MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

November 17, 2013

Awkward tenure over; for NSU, now what?

By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor

— Kenny Evans’ six-year tenure at Northeastern State ended about like it started – awkwardly.

When Evans was hired, he was not only asked to retain the current staff but in a bizarre request, was asked to keep John Horner – the guy who they fired to bring the Warner native on board – on his staff for a year. When Evans was fired Saturday, it was an hour or so after a win over the school’s archrival.

The bizarre front-end agreement was under an interim president and a different athletic director who wasn’t around for Evans’ debut. These however, are different times, with a new athletic director, a new president and a brutal new conference affiliation. Oh, and some lingering bitterness over the school’s identity, divided squarely between Redmen and RiverHawks.

NSU is definitely in need of a salesman, and as athletic director Tony Duckworth said in Sunday’s news conference to announce the firing of Evans, winning goes a long way toward unity. Evans, 22-44 at NSU and 6-15 since joining the MIAA, didn’t do that, and perhaps hampered by certain circumstances including recruiting and scholarship shortfalls in a land of Division II giants, didn’t have a true chance.

And in the end, brutal defeats to Missouri Western and ironically, Eastern New Mexico, the top team in the RiverHawks’ old Lone Star Conference, had Duckworth’s mind made up. A fourth straight President’s Cup win was hardly enough to erase all that.

Maybe if the players had spent more time on the field than raising money for the last two sets of uniforms....oh well.

When told of his fate, Evans thought  ”it was a joke at first.”  I thought he was joking about Horner way back.  

After hearing, in his words,  ”about that time” of the evaluation that he was being given a raise, it’s understandable.  He’s had three different presidents and ADs writing his checks anyway.

As far as the attrition of juniors and seniors Duckworth mentioned Sunday as an issue, Evans said those weren’t accurate, but didn’t have specific numbers.

Evans described it as being in a “gun fight when he had a pocket knife.”  Interestingly, Duckworth said the next coach should be someone who “is going to be knocking on my door every other day telling me what we don’t have and why we’re not being successful.”

Still, uniform fundraisers by the players?   

If Evans, who is truly a nice guy and liked by many, wasn’t that way, it wouldn’t have been his problem. He’d been at MIAA neighbor Missouri Southern, a job he turned down a couple years back.

Duckworth, who can’t be blamed for the actions of previous administrations, calls the upcoming coaching search “a hire that we have to make the right decision on.” Maybe more along the line of a  job-defining hire or a program-defining hire. If you’re going to swim with the sharks of what’s known as the SEC of Division II, you’d better bring the right tools.

And from early returns, Duckworth’s hiring of baseball, softball and women’s tennis coaches have been good ones, so he’s on that kind of roll. But this is King Football, which is supposed to go much further in funding an athletic program than women’s tennis.

He may be right in preferring a college coach or a coach with some college background.  He’s definitely right when he says he needs someone who will sell this program. To do that, that coach has got to sell to the Redman and RiverHawk at a rate of return of more than $100 gifts, as well as  to recruits who, let’s hope, don’t have to fund raise.

The right kind of hire might bring all of that, and there’s a few locals that would – albeit not college coaches.

Jenks’ Allan Trimble comes to mind as someone who might be wooed. Former Muskogee coach Matt Hennesy, in my mind, would be a good fit as a college coach.  Word has it from some of the old line that hiring either would ease some of that nickname bitterness and consequently some support issues.

Maybe the savior is on Duckworth’s short list.

It is an important hire.

Time to go to work Tony. Good luck, and most definitely, guns instead of pocket knives.