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Evans Deserves Better

By Rick Wright
Of the Journal
    Coach Rob Evans is in trouble, with a capital T, at Arizona State. There, but for the grace of God, Rudy Davalos and perhaps Evans himself, goes Ritchie McKay.
    Why is Evans in trouble?
    His Sun Devils men's basketball team went 18-14 last year and has lost its star player, low-post monster Ike Diogu, to the Golden State Warriors.
    Evans' career record at ASU is a mediocre 108-103. Only once in seven years has he taken the Devils to the NCAA Tournament.
    He has two years left on his contract and wants an extension. ASU says OK, but doesn't want to guarantee any more money. Some extension.
    Last week, an Arizona Republic columnist called on ASU to buy out Evans' contract now and be done with it.
    And we care about all this why?
    Hey, Evans is a New Mexico guy— played for Ralph Tasker at Hobbs, for Lou Henson at New Mexico State.
    Far more interesting than Evans' New Mexico connection, however, is his New Mexico disconnection. Three years ago, Evans was the people's choice to become the coach at UNM.
    Well, at least he was this person's choice. "Welcome home, Rob," I wrote in a column published March 29, 2002, after Evans surfaced as a candidate for the job vacated by Fran Fraschilla.
    But Evans either turned down the position or never was offered it, depending on whether one believes him or Davalos, UNM's athletic director. Evans and Davalos— two people you wouldn't invite to share a table at Starbucks.
    Davalos then hired Ritchie McKay, a guy stuck with a dead-end job at Oregon State, a sub-.500 career record and a reputation for jumping from program to program. That move, you'll recall, was greeted with the same wild enthusiasm that Hurricane Dennis is receiving on the Gulf Coast.
    McKay, it was stated throughout the state, was no Rob Evans.
    McKay's riding the crest of a 26-7 season and New Mexico's first NCAA bid since 1999; the seat of Evans' office chair is hotter than the tarmac at Phoenix's Sky Harbor airport.
    So, then. Davalos, through sheer luck or sheer brilliance or a combination of the two, got the right guy. And Evans was the wrong guy. Right?
    In truth, no one knows what would have happened had Evans gotten the job. I do know that Evans should have taken the Lobos job if Davalos indeed offered it to him.
    If Davalos didn't offer him the job, he should have taken it anyway.
    My rationale in 2002 was that Evans was stuck in basketball purgatory at ASU— 120 miles away from basketball heaven at the University of Arizona. That's as true now as it was then, if not more so.
    Arizona State's a football school, and basketball players know it. The top high school stars from Phoenix, like recent New York Knicks draftee Channing Frye, don't hesitate to take their talents southeast on I-1O to Tucson and Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson.
    New Mexico, I argued, would offer Evans a far better chance to win.
    The situation, though, was this: Evans' plight at ASU was bad— but not as abject as McKay's at Oregon State. Evans stayed put; McKay made the leap.
    Evans, a fiery competitor in the tradition of his mentors Tasker and Henson, probably would argue that condolences are premature and that if-onlys are for losers.
    Yet, I feel for him. He runs a clean program and is a far better coach— witness the 20-9 and 22-7 seasons at Mississippi that got him the Arizona State job— than circumstances permit him to show at ASU.
    Here's wishing him better luck, with a capital L, at his next coaching stop.

Catch Rick Wright's column and Web log at www.abqjournal.com. E-mail him at rwright@abqjournal.com