, Muskogee, OK

November 17, 2013

NSU AD discusses coach's firing

By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor

— TAHLEQUAH – Kenny Evans’ fate wasn’t revealed until Northeastern State had ended its season with a fourth straight President’s Cup win against Central Oklahoma on Saturday.

But in reality, that fate was shaped by what NSU athletic director Tony Duckworth said Sunday was a series of games in mid-October that convinced him the program needed a new direction.

“Probably the bellweather for me was the conclusion of the first quarter at Missouri Western. I wasn’t at that game. I was watching.  That was a quarter that stuck with my mind,” the third-year athletic director said in a press conference Sunday announcing the dismissal of Evans, 22-44 after six seasons.

NSU lost that game 54-10 after trailing 31-7 after one quarter.

Then came the only non-conference game a week later against Eastern New Mexico, a game Duckworth thought the RiverHawks should have won or done no worse than a close loss. NSU lost 35-14 to fall to 0-7.

“Those were games that really resonated with me in terms of really trying to reflect and determine where we were as a program,” he said.

What also concerned him was the lack of retention of upperclassmen that forced a bunch of first and second-year players into action, even with the fact that nine of 11 starters at the season’s outset weren’t in that spot Saturday due to injuries.

“Of the juniors and seniors who should be in our program today based on national letters of intent that were signed, based on financial agreements, we should have 41 juniors and seniors. Only 10 of those are still in the program,” he said.

“That’s just a fact. Injuries are part of football. But if you look at successful programs and let’s focus on the MIAA, you’re talking about a lot of four and five year seniors, a lot of three and four-year juniors that are in the program sprinkled with various transfers. ...This is not a league where you want to play with a bunch of freshmen and sophomores.”

The new coach will have an existing roster of 34 freshmen or redshirt freshmen which –  as Evans pointed out in his postgame remarks  just minutes before hearing he was out –  were going to restrict his next recruiting class to transfers from other four-year colleges or the junior college level. How many of those freshmen  remain at this point is uncertain.

Current assistant head coach John Murray will have oversight of the program but will not be given an “interim” tag, Duckworth said. Recruiting will be suspended until the hire is made, which Duckworth said he hoped would be accomplished within  a “45 to 60 day” window.

He said he had a short list of candidates he would approach, adding that his preference would be for someone with college coaching experience, although he wouldn’t “unequivocally” avoid a successful high school coach.

“It would have to be a unique situation for me to pull the trigger and make that recommendation. ... particularly if that individual has had minimal to no experience at the college level,” Duckworth said.

“If we did go that route –  don’t hold me to this because it could change based on circumstances –  but if we did go that route I would certainly have an agreement with that individual coming in that in all likelihood their (offensive and defensive coordinators) would have to have some pretty quality successful experience at the collegiate level.”

He also said he is looking for “a bit of a visionary” with a systematic process to building a program and one who could “get people to invest in our product.” He added the salary would be competitive in relationship to those in the conference but not necessarily at the top.

“I’m not going to say that at all but there’s more than the (top) two or three in our conference,” he said.