or five times a week, until one day in 1998 when Evans decided to take the head coaching job at Arizona State University.

“The first call I made was to Dave Bliss to say I needed Tony on my staff,” Evans said.

Bliss was the head coach at the University of New Mexico, where Benford was serving as an assistant. Despite the lifelong relationship with Evans, Benford said he was hesitant to leave New Mexico.

“When he got the job at Arizona State, he called me and said, ‘Tony, I need you to join me,’” Benford said.  “And we had a lot of success at New Mexico, so I didn’t know if I wanted the rebuilding situation. But he said, ‘I need you, like family. I need you.’ So I ended up joining him there.”

Benford spent eight seasons at Arizona State as Evans’ assistant, two of them as his associate head coach, before the two parted ways again. Benford took assistant coaching jobs at the University of Nebraska and Marquette University, while Evans moved on to assistant jobs at Arkansas University and Texas Christian University.

The tables turned in 2012, when Benford was offered the head coaching position at the University of North Texas. And just like Benford was Evans’ first call before heading to Arizona State, Evans was a priority of Benford’s and received a call to join the Mean Green staff.

It is rare for such a strong role reversal to occur in the coaching ranks, but because of the longstanding relationship and family ties, Benford and Evans maintain a positive working relationship.

“My relationship with Tony is such that I can tell him what I really feel and not be intimidated. And he was the same with me when he was on my staff,” Evans said. “I tell Tony what he needs to hear, not what he wants to hear. And it’s vice versa.”

Senior forward Colin Voss is in his second season with both coaches, and he said Benford and Evans compliment each other well.

“They’re both really good at working together,” Voss said. “Coach Benford, he has no ego in his coaching. If Coach Evans knows something that [Benford] doesn’t know, [Benford] has no problem letting Coach Evans come and talk to us. And if Coach Evans feels that Coach Benford knows something better, he knows that he’s the head man here.”

Even though Benford is Evans’ boss after years of being his assistant, Benford said he would not be where he is without Evans’ tutelage.

“He taught me a lot about how to run a program,” Benford said. “He was great at delegating and letting us do a lot of things on the floor, not just only recruiting, but how to deal with boosters, how to communicate with the media. So he really kind of laid the foundation for me to become a head coach.”

But even beyond the nuances of the game, Benford said that Evans’ impact on him through a 50-year relationship, both at family reunions and on the hardwood, is why Evans is such a valuable asset to the Mean Green.

“He helped shape my life and he taught me how to be a husband, a father and a man just by the way he conducted himself with his family, watching that, and the time he spent with me when I played,” Benford said. “I thought it’d be great to have him on our staff, and that he could help do the same thing and shape our guys here.”

Featured Image: Head coach Tony Benford, left, shouts at his players during a home game in early January while other members of the coaching staff, like Rob Evans,right, watch the game unfold. Photo courtesy of Mean Green Sports

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